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For most busy professionals, every day seems like a race against the clock. You may start off the morning energetic and optimistic, with a strong cup of coffee and a long list of goals to accomplish, but by the afternoon, you are tired and overwhelmed without completing nearly as many items as you had hoped.

Some tasks took longer than expected or you had a last-minute emergency to manage or you simply got distracted; there are a thousand ways your personal effectiveness can get derailed throughout the day.

Time management may feel like a constant juggling act, but you can take control of your schedule if you approach it strategically. Create a plan, stay focused and learn to recognize your time-wasters and you will reduce stress and boost productivity.

5 Easy Steps for Better Time Management

1. Be realistic about your time.

There are only 24 hours in a day (as much as we would love to change that fact) and only about one-third of that time is spent at work. If your to-do list for one work day is crammed with a week’s worth of tasks, you are setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment. Strive to set a few realistic goals for each day and start with the most important. If you have a hard time cutting back your list, impose outside limits by writing it on a Post-It or index card each morning.

2. Record how you’re spending your time.

Do you often reach the end of a work day wondering where all of those hours went? It might be time to do a self-evaluation of your time management style. Follow this tip from the latest EDSI monthly newsletter:

Break your day down into at least half hour slots and write down exactly what you do in each 30 minutes. Imagine that you are on a diet and your doctor has asked you to keep an honest food journal, to reveal your major calorie intake times of the day. This is what you want for your time journal.

3. Be honest about where you’re wasting time.

After keeping a time journal for a few days, read it carefully to identify which time-wasters are damaging your personal effectiveness. Are you spending too long responding to emails or catching up on blogs and social media? Are you reorganizing your file cabinets because you are procrastinating on completing an important project? Everyone has a few of these weaknesses; write yours down so you can be aware of them and do them less frequently.

4. Set limits for yourself.

Self-imposed deadlines can help keep you on track with time management. Estimate how long each item on your to-do list will take to complete, then set a timeframe for yourself. Put a reminder in your computer’s calendar or set an actual timer to enforce the limits you set.

5. Say “no” when you need to.

Before you agree to any new work, take a moment to consider your schedule and existing assignments. Learn to say “no” or delegate when you know you have reached your capacity for new projects.

What are your tips for time management at work? Share them in the comments.

Learn how to get the most out of your time with EDSI’s Increasing Personal Effectiveness course.

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