Every day we all have to deal with countless tasks and deadlines. How to do it most efficiently? There are a thousand different ways to manage your time, and it is quite tricky. How to decide which method is the best?
The answer is easier than you think: the best method is the one that works for you. Some of you like to plan on a piece of paper or in a notebook. Some of you will use apps or web-based tools. The whole secret is to deliver your project plan efficiently and on time. Another one is less obvious – even though you plan every your step, you need to follow the plan and track progress to make it work!
Is time management THAT important?
Yes. We live in a very busy world, and even though we all have exactly 24 hours available each day, somehow the time is shrinking. Do you know why? I am one to blame the internet – all social media are designed to encourage you to spend a lot of time there. And I believe that social media is a great tool, but (as everything) it needs to be used with some dose of healthy approach. The fact that you use social media isn’t the problem itself – the problem starts when you spend most of your work time scrolling your social media feeds.
Maybe you wonder why do you spend your time scrolling social media even though you feel overwhelmed with the projects, your PhD thesis or other deadlines? Well, probably, you don’t know where to start.
And that’s why task and time management is important.
When you need to deliver a big project – write an assignment, a paper or even a thesis – you have a lot of different inputs and side tasks that need to be completed. And somehow you need to follow where are you now in your project and to know what is the next step.
It is worth to put all this information in one place – it might be a piece of paper, an app or even an Excel sheet. All will work, as long as you will know how to use it. This time I’d like to share with you my method of planning big projects, such as writing. As you may know, I’ve just finished (Dec 2020) my studies as a digital marketer, so this topic is close to my experience – and my heart – as I love time management tools!
Which tool is the best?
There is a lot of different tools and systems that you can use to manage your tasks and time. All depends on the type you like: you can plan on the paper (which is working for me as a way to plan daily activities), apps (free and paid) or web-/computer-based tools like Notion, Asana, Monday…
I want to introduce to you my all-time favourite task management tool – Asana. This is a web-based tool which is free to use to some extent. For personal use, the free version is more than enough.
Asana explained: How to use Asana to achieve your long-term goal?
Let say you want to write a great paper. You know more-or-less what to do, what are your steps on the way to achieve goals, but you feel overwhelmed by this. How to manage work, while achieving work-life balance without spending your life by the laptop?
Let’s break it down to the four easy steps.
Step 0: Sing up to Asana.com and follow the necessary steps.
Step 1: When you’re ready to go, build your first “TEAM”. Put the name of the team, like “Paper 1” or something more sophisticated. You can also add a short description to remember what this team is all about (for example your main goal). In this step, you can also add members (maybe co-authors? – Asana is a great tool in the teamwork process!), but you don’t have to. Click “create”.
Step 2: Create your first project within the TEAM. You can use a ready-to-use template or just a blank project. It all depends on your preferences – for this tutorial, let’s make it simple and choose just a blank project.
Step 3: Create your first project within the TEAM. Let say it will be a “to-do list”. Here I like to list all the steps I need to do on the journey to achieving my goal. Start with the most important things, such as your deadline. When the project is really big, I’m always trying to add a couple of days (even a week or two!) before the real deadline. This added time helps to cover all unforeseen problems, as Dawid discussed in his previous post on time management. In the best case, you’ll finish work before the deadline that gives you additional time for reviewing work or you’ll have time to finish work without pulling all-nighters.
Step 4: This is the crucial step and is the most time-consuming. But if you make this point properly, you are more likely to achieve your goal on time. Try to break down your goal to tiny-teeny steps. Maybe that small so you feel a little bit embarrassed by it!
Why does time management work?
Sometimes we all feel overwhelmed, and even though we have a lot on the plate, we just avoid doing the job. That’s just wrong. Planning and active time management give us a clear image of when we need to work and how much time do we need to deliver the project. It allows us to plan the exact time, we work with the feeling we have enough time (even though something will go wrong!), and we can also plan time for the relax. Don’t forget about this part – you cannot work all the time and expect that you will be efficient a 100% if you don’t take a break. It’s like a rocket – you won’t go anywhere without fuel.
To show you how to use it in practise, I’ll share with you the steps I took to deliver my last assignment. I had to write a paper which needed to contain very specific content. I also had to fit within a specified word and page limit, the hard deadline was given, and all I needed to do was to write the content.
What I have done:
- I set the soft deadline (a ten days before the real, hard deadline). This gave me enough time to iron out every unexpected event (and this time I had a lot of those!)
- I gathered all documents which contain information about my assignment and analysed them. Then I broke the whole assignment to the tasks: step by step what I need to do, what to write, where to find the information.
- I counted word/page limit to every task, and I added this info to every step (it was crucial!)
- I set the deadline for each task.
- I broke down every single task into even smaller tasks (like read this and that article, write x words, find information).
- Then I started to write my assignment – and checked every task I completed as done.
- I was moving deadlines of each task on the go (and I moved them a lot this time, so it was a good idea to leave enough back-up time before deadline).
- Every day I was checking what is on the assignment to-do list, and I was putting it down to my daily to-do list.
I finished my assignment four days before the deadline (so I had enough time to double-check everything) and delivered it right on time. Due to the confidentiality of the assignment questions, I am not allowed to show you exact Asana file.
Is the time management worth the effort?
Benefits of this approach are bigger than the disadvantages. First of all – you get control over your work. You also gain the feeling of the progress that you are really moving toward the main goal. You can also track the time, and you are more likely to finish on time.
The minor disadvantage is that you need to spend more time, in the beginning, to actually plan the steps (and it might feel like a waste of time). Nevertheless, it worth to put this time towards your future development.
Now, when times are uncertain, time management isn’t easy. Dawid gave his insight on this matter in his latest post and it’s absolutely fantastic follow-up to this article.