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10 Tips For Better Time Management

Every now and then I come across software developers who keep complaining how difficult it is to find time from their daily schedule to learn new things. Although city life is quite busy, more often than not people lack the will, energy and time management skills to deal with the situation. More often than not this lack of time is due to the fact that people poorly manage their time. They don't have any strategy to manage their time effectively. Here are my top 10 tips that can help you manage your time in a better way. If you apply the following tips you can manage your time in a better way than before. I am not going to give you any fancy charts or figures that mostly look nice on paper. I am going to share some practical tips that you can start using right now! 

1. Take only things that can fit on your plate

Let's face it - you have limited resources in terms of time, energy and ability to complete a task. Even if you desire to complete more tasks in a day there is going to be a limit for what you can accomplish in a day. Rather than attempting to finish too many tasks that won't fit in a day take only those tasks that you can fit on your plate. If you take too many tasks at a time chances are you won't be able to finish them all. And then this "failure" will build pressure to complete them in a hurry the next day. This, in turn, can cause more errors than expected delaying the completion of the task further. So, it is important to identity and start what you can finish in a day. Be realistic while doing so. Apply common sense and past experience of completing these tasks. By some experience you can arrive at a limit that is optimal for you - not too low (no laziness allowed), not too high (no fatigue allowed).

2. Plan one day at a time

A common mistake some people commit is they plan for a longer timespan. More the timespan more the chances of unexpected obstacles. Don't plan for a week, for example, because something unexpected or unplanned may come up. To begin with, plan only one day (or even lesser) - today - at a time. Once you plan stick to that plan by all means. Many people change their plan too frequently. Be firm. Once you chalk out a plan do not change it under any circumstances. Over a period of time you will learn to introduce some amount of flexibility in your daily schedule. But till that time be rigid about your daily plan. Learn to say NO to whatever that comes unplanned.

3. Set priority for tasks

Simply picking tasks to finish in a day is not sufficient. You also need to prioritize them. Not all tasks are equally important. Their urgency level is also different. Based on importance and urgency you need to set some priority to them. You can set the priority in different ways - on a scale of 1 to 10 OR Low, BelowNormal, Normal, AboveNormal and High (yes! these values are taken from CacheItemPriority enumeration of ASP.NET.) Remember that this priority is for the tasks to be finished in a day. Once a priority is set start completing them in High to Low order. If you can't complete a Low priority task on that day, it may get carry forwarded to the next day and possibly climb up in the priority order.

4. Avoid distractions

You should learn to avoid all sorts of distractions. If you are involved in something urgent or important tell people around you not to disturb you. You can't expect them to know your urgency unless you specifically let them know. Learn to switch off that mobile phone. Also, turn off those instant email notifications and alerts of all kinds. Don't keep checking email every now and them. If you are doing something don't keep the ongoing task to respond to an email. Don't plug-in those earphones while doing something important. These and many other distractions cause loss of time. Though it might be just a few seconds or minutes, when it adds up it can be considerable chunk of time. What's more is that your mind wanders away with every such distraction and needs more time to focus on the task being completed.

5. Manage your on-line time in a better way

As a software developer you are connected to the Internet for a big chunk of your work day. However, just because you have an Internet connection doesn't mean you should remain always remain online. Many people have habit of checking emails frequently. They log-in to Facebook or Twitter every now and then. This is unnecessary. Make a strict habit of accessing email and social networking sites at a specific time of a day. Set the frequency of checking these resources too. A work day usually has a "prime time" where your energy level and productivity is high. Don't spend this prime time in checking emails or social networking. A few things that can help include:

  • Just because an email arrived in your inbox doesn't mean you should respond it instantly. Don't keep aside your task at hand schedule just to respond that email.
  • Decide priority and importance for emails. This is especially true if you receive dozens of them every day. Use email filters to categorize them in separate folders and look at them as per scheduled time slot.
  • Learn to clean-up your news feeds on social networking sites such as Facebook.
  • Use some social networking plugin to enhance your Facebook and Twitter experience.
  • Make a small list of important websites / blogs that are helpful to you in your daily work or upgrading your knowledge. Instead of reading hundreds of different websites keep an eye of these selected websites for updates.
  • Turn off all instant alerts or notifications. This includes email and social networking websites.
  • While reading an online content it is easy to wander away in the pile of information. Be focused. Make a point to stick to the original topic you were reading / searching.

6. Manage your travel time in a better way

If you live in a city such as Mumbai, chances are you spend reasonable amount of time in travelling - from your home to the office and back home. This time is hardly productive but you can utilize it in a better way. Pick a mode of travel that is comfortable. For example, instead of going in normal but opt for AC bus. Why? If you opt for AC bus chances are you will get a place to sit. Once you are in a comfortable position you can think of some creative ways to utilize this time. Here are a few tips:

  • Carry a portable media player and listen to audio / videos and podcasts on the way.
  • If comfortable glance over a technical book or magazine that adds some new knowledge.
  • Carry a notepad and pen. Note down, draw, visualize concepts related to your work or new things that you have learned. This will allow you to revise what you learned.
  • Sleep. I am not kidding! I have seen many developers who don't get adequate sleep at night due to several reasons (going late from the office, family background, surrounding environment etc.) If you can't do anything else use this time to induce relaxation and rest in your body. Use some yoga technique such as Yoga Nidra or Ajapa to relax during this time. The recharged body is more efficient in completing the tasks once you reach the office or home.

7. Set expectations of the people around you

People around you in the office as well as home have certain expectations from you. These expectations are set based on how you interact with them daily. For example, a person who help others every time sets the same expectation for the people around him. Then one day if he doesn't render his help people find it odd or may even develop ill feelings about him. They may easily forget all the occasions when he helped them and remember  this one instance when he refused to help them. If your behavior indicates that you are always available in case they need anything - important or unimportant doesn't matter -  then they are going to expect the same for entire life! You need to signal them that you don't like to be disturbed while doing something important. You can't assume that they will know the significance of the activity you are doing automatically. You need to specifically convey that need to them. Also tell them why that activity is important to you. For example, instead of simply telling your family members not to disturb you, you can tell them how finishing the task at hand is going to help you and the family (say promotion or salary rise or a new job). Here are a few things to take into consideration:

  • Learn to say NO
  • Learn to delegate tasks.
  • If you are being assigned too much responsibilities, flag them to your seniors in appropriate manner.
  • In professional relations it is alright to politely refuse to participate in personal events. If you become too much friendly with a person you may find it difficult to say NO to him.
  • Don't let others push or force you to participate in something that is going to affect your schedules.
  • Convey the importance of timely finishing a task at hand to your family members. After completing the task spend some quality time with them.

8. Avoid daydreaming and unimportant chitchat

While doing a task don't allow your attention to wander away. If you must think about something unrelated to the current task, finish the task first and then spend some time to think about the matter before you focusing back on your work. Make a point to avoid unnecessary chitchat or vague talking. Learn to switch your mobile off while finishing some important task. I have seen many developers who keep some messenger application (Yahoo Messender or Facebook Messenger) running in the background as they do their work. Every now and then they switch to the messenger to participate in the chat. Learn to avoid such distractions.

9. Increase your energy level

Time management is not about merely making time slots available to do some work. It is equality important that you possess the necessary energy to complete the tasks. In fact if your "energy sheath" (as we yogis call it) is strong you can perform much more work in a given timespan. To increase your energy level three things are important - diet, sleep and prana. Take healthy diet - food that is Satvik in nature and that you can digest easily. Take enough sleep. If possible take a power nap in the afternoon. Yoga has many types of breathing exercises (Pranayama) that revitalize the whole energy system in the body. Learn them from some expert and make them a part of your daily schedule.

10. Keep fit

This may sound like an unrelated topic for our discussion. However, your physical and mental fitness plays a vital role in time management. An unhealthy mind-body equipment can't focus on a task at hand. It cannot generate good "energy sheath" and as a result you end up missing the deadlines. Exercising daily and keep yourself fit is an important aspect of holistic living. Exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, running, swimming and yoga postures are all good for the overall physical fitness. If you are suffering from an ailment consult a medical expert immediately and eliminate the root cause as soon as possible. A healthy individual is capable to doing much more amount of work in a given timespan as compared to an unhealthy and physically unfit person.


Bipin Joshi is an independent software consultant and trainer by profession specializing in Microsoft web development technologies. Having embraced the Yoga way of life he is also a yoga mentor, meditation teacher, and spiritual guide to his students. He is a prolific author and writes regularly about software development and yoga on his websites. He is programming, meditating, writing, and teaching for over 27 years. To read more about him go here. More details about his Kriya and Meditation online course are available here.

Posted On : 18 April 2014

Tags : Training