The same is true with your time. Now, more than ever, learning how to effectively manage your time is crucial for setting yourself apart in the workplace. In a 2016 survey, executives reported that time management skills and the ability to prioritize tasks are some of the most desired skills among workers.((IBM: The enterprise guide to closing the skills gap: Strategies for building and maintaining a skilled workforce))
But why is time management important?
Simply put, working harder doesn’t always equal productivity. You can work endless hours, but you won’t achieve much if you don’t manage that time well. In the words of Dr. Alexander Margulis, author of The Road to Success: A Career Manual – How to Advance to the Top, “Long hours are not a substitute for efficiency.”
Are you ready to work smarter so you can improve your productivity? Here are 5 reasons why time management is one of the most important skills to hone in the workplace.
1. It Keeps You Focused on What Matters
Every Sunday night, I sit down in my office and plot out the course of my week. After determining what I need to accomplish in a week’s time, I plan the structure of each day according to my energy and creativity levels.
For example, I’m usually most productive right after breakfast, so I like to set aside a few hours then for head-down, focused work on timely tasks and projects.
I like to think of time management as creating a budget. Just as devising a plan for my finances keeps me from blowing my money, devising a strategy for my time prevents me from wasting the minutes and hours that make up my workday, which, in the long-haul, ultimately supports my productivity.
Here is another reason why it’s so important to budget your time. The typical workday is full of interruptions and potential distractions—from last-minute meeting requests to the personal demands that come with working from home. Failing to set priorities at the start of a day or week encourages you to move from task to task, reacting to whatever comes up instead of focusing on what actually needs to be done.((PubMed.gov: Time Management for Today’s Workplace Demands))
When you set priorities and allot your time accordingly, you’ll ensure that you don’t fall behind on your “must-dos,” and you’ll have more time and mental capacity to face and resolve the interruptions along the way.
2. It Reduces Stress
Like most of us, when I first began in my industry, I was just happy to have a job. To make sure I kept my job—and that I kept growing in my skills so I could get ahead—I often said “yes” to just about every request that came my way. Whether someone needed help with a personal project or wanted my opinion on an idea, I couldn’t miss out.
While this approach certainly helped me build relationships, it also compromised my ability to be productive. But that’s not the only negative effect that my career “FOMO” had. A lack of boundaries (in other words, an inability to say “no”) can increase your stress levels, which can take a toll on your mental and physical health.
So, while a lack of time management might initially give you the impression of productivity, over time, you will inevitably lose steam and burn out. On the other hand, approaching your work with strategy and clear goals enhances your ability to get things done and protects your well-being. Remember that the healthiest version of yourself is also the most valuable player in the workplace.((SeattleU: Benefits of Time Management in the Workplace))
3. It Helps You to Be Present
A few years ago, during a stressful season at work, a colleague approached me in the office to ask for help on figuring out a bug. I answered her in a rush—without looking up from my computer—because I was so crunched for time. To be honest, I still think about that interaction today. Not only did I miss an opportunity to contribute to a project in a meaningful way, but I also missed out on the opportunity to build trust and rapport in a workplace relationship.
Decisiveness is one of the most important components of getting things done in a timely way. A lack of time management skills can interfere with your ability to think clearly, which, unfortunately, can set you back in your work considerably. But in my experience, constantly being pressed for time also interferes with being present and engaged in work relationships, which is an important part of being productive at work.
4. It Enhances Your Creativity
Another reason why time management is important is that it helps enhance your creativity. Productivity is, of course, a vital component of succeeding in your work. But crossing items off your to-do list isn’t the only part of the success equation.
Moving forward also requires innovation and creative thinking—both of which require brain space you simply won’t have if you’re wasting too much time on petty distractions.
Experts agree that multitasking or hopping between tasks isn’t an effective way to work because it compromises your ability to do one thing with excellence. For example, let’s say you’re on the phone with a client and you check your email at the same time. While you’re listening to someone talk, your visual cortex becomes less active, so your brain can’t process what they’re saying if you’re looking at something.((Harvard Business Review: You Can’t Multitask, So Stop Trying)) As minute as it sounds, you won’t be too productive if you’re trying to juggle different tasks at the same time.
If you manage your time effectively, you’ll be able to focus on what’s in front of you and get things done more efficiently. But you’ll also be able to take more breaks to replenish your mental reserves and, ultimately, give your best at work.((Chron: Five Good Effects of Time Management in the Workplace))
5. It Also Helps You Grow in Other Areas
As with any positive growth, getting better at time management requires developing new skills, including self-awareness, strategy and planning, and adaptability.((Harvard Business Review: Time Management Is About More Than Life Hacks)) These skills directly contribute to time management, but they can also cross over into other areas, which will ultimately enable you to be more productive in your work and life.
For example, when you’re more self-aware about what you want to accomplish, you can set clearer goals—a skill that will ultimately help you avoid distractions. And when you grow and improve in your strategic thinking skills, you’ll also get better at creatively tackling problems that pop up at work.
The point is that by honing the skill of time management, you are not only adding structure to your day but you are also becoming a better worker for the long haul. In my opinion, that’s always a worthwhile investment.
Paradoxically, getting better at time management takes time. That’s why it isn’t second-nature for most of us to stay on track and focused. If you’re short on time as it is, using precious spare hours in your day to strategically plan your schedule might seem counterproductive. But the extra work to audit and adjust your time is almost always worthwhile.
By working hard to implement a routine that maximizes your effectiveness and productivity, you’ll see clear and immediate benefits in your career and, ultimately, in your mental and physical well-being. In my opinion, any growth that empowers you to be the person you want to be is always a worthwhile investment.