Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog

Got a minute? Learn how to manage your time effectively

16 Comments

Man checking his watchDo you find yourself running out of time during your working day? Karen Capel, an Academic Coordinator and teacher trainer, shares her tips for managing your time effectively.

I have never met a Coordinator or Director of Studies who had time to spare. Our duties seem to multiply every minute, but of course the time we have to tackle them does not. So how can we do so much in so little time? Here are some ideas you may find useful:

1. Prioritise

How many times have you found yourself immersed in tasks which are, of course, important but which could have waited for other more urgent matters to be resolved first? I have to admit that happens to me many times. Why? Sometimes because unconsciously I choose to deal with issues or tasks I enjoy before undertaking activities I find tedious or which require more time to be done. Some other times because of lack of proper planning or because urgent matters like solving an emergent problem or answering a phone call prevent me from getting the ‘actual work’ done. It’s therefore necessary for us to take a minute and consciously analyse our ‘to do lists’ to rank activities in order of importance and urgency so that we work on those which are both important and urgent first, then on those which are urgent and maybe not that important – just because of their unwanted consequences – and finally on those which are important but not that pressing – the ones actually linked to professional growth and personal objectives. If not dealt with in time, these can become urgent as well and can also lead us to become reactive instead of proactive, as we’ll only be focusing on what’s already imperative and not on creating new projects or coming up with new ideas.

You can find a matrix and further details on how to identify important and urgent matters in the following website: http://entrepreneursystems.com/Products/Urgent%20Matrix.pdf.

More tips can also be found at: http://www.wikihow.com/Manage-Your-Time.

2. Delegate

I know how hard this is and sometimes we all get the feeling that nobody will do things the way we would, but let’s face it, we have an endless list of tasks waiting to be carried out and very scarce time, so it’s only logical to delegate those activities that someone else can do, be it administrative duties or paperwork, searching for information on a given topic, or correcting tests or mock exams. Keep only those tasks which require your knowledge and expertise for yourself – which are surely enough to keep you busy!

3. Plan as much as possible

Whenever possible, plan ahead in order to make the most of your time. Needless to say, there will be unexpected meetings, phone calls and so on and so forth, but the more organised your routine activities are the better you’ll be able to cope with these eventualities.

4. Don’t multitask

We tend to fall into this trap too often and reckon that if we do many things at once we’ll be more efficient and finish more in less time. Actually, it’s the total opposite. The amount of time required is exactly the same but we also run the risk of making far more mistakes due to not being properly focused on each task. Research has shown that multitasking can actually lead to our wasting 20-40% of our time, depending on what we’re trying to achieve. Multitasking prevents us from being ‘in flow’, i.e. fully focused on a particular thing. Being ‘in flow’ actually results in higher satisfaction levels and a higher chance of achieving goals faster.

5. Be organised

Disorganisation can only lead to wasting time. Think of how much time you spend looking for papers or files you cannot find or how you can forget about an important matter just because you forgot to write it down or you fail to find the piece of paper where you did! Organisation is key to management and can prevent disasters from happening.

6. Minimise distractions

It’s worth pointing out that by this I don’t mean breaks, as these are necessary from time to time in order to recharge our batteries and focus once again on what we are doing. Nobody can be focused for eight hours non-stop – and it’s not healthy either. What I mean by this is that, for example, if you leave your email programme open and visible all day, it’s highly plausible that you interrupt whatever you’re doing in order to answer emails – important or not – every time you receive one. It goes without saying that this can impact on the quality of the work being undertaken.

7. Set realistic goals for your day

If you have endless to-do lists that you’ll never tick off, you’ll always feel frustrated. It’s alright to have a long list of pending tasks, but it’s also a good idea to use daily lists which reflect what you can really tackle in a day. This will allow you to make the most of the time you have and tackle as much as possible since you can choose to work on different tasks depending on the periods of time available. Let me illustrate this with an example: say you start work at 8 and have a meeting at 9. Think of which tasks from your list you would be able to start and finish in an hour and deal with one of those. Do the same with every period you have and by the end of the day you will have taken care of many issues that otherwise would still be waiting on your list. Doing this will help you to set realistic goals for each day and therefore leave the office with the sense of achievement you deserve!

Do you have any tips to add?

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

16 thoughts on “Got a minute? Learn how to manage your time effectively

  1. Thanks for sharing these practical tips. Very clear and useful

  2. This article was very clear, concise and readable! I will definitely try to put it into practise ASAP. Thanks!

  3. Karen, thanks for all those good ideas. I am going to focus on the one about eliminating disractors. I’ll tell how it went

  4. Thanks for the tips Karen! They are very useful and practical. Very often I find myself doing many things at the same time in an attempt to finish earlier with what I’m doing… the result? what you said… more time needed to check and correct what we’ve already done because we were not fully concentrated on what we were doing! So, in my case, tip number 4 is the one I definitely need to work on!

  5. Very useful indeed! I also find it’s important to reward oneself after a long work day!

  6. Insightful and practical tips coming from someone who has definitely given some thought to effective time management, good job.

  7. Reblogged this on Fire, Ice and The Road Not Taken and commented:
    I know I need to do just this.

  8. Very useful and practical! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  9. As someone who could put two assistants to work (if I could afford to pay them), I really appreciate the points made in this post.

    For what it’s worth, as a teacher constantly preparing tests, worksheets, and handouts, my personal rule is to use the bulk of my time making things that could be used multiple times. This extends to lecture notes, which I keep in Google docs, so I can revise them and use again at a layer date. It crushes me to watch teachers write these detailed lesson plans and then throw them out when they’ve finished with them.

    Long term, the best way to save time is to not reinvent the wheel every few months.

    • Dear Mark,

      I totally agree with you. When it comes to creating materials and handouts for students, lesson plans, and also documents for our personal use, it’s always a good idea to re-use and recycle – and this this especially true for authentic materials. Once you find something worth using in class you can adapt it to different levels and purposes easily. So I definitely agree with your point and think should be added to the list above. Thanks for the contribution and for sharing your experience as well.

      Karen

  10. Karen, this is a great article: quick to read but with lots to absorb – I have just copied out your list onto a post-it to stick on my desk!
    I am not an ELT teacher (yet…) but think your tips are equally applicable to a fairly busy assistant at OUP. Thank you for sharing them.

    My tip (related to no. 7) is to make a to-do list for the next day at the end of the current one: this makes you more efficient when you first come in and can start on those routine jobs. Another idea if you have a desk job is to set yourself reminders/tasks in Outlook, so that they will pop up to tell you what you should be doing (or might have forgotten to do, if you got distracted!).

    I’ll be working on planning time-slots (no. 3) and avoiding distraction/multi-tasking (no. 6) where possible (it can be efficient to combine big print jobs/copying with other smaller computer tasks, for example) in order to maximise my productivity.

    Thanks again! 🙂

    • Hi Lucy,

      Great to hear you found the post both useful and easy to read.

      I generally do what you said and write down a to-do list for the following day before leaving the office. What I also do is prioritise the tasks on the list, i.e. I list them in the order I should tackle those and try to include them in my diary so as to maximise every free slot I have.

      Hope you can put all of this into practice!

      Karen

  11. thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. for a long time I´ve been trying to cope with a list of tasks ..and I really feel frustrated, in spite of my organization . from now on I´ll get your TIPS (don´t multitask) and be focusing on what´s already imperative.
    Christie love

  12. thanks for your cooperation giving us some tips to manage our time. for a long time I¨ve been trying to cope with a list of task uselessly, feeling frustated in spite of organizing. from now on I could tackle a day. firstly….do not multitask , fully focused on a particular thing without distractions.
    deepest thanks.
    Christie love

  13. Thanks for sharing these useful ideas! 🙂 The amount of tasks we sometimes have is certainly a matter of concern… and there are still ‘only’ 24 hours a day! Something that helps me save time is keeping the material I have prepared organised by levels, and re-use it whenever I have a similar level and age range among the students. In this way, I just have to ‘tailor’ certain details as we know that all students and groups are different and have diverse needs. From time to time, I go over all the materials I have gathered and try to keep only the ones that are still useful or adapt some of them.
    Thanks a bunch for your concise tips!
    Warmest regards,

    Florencia.

Leave a Reply