Time-Management Strategies for a Better Work-Life Balance
One of the greatest benefits of working as an independent consultant is increased flexibility and being in control of your own schedule. When time is managed well, this can lead to improved work-life balance. It is one of the main reasons consultants cite when they choose to become an independent. However, with such control and without a rigid routine it can sometimes be challenging to manage time effectively. This can be especially true for those who are newly self-employed.
Time management will look different for everyone, so it is important to find out what works best for you. We’re going to consider various time management strategies that you can implement as well as some general tips to help you efficiently manage your workload and maintain the freedom of controlling your own schedule.
Strategies for Time Management
The Pomodoro Technique
This technique dates back to the 1980’s and has become popular with professionals of varied disciplines. The pomodoro technique involves breaking up larger tasks or periods of work into smaller 25-minute intervals; or ‘pomodoro’s’. After each 25-minute interval you take a 5-minute break and following 4 rounds of pomodoro’s you take a longer 15-30 minute break.
You can use this method manually, timing your intervals yourself or you can use an online tool or app.
This may sound obvious, but a well thought our to-do list can do wonders for your productivity. A good to-do list should be well organised; in the best style for you. This could be a simple list of tasks for the day or week. Or, it could be organised by priority, or time of the day.
You can use a to-do list on its own or use it in tandem with another time management technique as a way to visualise your workload.
The Eisenhower Method
The Eisenhower method or Eisenhower matrix was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and works by assigning tasks to one of 4 quadrants. The quadrants are:
- Do first – emergencies and tasks with strict or fast approaching deadlines.
- Schedule – tasks that need to be done in the future but not immediately. For example, routine tasks such as emails.
- Delegate – tasks that could be given to someone else to lighten your workload.
- Don’t do – unimportant tasks that could be dropped altogether or only completed once absolutely everything else is done.
Once you have split out the tasks, you can then use the matrix to prioritise your tasks – starting with the ‘do first’ quadrant.
The Important-Urgent Matrix
Similar to the Eisenhower method this matrix uses four quadrants to assign tasks. It is a two-by-two matrix that helps to categorise tasks more effectively. The four quadrants are:
- Tasks that are important and urgent
- Tasks that are important but not urgent
- Tasks that are not important but urgent
- Tasks that are neither important nor urgent
This matrix differs from the Eisenhower method as it does not include delegating work; making it more beneficial for independents who may not have someone to delegate work to.
Tips for Managing Time More Efficiently
Set Realistic Goals
As a consultant you may find you have rather long to-do list, and it can be tempting to try and tackle this list all at once.
However, it is important to be as realistic as possible when planning your days. Not only does this give you the chance to better manage your time but it helps to prevent burnout as trying to work through every task every day would eventually lead to burnout and in-turn, poor performance.
Instead, set realistic daily goals that are achievable. Don’t overcommit to projects or clients. This way it is much more rewarding, and you know you can meet your deadlines with ease.
If you know how long specific tasks take you to complete, it is always better to overestimate than underestimate. This allows margin for error and can help to alleviate stress. Adding on an additional 20% to your timing means you have spare time to spend on a task and if you don’t need it, you can take a break, catch up on admin or get a head start on another task.
Set Time Aside for Predictable Tasks
As a consultant your workday will likely be unpredictable. It can vary from one day to next making it hard to plan in advance. However, you can plan for the predictable tasks; the things you know you need to do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Tasks such as replying to emails and doing invoices, for example. It can be easy to forget these tasks so adding them into your schedule will help you manage your time more effectively.
Prioritisation is Key
When you are looking at a long list of tasks the best thing you can do is prioritise them. Start with the tasks that have fast-approaching deadlines and then you can schedule the rest of the day based on your personality style. You may want to use one of our suggested time management strategies for this.
One of the most important things you can do as an independent consultant is set boundaries, both for yourself and others. If you don’t set boundaries, you might find that your professional and personal lives become blurred. Obviously within consulting, emergencies and extenuating circumstances may arise but aside from those, you should set a consistent time to your workday and communicate this to your clients and peers.
Without proper time management, you will find your work-life balance becoming unhealthy – resulting in you becoming unmotivated, unproductive and burnt out. At Choix, we believe flexibility and choice of work are two of the most important aspects of being an independent consultant; both of which contribute to a better work-life balance. By managing your time effectively, you will reap the benefits of this.