I'm no expert at time management. However, I made some changes to my habits during the past ~2 years that helped me get better at what I wanted. Most of it has to do with time management and thats what I'm discussing today.
This is mostly directed towards students who generally don't have too much to risk, but a lot to gain if they take intelligent decisions.
You Can't Actually Manage Time
I listened this in a YouTube video, where the presenter explained that you cannot manage time; it will go on at the same speed irrespective of what you do. What IS in your control is what you choose to do in the limited time you have.
This was similar to another story I read. Its related to a popular person, but I couldn't verify if this person was actually involved in this story, so I'll change the name. Mr. K, a wealthy person with lots of successful business ventures, asked his pilot to list down what all the pilot aimed to achieve in life. The pilot made a list of some 25 things. Mr. K then asked him to encircle the 5 MOST IMPORTANT things from the list. The pilot did so. After this, Mr. K recommended him to focus only on those 5 things, and not waste his efforts on the remaining 20.
The crux of this section is that you have limited time. Your ambitions may be infinite. Influencers on the internet peddling motivation might tell you anything is possible. But it isn't.
You can't stop time.
Limited Time Deals
Say there are two students, Aaron and Bill. They have 10 weeks to go before the internship season starts. There are 30 companies where they may apply. Both students, on average devote 60 hours to preparation per week. A total of 600 hours
Aaron believes it is important to broaden his horizon and learn as many skills as possible. So he researches about all those 30 companies, makes a list of skills each requires.
And proceeds to study all them.
In pursuit for learning everything, he fails to give adequate time to any of them. As a result, when HRs ask him questions about those skills, his answers are not well crafted or only touch the basics etc.
On the other hand, B chooses the skills that he is actually interested in. His list is much smaller. He too gives 600 hours, but his time is divided in lesser items and hence he is able to learn the things more deeply. He is able to devote time to practice. He doesn't apply to all 30 companies - but where he applies, he gets a good response.
Bill manages to study what he likes. He manages to keep limited eggs in his basket. And he enjoys a better outcome.
Given enough time, there is no doubt that even Aaron would have aced all his interviews. The noteworthy point is that Bill appreciated the fact that time is a limiting factor, while Aaron did not.
Putting It in Practice
How do you put the idea of "manage tasks, not time" into daily use?
First up, accept that you have only 24 hours.
Get used to categorizing your tasks in an Eisenhower Matrix. You can do this manually or use on of the many applications available. The purpose of an Eisenhower Matrix is to put your focus on the most important tasks first.
Say you have 20 skills you want to learn.
- My first tile will be for skills that are urgent (say, for an interview coming up) AND I have an interest in those. These are the skills I'll learn first.
- My second tile will be for skills I have less interest in, but are nevertheless important for my professional career.
- My third tile will be for skills that I have mild interest in, but they are by no means urgent.
- My final tile will be for skills that I neither have any special interest in, nor they are really required for my immediate professional career. I might take them up if I have nothing else to do :)
Every person can have different variables on which they put tasks into one of the tiles. The basic template is the "urgency - importance" variable, but as you just saw, I extended it to use "interest - importance" variable.
Let go of smaller fishes to catch the biggest
There are some work related choices we often screw up. For me as a university student, I come across a lot of students like Aaron. They dip their toes in literally every pool they see. After all, why miss an opportunity?
Unfortunately, students like Aaron often get wound up in less important tasks, events or commitments that hinder their devotion to more important events.
"Entries for the prestigious ABC events just opened, and the new rules give me lot more chances of getting selected. But I have already accepted to take part in three other events. Those events are unimportant when compared to ABC event, but they too require me to devote time thus not leaving me with enough hours to put into event ABC."
This brings me to the next tip...
Bail out when the tide changes
In the time of limited opportunities and nearly infinite people vying for them, you obviously don't want to miss anything, however small it may be. This idea goes straight in violation to my last heading where I suggest focusing on lesser but more important things rather than a hundred unimportant things.
It sometimes backfires when you focus on one big event but you fail to make it in. You spend your vacations doing nothing to add to your CV, while your friends are doing some work. No matter how small or boring work your friends are doing, you believe its better than nothing.
So whats the way out?
Keep track of the tides, and when the tide favors a different ships, bail out of your current one and move on.
Take the last example. You are signed up for three unimportant events just so that you don't end up wasting your vacations. But applications start for a prestigious ABC event. Go apply. If you don't get in, no worries. If you do get in, bail out of one or more smaller events to make time for the important one.
Make sure that you judge importance correctly. Event ABC might be hyped in general and other three events don't really add anything substantial to your resume. But someone else might still possibly want to skip event ABC because the work they make participants do there is not something that person is really excited about and the smaller three events are contributing more to growing him as a person even if the value on resume is insignificant.
Choose the right team
What if every variable is perfect, but the team members aren't?
The team is working on a project you're really excited about. But one of these is happening
- there are certain members who often attend meeting without doing their pre requisite research and in the process might be slowing down the whole team
- the project is great, but the coding practices team is following or the work styl is terrible.
- worse, the team lead is irresponsible and doesn't respect member's effort or time
- something else on similar lines
These are clear red flags that you should look out for and bail out of the project if feasible. I agree that the project is something you are very excited about. But working with the wrong team means you won't get to spend time with the "right" people learning better ways to lead a team and work. Months down the line, you might too end up becoming like one of these people currently messing up with your time and plans.
In the past I have bailed out of a couple of events and projects. The list includes a possibility of me having a high paying and respectable job by next year, being a mobile app development hero, being a lead in my society, and some more things. I let go of them, because either I didn't find them worth the time, or I didn't see value for me in what they offered etc.
Micro Habits for Team Work
A lot of team - work related items have been covered because the pandemic made everyone realize that meetings need not happen during working hours. The team may decide to block your time at any hour of the day. ANY HOUR.
Be on time
Doesn't need any explanation. This sounds so simple, yet not followed.
Measure delay relative to event duration
Say you are the presenter and you are 5 minutes late for an hour long presentation. There isn't much harm done. You can cover up the lost 5 minutes very easily. Make your introduction a bit shorter. Skip some deeply technical details. Etc etc.
This time, assume you are the discussion lead in a 10 minute agenda discussion for your team and you are 5 minutes late. You just wasted 50% of the time for everyone in the team.
Convey delays without delay
We are all human and its inevitable that we end up being late once in a while. The moment you know you'll be delayed for an XYZ event, convey it ASAP to the stakeholders involved (team members, event organizer, co-worker etc)
Imagine you are running late. Everyone is waiting for you. And THEN you drop a text to organizer, saying that you'll be even more late. If you convey the expected delay on time, its not difficult for organizers/ team members to make arrangements.
"Hi Alex. I'll be 15 minutes late to my presentation. I request you ask someone else to go on during my slot so that the event schedule doesn't get extended.
Convey time estimates
You've been asked when you can turn in your work. You reply with "Just a moment, I'll update you". What does this mean? How long is a "moment"?
The person on other side of the conversation might be having your work on priority and be waiting for your response. Waiting till your "moment" ends.
Instead, give tangible time estimates so the other person knows when to check back on you.
"The work is almost done. I just need to hook up the frontend with API calls. Should take an hour"
"I'll get progress updates from my team to know how much more time we need. I'll update to you in an hour and half."
- Time is limited. So should be your tasks.
- Set priority for each task (Eisenhower Matrix)
- Choose your team wisely
- Focus on important things
- Respect your time
- Respect other's time
- Be picky with what you devote your time on
- Be brave enough to switch boats when tide changes