15 Effective Time Management Tips For IT Professionals

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Published: 02nd May 2013
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As an IT professional, it is likely you find yourself with a lot more work than you are able to handle, or even it feels like there isn't sufficient time in the day to get everything done.
That is a common feeling. To break through this needs effective and competent personal time management. Iíve detailed fifteen distinct personal time management tips that IT professionals can make use of to get the most from their day.

Create And Keep A Task List

The most important thing you can do to deal with your time at the job is to make a to-do list. This can be a list of tasks or things that you have to do for your role on the job. Identifying what you need to do has a great affect on your capability to get things done at work. If itís down on paper, you know what you must do and when you must do it by. Consider these points when making a to-do list:

- Start with an actionable word, for example ďWriteĒ or ďCallĒ or ďEmailĒ.
- Ensure the task is specific enough so you really know what should be done. ďFinish user interfaceĒ isnít very specific. An action such as ďFinish writing code for user interface to prepare for testingĒ is a bit more specific and workable.
- Write everything down that you can think of that is applicable to your role. If itís recorded, you wonít forget it (well, youíll have less chance to forget it).

Set Goals and Deadlines

Develop goals for yourself and deadlines for the tasks that you do. These shouldnít be arbitrary or pulled out of nothing - relate them to the project that youíre doing. This is often a big part of time management and often will help you get things done more effectively.

Set goals for the work you need to do, such as ďI want to assess the user documentation by 12pmĒ. This not only specifies what you should be doing (which will come from the task list mentioned in the previous tip), it gives a deadline to it. This means you can try to get this task done by 12pm, which will give you a chance to do the next task after that.

Prioritise Your Work

Another critical part of time management is the ability to prioritise your work. Having twenty tasks to perform in one day may not be effective if youíre only able to get through ten of those. At this point, you'll want to learn to prioritise your work. This means you give more emphasis to the more important tasks, either by getting them done sooner or spending more time on them. Iíve written an article on how to prioritise your work, but the basics involve:

- Speak with your boss to learn what their priorities are
- Find out the impact of accomplishing or not doing the job
- Ask the one who gave you the task when they need a result by

Try Not To Work On More Than One Thing At A Time

The opportunity to focus on multiple task at a time is called multitasking. It could seem like a good idea - if you're able to do two things at once, you can get them both done sooner! However, in reality it means you wind up less efficient at doing both tasks and so they end up taking longer to do.

Itís more beneficial to pay attention to just one task and put all of your energy into that. Get that task done and dealt with, and then begin the next task. It will more than likely create a better quality outcome and less stress for you.

Get Enough Rest And Eat Well

Itís important to perform well at work, and one of the most effective ways this can be accomplished is by having some downtime and ensuring that you're keeping healthy. Make sure you get enough rest every night. This isnít just sleep - ensure you spend some time relaxing and not doing any intense or work-related activity.

Maintaining a healthy diet and drinking a good amount of water is an effective way to stay healthy as well. When youíre healthy at the office, you feel better about what youíre doing and youíre able to get more out of your day. Itís underrated and Iím sure if we donít try and get healthy it will take a toll on us!

Organise Your Desk and Work Area

This idea doesnít really have a direct impact on time management, but it really lets you focus better and manage your projects better. Working with a clean and organised desk or work space is an excellent way to stay committed to your task. Some methods you can do this are:

- Use drawers or cupboards should you have them. Whatever you donít use regularly or need immediately should be put away.
- Get a stationery holder, for either on your desk or in a drawer.
- Use folders if you have a lot of paperwork

Using a clean work environment not only makes you more focused, it aids to keep you organised because you know where to find things and there is a cleaner space to work.

Take Small, Regular Breaks

Something that might appear counter-productive to time management is the suggestion to take regular breaks. From time to time, us IT professionals can get so caught up in the day-to-day work that weíre doing that we donít spend time getting away from it.

Getting regular breaks from your work may seem like itís not allowing you to get things done, because youíre giving yourself a shorter period to do it. I still think itís a good option though, as getting away from your desk or your work is a sensible way to refresh the mind therefore making you more focused. I think itís also recommended by health professionals, something like taking a 10 minute break every 2 hours (or similar) is a good thing. Try to incorporate this into your day - you could get a drink of water or a coffee or something.

Cancel Unimportant Meetings

This is among my favourite methods to improve time management. Everyone has meetings to attend in the workplace. Being an IT professional (well, anyone operating in an office), we get asked to meetings - and quite often, theyíre not actually very useful or meaningful.

For those who have any meetings that have been set up, think about cancelling them. If you didnít set them up, talk with the organiser and see if you possibly could be excluded from the meeting. Sometimes people just like to invite everyone who ďmayĒ be necessary to a meeting, with no regard for their time. Occasionally you can avoid a meeting altogether as youíre not needed.

Additionally, a meeting might not be the easiest way to reach a result. There are lots of alternative methods to get things done, perhaps a phone call or face-to-face discussion with a single person will get the same result with less time.

Donít Confuse Being Busy With Being Productive

You will find a huge difference between being busy at work and being productive at work. Being busy means you continuously have work or something youíre working on. Being productive means youíre carrying out work and producing results. The real difference between these two principles is the word ďresultsĒ. Productivity produces results, regardless of how much work is being done.

Have a think about your average workday, and attempt to assess if youíre busy or productive. Do you think you're just doing a task because you can, or is it really producing results? Is it essential for your work? Is it getting you an outcome? If itís not helping your job, you may need to consider how and why itís being done.

This is related to the last point of unnecessary meetings - sometimes having a meeting is just a technique for being busy and doesnít actually get any results.

Donít Procrastinate At Work

Procrastination is where you postpone an action by distracting yourself with different things. There is usually another reason why youíre not doing the work that needs to be done. On most occasions, the most challenging part about getting a task done will be starting it. If you can work out the first step of doing a task, that goes quite a distance to getting it done. Thereís no reason to keep stalling it - it will in all probability have to get done anyway.

Postponing the task because itís not a priority is something else - you are working but have higher priority work to do. That is perfectly valid. Procrastination is actually avoiding a task that needs to be done. It is a real killer to the time in your day!

Delegate Some Of Your Work To Others

Another suggestion on how to improve your time management is to assign some of your work to others. This depends on your current role and what sort of work you need to do, but basically you donít need to do everything yourself. Maybe you have other team members who can help you perform a little of the work you need to do. A few things to consider when delegating work to others are:

- If they actually have the skill sets or knowledge to do the work
- If it takes less time to clarify the task than for you to do it yourself
- If the other person can get it done before it needs to be done

Delegating work to others is an effective way to spread the workload and to improve your time management as an IT professional.

Donít Follow Up If It Isnít Needed

Quite often we talk with other employees about how their work is going. This tends to take time - it will take up your time and energy, as well as the other personís. At times this is needed - if the work youíre following up about is related to your work, or if itís something you assigned to them. In other cases, itís not related to your work or project.

In these instances, where itís not related to you, you can save time if you donít follow up with them about it. Sure, there's a chance you're interested in their work or other projects that are taking place, but it can serve as a distraction to your work and lower the effectiveness of your time management.

Eliminiate Distractions

A good method to increase your time management ability while focusing at work is to get rid of any distractions from your workplace. If youíre not distracted by other things, then you've more focus on the task youíre doing and often will more than likely put more effort into it, and get it done sooner.

Recognize what distracts you at your office and try to remove that distraction. Do you have a mobile phone nearby? Turn it on silent, or put it our of view. Shut down any internet browser windows you donít need. Essentially, closing down any other windows on your computer that you donít need is a great way to keep concentrated on just what youíre working on. Turn off any music. Clean up your desk. Close the office door, if you have done. Small things like this can add up and help you focus and manage your time at work better.

Learn How To Say No

Another thing that I have discovered over the years in the IT industry is you need to learn how to say no. We normally have the need to accept work and just get it done - either overestimating our ability to do work, or underestimate the size of the work that needs to be done, or we may be afraid of disappointing the individual that assigns work to us.

One of the more important skills you can learn as an IT professional is the ability to say no. To be more effective at your work, you should learn when youíre at your limit and approaches to politely and effectively decline any further work that people would like to give you.

Possibly theyíre delegating their work to you, or maybe theyíre asking you for a quick favour that isnít so quick, or possibly itís just something else that they want you to do. Regardless, if youíre not able to get the work done in the timeframe they require, then itís better just to say so. Say this in a polite way, of course, and highlight the reasons why.

This may be because you have something else thatís important to work on, it may be because youíre not sure you can get it carried out in the time needed, or because youíre not the best person to do the work. Either way, make sure itís honest. Donít simply make up a reason, because then youíll just seem lazy.

Monitor How Your Time Is Spent

My final tip on how to improve your time management as an IT professional is to actually monitor the way your time is spent. Various other professionals, such as lawyers and accountants, do this as they need to bill their clients and require to account for the time that's spent.

The main reason I suggest this is that if youíre more aware of how youíre spending your time, you'll be able to make adjustments when needed. This can be done by getting an app for your phone, using Google Calendar, or maybe setting up a spreadsheet. Spend a little time every day reflecting on what you did at what times and in a short time, youíll have adequate information to do some assessment and see how you can improve your time management based on the time that you have been spending.

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