Ever wonder why some folks seem to have all the time in the world to devote to their work, while you’re always rushing around, doing everything at the last minute? Sure, it may just be that other people have less on their plates than you do—but could it also be that these folks are just better at managing their time than you are?
It may be tough to admit that a lack of time management is at the root of your work woes, especially when you’re responsible for managing your own project workload and schedule. But take comfort in the fact that time management is the accumulation of lots of little choices throughout each day; therefore, small changes in how we behave can lead to big improvements. To see if time management could be at the root of your problems, first see if any of the following statements sound like you:
- When my phone rings, I always scramble to answer it right away because I hate voicemail.
- No one else can manage my workload, so I do everything by myself.
- I delay certain tasks because I know I’ll get them done faster when I’m under time pressure.
All of these statements may seem innocuous enough, but each points to a mindset that could be setting you up for time management failure and productivity burnout. For instance, not having boundaries around how and when you’ll interact with co-workers can lead to distractions and backlogged work. Feeling like you can’t delegate even the smallest task is the perfect set-up for feeling stressed out and overworked. And chronic procrastination is a recipe for poor-quality work, real panic, and missed deadlines.
So if you’re dealing with any of these potential time management problems, where do you start? One way is to put some time management tools and techniques in place to help you track and monitor your productivity and keep yourself on task. Let’s take a closer look at some tools you might want to consider adding to your project management toolbox to make all of this a bit easier.
Time Tracking Tools
I get it. The thought of tracking your time makes you cringe. But hear me out ...
Time tracking is an e-learning professional’s best friend. Not only can it help you spot trends in your own productivity, it also gives you a sense of how long it actually takes you to do the various types of work that you do. This information is helpful when you need to justify adding more time or resources to a project, or when you need to provide an estimated timeline at the start of a project. It’s also a great way to get out in front of unrealistic project timelines, as in: “Here’s what I can create with a turnaround time of two weeks, but here’s what I’m able to create when I’m given eight weeks …”
For basic, free time tracking, a few of my favorite tools are Toggl, MyHours, and Task Timer. They’re all pretty lightweight and simple to use, which makes it much more likely you’ll use them consistently.
Other tools I’ve tried are TrackingTime and Harvest. I’ve also heard from friends how much they love Paydirt. All of these tools are especially helpful for freelancers who need to provide their clients with reports on their billable hours.
Time Management Tools
One important aspect of time management we haven’t talked about yet is managing your workload. To understand if you or your team can handle additional work without exhausting yourselves, sacrificing product quality, or missing deadlines, you first need to factor in how productive you are, how efficiently you work, and how available you are for work. Without getting too far into the project management weeds, let’s break these down a bit.
Productivity: Put simply, this is what you can produce from working on a project task. Your productivity varies depending on the type of task (e.g., building a lesson prototype vs. storyboarding an entire course) and your ability.
Efficiency: This is the amount of time you spend on project tasks. If you spend 100% of your day tackling project tasks, you’re operating at 100% efficiency, which makes you a case study in efficiency! The reality is that most of us need periodic brain breaks, days off, or we have other work meetings that pull us away from project tasks, thereby reducing our efficiency.
Tracking time may point to opportunities for you to work more efficiently.
Availability: This is the amount of time, in hours, that you’re available to work per day, week, or month. When calculating your availability, think in terms of your productive hours—those hours where you’re doing project work—rather than your entire eight-hour workday. Again, tracking your time can help you discern between project-related tasks and other tasks so your calculations are more accurate.
Whether you’re managing your own projects or an entire team’s projects, you’ll need to balance these three factors to reach some understanding of a reasonable workload. Some tools that can help you wrap your head around this include:
- Harvest time tracking is pretty nifty, and now they also offer Forecast, a scheduling tool. Forecast helps you to see how busy you and your team are at a glance.
- Tom’s Planner, a super-simple tool for creating and collaborating on Gantt Charts and project plans. They also offer free chart templates customized for resource planning to help simplify scheduling.
- Smartsheet is a work management tool, and one of its most intriguing features is resource management. This allows everyone more visibility into the workload and capacity of each team member.
Task Management Tools
Another tool you might want to consider is a task manager. Task managers are often bundled in with time tracking apps, so many of the apps I’ve already mentioned will give you task management capabilities.
If you’re someone who’s always relied on a written to-do list, with reminder Post-its stuck all over your monitor or your calendar, a task management tool will help automate these repetitive processes, provide you with reminders, enhance collaboration, and help you stay better organized and, well, on task. That, in turn, will make you more productive and efficient.
If this sounds like something you need, here’s a quick rundown of some task management tools to check out:
- Trello is a favorite tool of mine. It follows the Kanban project management approach, allowing users to visually organize their tasks. Trello is really powerful because it’s so flexible. The boards, lists, and cards system can be used for whatever you need. For instance, you could have a project board with all of the project phases/milestones as lists, and then each task on those lists would have its own card with associated checklists, due dates, and attachments.
- Looking for something that’s more like a simple (but robust) to-do list? Check out Todo Cloud. It’s a straightforward way to create and order tasks and set some due dates to hold yourself accountable. I know a few folks who swear by this handy app. They love it because tasks can be broken down and prioritized, and lists can be shared with other users.
There are hundreds—maybe even thousands—of time management tools out there. This was just a quick highlight of some standouts I’ve either used or heard great buzz about. Everyone’s needs are different, so I hope you’ll use this as a starting point for taking action, digging in and doing your own research to find just the right mix of tools and techniques that work for you!
Are you dealing with time management struggles? How are you overcoming them? Share your tools and tips with us in a comment below. We’d also love for you to follow us on Twitter, where we post the latest and greatest news about everything e-learning.
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