Improving your soft skills – how to manage your time

A survey last year by recruitment specialists Drake International found that employers are increasingly valuing soft skills, like time management, as remote work becomes more common. That makes sense: the less you supervise your staff, the more they need to be able to organise themselves.

So how do you make the most of your day and convince your boss in the WFH era that you’re making every minute count? We gathered some expert tips to help you improve this soft skill.

Be realistic

Research suggests there are three key skills involved in managing your time well, says Professor Erich Dierdorff at DePaul University.

Awareness, or thinking realistically about time as a limited resource.
Arrangement, or making plans, goals and schedules to effectively use time.
Adaptation, such as adjusting to interruptions of change priorities.

Prof Dierdorff suggests building awareness by timing how long tasks really take and comparing it to your estimates, creating a “time budget” to plan how you spend the hours of your week, and weighing up your current tasks to see if they are really helping towards your future goals.

Watch out for the sunk cost fallacy* and consider whether time-consuming tasks are worth the effort, he says. “When you think you might be spending too much time on an activity, step back and evaluate its importance,” he says.

Take control

“Most of your stress is because you’re thinking about too many things at once,” says author and coach Tony Robbins. So the next step to great time management is to get organised.

Robbins says that starts with focus – making sure your tasks contribute towards your ultimate goals – and prioritization. He suggests categorizing tasks according to whether they are urgent, important, both or neither.

Once you have your priorities, he recommends breaking them down into smaller, more manageable tasks – which he calls “chunking” – and grouping related tasks so they’re easier to deal with together.

Deal with the unexpected

Of course, things can’t always go as you might hope, and that’s where adaptation comes in: making adjustments to interruptions, changing priorities or emergencies. One approach is to minimise distractions. Jenny Blake, author of Free Time, recommends making use of “do not disturb” settings on your phone to cut down on the notifications.

She also suggests restricting how often you check emails to one or two windows in the day, so you can stay on task. “Respond to all necessary emails and then log out,” she says.

Prof Dierdorff suggests making contingency plans for best and worst-case scenarios to make sure your time management plan can adapt to a crisis. “The challenge is to handle such situations without getting upset, anxious, or distracted,” he says.

* The sunk cost fallacy: the phenomenon whereby a person is reluctant to abandon a strategy or course of action because they have invested heavily in it (with time or money), even when it is clear that abandonment would be more beneficial.