Reading through time management and productivity tips, or learning them in a seminar, it is easy to get the impression that getting more out of your schedule is a simple as going home and following some basic advice. And often, it really is. But there are some careers in situations that make it difficult to follow the traditional advice. Ironically enough, they are also the careers that require the most in terms of time management and efficiency.
So what do you do when your calendar is out of control, and you cannot seem to use the same advice as everyone else?
The answer is not to follow tips that are not working for you, or to throw up your hands and decide that productivity is beyond you. Instead, you may need to take some of the traditional pieces of time management advice and twist them a little bit.
In order to help you get started, here are some classic time management tactics adapted for those with unconventional careers or schedules:
Think in smaller pieces of time. Although an hour of uninterrupted time may be ideal to make progress on a big project, you still might be able to get a lot done in 10 or 15 minutes, if that is all you have available to you. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that time management is “all or nothing.” Simply do what you can when you can, and you will keep moving forward.
Schedule around the known. No matter how crazy your schedule is, you probably have some items – like a meeting with your boss, or a conference call – that you can plan around. Fill those in on the schedule first, and then look to the small gaps that fall around or between them.
Make time for interruptions. In the same way, if you don’t know what sort of fire is going to pop up, but can reasonably expect you’ll have to put a few out, account for that time beforehand. Knowing that you are likely to lose a few hours leaves you free to think about what else you might accomplish in your day, instead of overloading your project list and feeling depressed when you do not finish any of it.
Put travel time on your side. Few opportunities for work are wasted as often as travel time is. A few minutes in a taxicab, or a few hours on a plane, can be more than enough to finish report, plan a meeting, weigh the factors for a critical decision, and so on.
Keep fewer priorities that matter more. Instead of trying to stay on top of ten projects, have four or five that really matter to you (or your boss) and that you can make regular progress on. You’ll be far more effective as a professional if you fully accomplish a few things than you will if you constantly struggle with too many.
Take advantage of “quiet time.” Are there times before or after your scheduled office hours, or maybe on the weekend, that you can use to catch up? If you have a crazy job, then adding more hours to your working life might seem like an insane tactic. On the other hand, it could give you the power you need to make some progress on your longer-term priorities or career goals.
Textbook time management techniques work for those who have textbook careers. If your life and schedule are a little less conventional, however, you can still make them work – it’s just a matter of adapting to your situation and thinking outside the box.