Time management skills are at the top of any employer’s hit-list!
When you are telling your career stories during an interview, outlining how you deal with time pressure is so much easier. It adds the dramatic tension that we all feel when a deadline approaches. “I’ve got so much to do. Now, how do I focus?”
Doing justice to your time management skills is impossible on a CV, so in this blog we would like to focus on the interview situation. You are sitting opposite someone who has the same struggles — the hiring manager will be curious as to how you handle time pressure.
This is a point in the interview where you have a chance to set yourself apart with your time management techniques. Offering a standard answer will not impress anyone. Think hard about how you make the most of the time that you have in your day. In this blog, we will explore the following:
- Why are time management skills important?
- What is your time management personality?
- Seven time management skills for your interview
- Eight time management techniques to mention
Do you need to reconsider your relationship with time? Is it ticking away with little to show for it? How can you convince your future boss that your time is under your control?
Only pick extreme examples for your interview. When you are outlining your time management skills with a hiring manager, make sure that you pick an extreme example. Telling them a story about something that isn’t particularly taxing will make them think that you are relaxed about your time management. Try to shock them a little.
Why are time management skills important?
Managing time effectively is critical for professional success and personal fulfilment.
As work/life boundaries blur, spending too much time on something means that time will be lost for something else. Too many parents miss out on time with their kids because they are “working,” but could they get their work done earlier?
Equally, an employer is paying their people to be as productive as possible. If an employee is not productive with their time at work, that is detrimental to everyone around them.
When you walk into an interview for a new job, outlining your time management skills is central to securing a role. Let’s explore what time management means to you.
What is your time management personality?
There are varying ways of dealing with time pressure. When you are asked about your time management skills during an interview, it may be useful to identify your time management personality in advance rather than searching in vain for the words on the spot.
There is no “correct” way to approach time management. So long as you can demonstrate that you get things done to your best ability, you may adopt any of the following styles:
People who are by nature poorly organised often adopt the persona of someone who does their best work at the last minute. They are aware that they should be starting various tasks, but they put them off until stress takes over and they work like a trojan to get everything done. They are relaxed until those last few frantic hours (or days) of work. Not healthy.
Do you like to feel busy all the time? Life is not worth living unless you are running at 100mph and juggling six tasks simultaneously. Firefighters can get so much done, but not all of it will be of the highest quality. This is a recipe for burnout and will eventually mean that your colleagues start to trust other less “busy” people with their projects.
There is enough time. Until there isn’t. Time optimists allow themselves to be distracted until the last minute when they finally realise that they need to get a shift on. The benefit of this method is that you can focus on other things before you take on the task, but you do risk missed deadlines and messed up scheduling.
When everything has to be perfect, completing tasks is a drawn-out process that can frustrate other members of the team and endanger project timelines. When you spend too much time on something that should have been submitted days ago, burnout lurks and the “to do” pile starts to mount. Be content that something is good enough.
Master of time management
Of course, all the above time management styles reflect the imperfect reality of the workplace. If you do want to present yourself as a time management guru (and tell a few white lies), sprinkling the following time management skills and techniques into your career stories will paint a far more organised and calmer picture.
You get a task, you slot it into your schedule, get it done to the best of your ability, and move on. If you talk about the following time management skills during your interview, that is exactly how your future boss will imagine you.
Seven time management skills for your interview
Hinting at the following time management skills during your interview will go a long way to marking you out as a time management master.
Learn to say “no”
When you are clear about your priorities at work, you need to let others know when their demands on your time do not work for you. If your day is centred around delivering the best possible work for your employer, any non-priority work will take you away from delivering on your mandate. You may just end up doing the work of others for them.
Such boundaries are tough to establish, but they are ultimately healthy. If you are someone who always says “yes,” your time will be squeezed, and the quality of your output will suffer.
Embrace personal accountability
No one can know just how quickly you can get a task done. There might be a general expectation for you to prepare a presentation in three hours, but if you are a whizz on Canva and Photoshop, you will likely be able to do it in two. Why spend that extra hour fitting in with someone else’s expectation when you could be doing other things?
Being accountable for how you spend your time and taking on tasks on your terms is the best way to feel empowered in your day. If a meeting only needs fifteen minutes, don’t schedule it in for thirty. Value your time and the time of others. Take accountability.
Delegate to those who benefit
When you get to know your colleagues, you will be able to delegate tasks to people who will benefit from them professionally. Giving someone a job that will benefit them (for whatever reason) means they will do it with pleasure — and be more likely to help you in the future.
Think hard about who you involve in your projects. Don’t make people feel resentment for handing them the donkey work that no one wants to do. Mix it up a little. Even do the boring stuff yourself sometimes and give the more interesting tasks to others.
Multitask only when required
Multitasking all the time is not a sign of someone who is fantastic at time management skills. Some tasks require your undivided attention for a morning, so be prepared to put everything else to one side, eliminate any possible distraction and get your head down.
While scheduling similar tasks together in bite sized chunks makes sense for your brain, sometimes you need to be more sequential in how you approach your day. This is particularly important when external life events are raising your stress levels.
Plan time realistically
One of the biggest time management skills issues occurs when you allocate too much or too little time to a project. Consider your overall workload and think about similar things that you have done in the past. How much time did you need to get it done? Can you involve other people to speed up the process? Is there anything that might distract you?
If things are taking too long, the quality of work will be impacted. That will often not matter so much to the ultimate business goals, so you have to use your judgement.
Be flexible in your approach
When a new task drops into your inbox, you must be ready to mix up your current “to do” list. Some tasks simply need to be done right now. If you are flexible enough to put a current job on the back burner (because it doesn’t need to be finished tomorrow), you will show your colleagues that you are thoughtful and reliable.
Showing solid judgement in your time management approach will indicate to those around you that they can be patient with the tasks that they entrust to you. You might not jump on a task immediately, but they know that you will get it done in the end.
Manage stress early
Everyone has had times in their lives when they have sat at their desk and spent far too long ruminating on a particular personal issue and before they know it an hour or two has passed without much to show for it. You then feel immensely guilty but somehow the cycle of dwelling on those invasive stress-filled thoughts repeats itself in the days to come.
Acknowledging stress and dealing with it early is the only way to find your way back to productivity. Mental health issues cause many of us to fail with our time management, so it is worth mentioning in your interview how you deal with external stress.
Eight popular time management techniques
While the time management skills above were more behavioural, here are eight techniques that you can mention in an interview to make you seem like you are in absolute control of how you spend your time. Which fits best with the nature of the work that you do?
- Pomodoro. The Pomodoro technique involves breaking your activities into 25-minute work chunks (pomodoros) with 5-minute breaks in between. Named after the tomato-shaped timer that inventor Francesco Cirillo used. Based on an estimation of our attention span.
- Kanban. Invented in Japan in the 1960s, Kanban is a visual tracking technique that allows you to follow the progress of your work across different labelled columns. As a task progresses, it moves along the stages – “to-do, in progress, stuck, completed” for example.
- Timeboxing. Fixing deadlines for specific tasks makes a lot of sense in a project management environment. It allows each person to work in sync with colleagues with a single-tasking approach that lends itself to when you have many small tasks.
- Time blocking. Blocking out a period of your diary or your day/week is popular in many corporate circles. If you are good at allocating the time, you split your time into “sprints” that will add up to a whole lot of productivity. Plan, block, act, revise.
- Inbox-zero. You might think that the desire for an empty inbox has been around since the invention of electronic mail, but the specific productivity technique was only formally identified by Merlin Mann. The goal of an empty inbox will lead to many benefits.
- Eisenhower matrix. The famous Eisenhower matrix divides tasks into urgent/not urgent and important/not important. Something that is important and urgent should be addressed immediately. Classifying tasks in this way offers refreshing clarity.
- 10-minute rule. Work on a task for ten minutes. Consider what you have done and think whether it is worth working on for another ten or whether you can consider it ready to be ticked off your list. Work until you are ready to move onto another take for its ten minutes.
- 1-3-5 rule. This rule helps you to prioritise your work. Every workday (or maybe morning/afternoon) you undertake to complete one big task, three medium tasks and five small tasks. This gives you a sense that you are completing a range of priorities.
The feeling that you have used your day wisely is incredibly rewarding. Equally, any manager wants to feel that they have a productive team who are making the most of every moment. Talking about time management skills in an interview is a way of putting their mind at rest. Hiring a productive new employee will improve those around them.
- Talk about what time management means to your working day.
- Only share career stories that involve jaw-dropping examples of productivity.
- Get a little technical – hiring managers are genuinely interested.
- Show that you are prepared to experiment and learn from your mistakes.+