On my first day of grownup work (right after college), my boss handed me a little book that changed my life. No, it wasn’t a literary masterpiece, or a religious awakening, or even a political mind blower. It was a slender little Day-Timer with a page to write tasks on the left, and a page for my schedule on the right. The top right-hand corner was perforated, so you could tear it off as each new day began and easily open to the current day. It was so simple. But that moment – more than 35 years ago – has been absolutely vital to my entire career.
That was my real introduction to time management, and it’s been an essential part of my work life ever since. I’ll go further than saying that having good time management skills makes you more productive; it makes your life better. More time for fun, friends, and family, all while getting more done in a day than most anyone you know.
Time management for instructional designers can be particularly challenging because most of us are working with multiple clients on multiple projects nearly all the time. Technology and eLearning have made some important contributions to the time management realm, though many of them require some customization. With all that in mind, here are five time management tips for instructional designers and, well, everyone else.
1. Make Lists
Okay, I can’t really call this one a “hack,” because it’s part of any good time management plan. But I can’t very well talk about managing your time without discussing list-making. Lists are the most important element of organization – and what are project management programs if not glorified lists?
But here’s an important point: The list is NOT in your head. Lists must be written down and maintained – otherwise, you’re just relying on your memory and there’s no need to bother (see point #4, below).
So, write everything down, even the small stuff. Especially the small stuff, because you’ll invariably have holes in your day when you’re waiting for a call back, looking for an approval, etc. That’s when you do the small items, the ones that take you 5-10 minutes. Do five a day, and you’ve saved 25-50 minutes at the end of your day, time better spent taking a nap in the hammock on your porch.
2. Keep Your List With You at All Times
This one was a little tough back in the old paper Day-Timer days. Mine was small enough to keep in my back pocket, but I’ll never forget a panic-stricken day when I left it at a big-box hardware store (someone found it and returned it to me).
Today, mobile technology makes it easy to keep your list handy. I use Google Calendar (see #3, below), so it works with my phone, my desktop, and my tablet. You’ll need your list to be handy for two reasons:
- To check it for upcoming tasks and fill in those holes in your day
- To immediately record new tasks as you think of them
How many times have you had a great idea or realized you’d forgotten an important detail when you were standing the grocery store checkout line? Having your list at your fingertips is invaluable.
3. Use Technology Creatively
There are a lot of great systems out there, but chances are pretty good that none of them will be perfect for you “out of the box.” Rather than adapt to the technology, work toward getting the tech to adapt to your working style. I love Google Calendar, but it’s not ideal. The actual “Tasks” function is a little confining for my taste, so I’ve gotten around it by creating multiple calendars. If I create a calendar for every type task I need and simply create each item as an “all day” event, I get a great list in the two-week view:
When a task is complete, just right-click and choose the color you designate for “done” tasks (I use flamingo!). Plus, the events are drag-and-drop, so you can simply move a task to the next day if you don’t get to it.
And, as I mentioned before, I can see it on my phone, my desktop, and my tablet. It’s visual, organized, and accessible, and it works for me. You can take it one step further and color-code for different clients or even drill all the way down to the project level with color-coding.
4. The List Is Smarter Than You Are!
The biggest mistake you can make in time management is relying on your own memory. Some people see list-making as a weakness, something that only those with non-super memories like theirs must do. To those folks I say: Go ahead and finish up that project this evening. I’ll be in the hammock on the porch.
You simply cannot remember as well as your list can. Write it down. And here’s the best part: While you’re not trying to remember what you’re supposed to do next, your mind is free to think about other things. Like the creative projects you’re working on. Or more creative solutions to your work problems. In short, good list-making lets you stop thinking about the mundane so you can think about the sublime.
5. Take Time to Save Time
Okay, I know this phrase sounds ridiculous, but you have to take the time to save time. In other words, you have to be dedicated to the system and take the time to work it – every day, every hour. It’s not always easy. I have clients that insist that I use Outlook for my appointments, but I don’t want to use it for everything. So yes, I copy my Outlook appointments into Google Calendar. Does it take a minute? Yes. Does it save me hours on the back end (not to mention a lot of headaches)? Yes (and yes).
Like anything else, time management requires discipline. But you’ll soon find your system will be an integral part of your workday – a workday that will become shorter with good time management.
Less Is More
Can you get more done in less time? Well, it’s coming to the end of my day, and I wrote this blog in between meetings and calls while I was waiting for some drafts to be approved. Time to head for the hammock!