While some management skills will often be more useful in your business life than in your personal life, time management is a skill that should help you in both areas — especially in a 24/7 world. Management expert Peter Drucker describes it this way: “Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.”
In a “Big Data” environment, research professionals have a specialized version of time management challenges. Information is constantly coming and going — just keeping up with electronic, print and social media can be an insurmountable obstacle. But time management truly is a skill that can help. In this article, Research Optimus provides a “Baker’s Dozen” (13) of time management tips for market research professionals.
Tip # 1: Self-Introspect
SWOT analysis — evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — is not just a tool for companies. It works well at the individual level as well by helping you to focus on both the internal and external environment. By candidly examining your personal capabilities and possible limitations, you will gain a better understanding of who you are. A more successful research career is likely to follow!
Tip # 2: Plan Your Week
Thinking about your research schedule for the upcoming week can help you review priorities and identify potential conflicts. Try to set aside 15-30 minutes on a Monday morning, at the end of the weekend or as the last thing in your Friday routine.
Tip # 3: Know Your Deadlines
Deadlines still matter — whether we are talking about clients, suppliers or an employee performance review. By marking your deadlines in your organizer or some other system that works for you, you can keep an eye on upcoming deadlines as well as avoid potential conflicts when you add a new deadline. This process will also allow you to identify potential conflicts sooner rather than later so you can change deadlines at an earlier point when necessary.
Tip # 4: Keep a To-Do List
Research professionals are constantly juggling many tasks — keeping a prioritized list and updating it regularly will help you manage everything by providing multiple benefits that include the following:
- Provides a record of accomplishments
- Gives you a “reward” by checking off a task
- Frees up mental space by keeping less in your head
- Reduces possibility of forgetting something
- Keeps you from becoming sidetracked
- Allows you to focus on important objectives and the “big picture”
Tip # 5: Organize Your Email
One practical approach with email is to create folders that make it easier to find something when you really need it. You also need to be ruthless in deleting emails that aren’t needed once you’ve read them. It is easy to “get behind” with email if you aren’t diligent in reading and responding to email immediately — do your best to devote a few minutes at several points during the day.
Tip # 6: Minimize Your Meetings
In all-too-many instances, physical meetings are an archaic leftover from an earlier day. At a minimum, be selective in choosing which research meetings to attend. Always ask yourself — Is it critical to be there?
Tip # 7: Learn to Say No
While saying “No” is difficult for many individuals, it is definitely worth your time to work on this aspect of time management for your research activities. Saying “Yes” too often is simply counterproductive — and sends the “wrong signal” when you really want to say “No.” William Ury wrote a book that will help you do a better job of adding “No” to your research vocabulary: “The Power of a Positive No.”
Tip # 8: Don’t Do Others’ Work
As the ultimate manager of your research projects, you can create more time for your research duties by resisting any temptation to do work that belongs on somebody else’s plate. Instead, delegate when appropriate and teach junior researchers how to do something — and then let them do it!
Tip # 9: Create Buffer Time Between Tasks
Allowing for a “buffer” between research projects can have invaluable benefits. First, a buffer allows quality time to clear your mind by meditating, going for a walk or simply taking a break. Second, you can gain a greater appreciation about what you’ve just done by reflecting backward a bit before you move forward — stop and smell the roses!
Tip # 10: Don’t Be a Perfectionist!
As noted by Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, “Done is better than perfect.” Even though it is often easy for research professionals to think that they need to be “Perfect” in everything they do, this is usually not necessary. Simply stated, some tasks such as email to colleagues don’t always require your best effort.
Tip # 11: Sleep at Least 7 to 8 Hours
When it comes to sleep, listen to your body! The best research professionals do even better work with eight hours of sleep. Less sleep decreases efficiency and effectiveness in most business research environments — and frequently leads to long-term health complications as well.
Tip # 12: Avoid Procrastination
The only good thing about procrastinating is that it serves as a running joke on late-night talk shows. For many individuals, the “Fear of Doing Things” requires active attention and management — making decisions more quickly is one way to get past such concerns. Here is some common-sense advice from Agatha Christie to reinforce the value of starting your research projects instead of putting them off until later: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”
Tip # 13: Beware of “Efficiency” Traps
Getting a long list of tasks done does not make you more productive unless they were the “right tasks” — finishing your highest priorities first. In your rush to “check off more boxes,” remember that some of the easiest tasks probably don’t need to be done at all.
Bonus Tip – Learn to Delegate by Outsourcing
Research professionals often have what seems to be an intimidating work routine and schedule — and should take advantage of time management improvements wherever they can find new opportunities. In a constant quest that involves publishing desk based research reports and creating knowledge from data via computers and mobile platforms, a research career will always have a fair share of time management challenges. While learning to delegate projects to others is a practical solution, the selective use of cost-effective outsourcing to experts such as Research Optimus is a prudent method for delegating and saving valuable time.
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– Research Optimus