It’s easy to get sidetracked when you don’t have clearly defined goals for what you’re trying to accomplish each day. Here’s how you can master your time management.

Share story

Last week I discussed my No. 1 tip that will help your career more than anything else. Along with continuing to learn one new skill every year, there’s something else that will help you to be successful: Being in control of how you spend your time.

I’m often asked, “How do you get so much done in one day?” and my response is always this: “Simple. I schedule my workload every day.”

When a friend of mine asked that question and heard my response, she was horrified. “Oh, I could never do that. I’m just not a structured kind of person. I’d rather see how my day is going and how I feel, and then decide what I work on throughout the day.”

Everyone has differences in the way they approach their work. My friend enjoyed living from one moment to the next, handling things as they arose. But she had one problem: She wasn’t receiving the pay raises or promotions she’d been hoping for. That’s when I gave her a fun little exercise to do: Document what she did every hour of each day at work for one week.

When we sat down afterward, she was almost bursting to talk. “I can’t believe how much time I’ve been spending on emails! I also realized I often get distracted from what I planned to do, and then end up doing something else.”

Sound familiar? It’s easy to get sidetracked when you don’t have clearly defined goals for what you’re trying to accomplish each day. Here’s how you can master your time management.

Find out where your time goes. Track your time for one week and then analyze the results.

Plan ahead. Sit down in a quiet location for 15–20 minutes and plan your week ahead. Write down the key projects and tasks you need or want to accomplish.

Prioritize. Rank your list so you can see the most important activities all the way down to the least important.

Block time on your calendar. Schedule the time you’ll need to complete your high-priority tasks and projects.

Carve out email time. Try setting aside specific times for checking your email, such as at the beginning of the day, right before and after lunch, and at the end of the day. Then avoid checking email when you’re in the middle of an important project or task.

The more disciplined my friend became at managing her time, the more goals she accomplished. All it required her to do was to reframe her thoughts from “I wonder how my week will be?” to “Here’s what I’m going to accomplish this week.”

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.