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Work-Life Balance: Time Management Skills That Work

In an age of 24/7 connectivity, achieving work-life balance is more challenging than ever. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Millennials, the most digitally connected and largest segment of today’s labor force, place such a high premium on their personal time. Case in point, a new study by Deloitte found that once salary is removed from the equation, work-life balance is the most important consideration for Millennials weighing career options. One thing’s for sure. The development of good time management skills is an essential part of the workplaces of today and tomorrow. Here are some time-tested tips for managing your time.

1. Start each day with a plan

Spend the first 30 minutes of each day, determining how you will spend the rest of it. Whether you use an app like Basecamp, Evernote or Any.do or an old-fashioned pen and paper list, don’t start your work without a plan! Your plan should prioritize action items and estimate how long each item will take you. 

Not a morning person? You may also choose to spend the last 30 minutes before bedtime planning for the next morning. Brian Tracy of Brian Tracy International recommends this method. 

“When you plan your day the night before,” says Tracy, “your subconscious then goes to work on your plans and goals while you are asleep. Very often you will wake up in the morning with ideas and insights that apply to the work of the day.” That sounds like a bonus to us!

2. Maintain a closed list

British time management guru, Mark Forster, who is best known for his “Do it Tomorrow” approach to time management, advises his readers and app users to make “closed lists,” rather than “wish lists.” What are closed lists? Think of them as to-do lists with limits. Wish lists on the other hand, are to-do lists without limits.  Wish lists keep growing, eventually becoming unmanageable and antithetical to time management.  

To create a closed list,” Forster explains, “draw a line under the task list or use the Close List feature in the “Do It Tomorrow” application and do not add anything to it. If you use closed list there is no need to prioritize your work — you do all tasks from the list for your working day.”

3. Try the POSEC Method

Modeled on Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, the POSEC Method is all about ordering tasks based on their importance. POSEC is an acronym and its letters stand for: Prioritize, Organize, Streamline, Economize and Contribute. Like Maslow’s hierarchy, POSEC is structured as a pyramid or triangle, with goals that build upon each other.  Start with the goal at the foundation of the pyramid and work your way up. 

4. Minimize distractions

One potentially problematic result of 24/7 connectivity is the constant receptivity to distractions. Perhaps you’re finally getting somewhere on that report you’ve been putting off. Then an email with an intriguing subject line darts across your screen. And, oh look, somebody’s friending you! Many of us have come to believe that by blocking these distractions we are missing out on something important. That is rarely the case. Whatever you’re missing will be waiting for you when your report is finished. 

5. Pay attention to where your time is going

Do you have any idea how much of your day is spent on coffee breaks? What about water-cooler conversations about the ballgame or weekend plans? How many times a day do you chitchat with the guy in the next cube, check Facebook or send tweets? 

Joe Mathews, Don Debolt and Deb Percival of Entrepreneur recommend carrying a schedule and keeping track of “all your thoughts, conversations and activities for a week.” 

As the writers explain, “This will help you understand how much you can get done during the course of a day and where your precious moments are going. You'll see how much time is actually spent producing results and how much time is wasted on unproductive thoughts, conversations and actions.” 

6. Delegate!

If you want to have a life outside of the office, don’t insist on doing everything yourself. Many of us have difficulty relinquishing control of our work product. Maybe we believe that if we want something done right, we have to do it ourselves. Others have the mistaken impression that when we delegate, we are being lazy or taking advantage of others. Delegating takes getting used to but it has many advantages for managers and their employees alike. 

“Trying to accomplish or micromanage too many tasks leads to burnout, poor quality and missed deadlines, not to mention time management problems,” writes James Baker, Founder and CEO of Baker Communications. “Delegation is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of leadership.”

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