Workplaces are full of inefficiencies.
The physical environment, the stability and consistency of management, the systems processes, the culture. And this wide range of factors can all have an impact on productivity in the workplace.
If you’re an employee, most of these factors may well be outside of your control.
However, there are strategies that can be implemented to improve your own efficiency through better personal time management.
Time management in the workplace can be a tricky endeavour. But you should do everything you can to make sure you are managing your time well.
When we’re trying to get something done, it can seem that there is no end of distractions due to emails, interruptions by colleagues, clients and bosses.
Then there are meetings, phone calls, unscheduled work loads, the list goes on.
And when all of these things are vying for our time and we seem to have a constantly distracted brain, how do we knuckle down and get the stuff that needs to be done, done?
1. Audit Your Time
If you really want to improve your time management and productivity at work, the first place to start is with a careful audit of your time. This is the best way to understand how effective you are with your time currently.
Now, this can be a bit tedious, but you only need to do it for a week and the information you gather will be invaluable in determining the following:
- What you can realistically hope to achieve on a daily basis
- When you are most productive
- Where you waste the most time
- The most common distractions in your life
Armed with this data, you’re now in a position to make improvements and create a daily schedule that plays to your strengths.
Check out this post: How To Audit Your Time >>>
2. Create A Daily Schedule
Knowing what you’re supposed to be doing and when is actually quite empowering.
It creates a sense of control and purpose and a solid daily schedule that acts as a plan for your day is the foundation of good time management.
Check out this post: How To Create A Schedule >>>
The thing is with plans is that they don’t always, well, go to plan. Attention gets diverted, unexpected ‘stuff’ comes up.
But if you have a schedule, at least you have a structure you can revert to at any time that will help you keep things on track and hopefully, prevent you from further diverting your attention to time-wasting activities.
A schedule is not the same as a task list or To-Do list – I cover this in another post.
A schedule is basically a way to allocate your time to certain activities. An example of a typical day for a generic office-based type business might look something like this:
08.30 – 10.30 – Priority tasks only
10.45 – 11.30 – Client calls/customer support
11.30 – 11.45 – Break
11.45 – 13.00 – Handle emails
13.00 – 14.00 – LUNCH
14.00 – 15.30 – Allocated to meetings and training
15.45 – 17.30 – Everything else
Note that the times used here are purely for illustration. You may well start your days earlier and finish later.
As you can see, the schedule clearly sets out which type of activity is allocated to which time of day.
The activity times will be largely dictated by a combination of what is personally your most productive time of day, the sort of business you’re in and any particular constraints that may apply to that business, for example, mandatory activities such as meetings or certain times when clients can be reached. Read more about how to use time blocking here.
A personal preference of mine is to deal with the most urgent tasks first thing in the morning and then attack the task on my To-Do List that I least want to tackle and would put off, given the choice.
This follows a strategy called “Eat That Frog”, which comes from a book of the same name by Brian Tracy. It refers to a quote attributed to Mark Twain (aren’t they always?) “Eat a live frog first thing every morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Check out this post: Eat That Frog! Book Review >>>
It is a metaphor for tackling the biggest or worst task before all others.
That task is your ‘live frog’ and if you had to eat a live frog for real, you’d want to think about it as little as possible and just get it over with. That’s the thinking behind it – don’t procrastinate, get the bad stuff out of the way and move on with your day.
Frogs aside, I am yet to meet anybody that becomes more productive as the day goes on. There may be exceptions, and if you’re one of them, then you need to work according to your own inclinations, but I believe that generally, most people should be able to get their best work done in the morning.
There is also a lot to be said for accomplishments early in the day and creating momentum to maintain a high level of productivity for the rest of the day.
When creating a schedule, remember to use buffers, so that you have scheduled breaks and don’t make yourself available all the time.
Make it clear to colleagues (and bosses) when you are not available and ask them to respect that.
Lastly, one of the most common mistakes we make these days is that we let out work spill over into our personal lives. Make sure that you draw the line and don’t let your work schedule seep into family or free time. Time management is not restricted to your working life – it is important to manage your personal time well too.
Check out this post: How To Create A Schedule >>>
3. Create A To-Do List
A To-Do List can come in all kinds of formats – both digital and paper-based – and so what you use usually comes down to preference. Whatever medium you use, a To-Do List should be an organic list of tasks.
You need to figure out how long it will take you to complete each task.
Many people struggle to find a medium that works for them.
In his best-selling book, Getting Things Done, David Allen recommends that tasks should be written down as “next actions”, rather than partial reminders of things that are unresolved.
For example, you may have “Write Report” on your To-Do List, but if you need to gather some data from a colleague before you can write the report, then the next actionable task is “Collect data from John, or whoever.”
This may seem pedantic, but without working in this way, To-Do Lists often just become, what is brilliantly phrased in the book, “an amorphous blob of undoability.”
Check out this post: How To Write A To-Do List – Properly! >>>
Once you have created a schedule and a To-Do List, you should now prioritize your tasks.
Being able to separate the urgent and important from the less urgent and less important tasks will have a huge impact on your time management and productivity.
A simple way to do this might be to use the Eisenhower Box.
This is quite a famous productivity strategy used by former US President, Dwight Eisenhower, who was renowned for his time management and decision-making abilities.
Essentially, you allocate the tasks on your To-Do list into one of the four quadrants illustrated below.
While it does have it’s limitations, it’s a rough and ready tool that will really help you get to grips with prioritizing your work.
Check out this post: What Is The Eisenhower Box? >>>
5. Work In Blocks
Once you have prioritized your tasks, you need to consider the most efficient and time-effective way to tackle them.
Generally, most people find it difficult to remain fully-focused for long periods of time.
So instead, the time blocked off in your schedule can be further divided up into smaller blocks.
How you do this exactly will depend on the type of task at hand but, for example, if I have time blocked out for writing – let’s say, two hours – I will divide that time into smaller blocks of twenty-five minutes each with a five-minute break between blocks.
This is called the Pomodoro Technique.
I know that I can maintain focus for a full twenty-five minutes and find that I can get much more done in terms of both quantity and quality if I do things this way.
In contrast, if I just sit down with the intention of writing for two hours, I lose focus after twenty-five minutes and end up being distracted by other things – usually YouTube, making coffee and all number of other time suckers – and so 70% of the time I allocated to the task ends up being not very productive at all and I don’t get anywhere near the same amount of work done.
6. Know Your Role
This may sound like a strange one, but very often, we are not always super-clear about our roles within an organization.
The lines can be blurry.
Tasks, responsibilities and accountability can be spread across numerous departments and personnel and if we’re not 100% sure about what we should and shouldn’t be spending our time on, then the chances are, we’re often working on the wrong tasks and so spending our time at work inefficiently.
Clarifying roles and responsibilities should enable us to reduce the amount of time spent on tasks that should be being carried out by another team member, or could be delegated to another (see below).
This relates to understanding our role. Are we spending our time on tasks that could be carried out by someone else?
I used to think delegating tasks to others was lazy, but it’s a smart move that helps to free up time that can be spent on the tasks that are more important and have a higher ‘pay off’, e.g. those that result in growing the business, help you to finish a project, etc.
8. Saying ‘No’
Saying ‘no’ can be difficult when you are at the lower end of the ‘food chain’ within an organization, but there are times when you absolutely should be saying ‘no’.
To remain in control of your schedule, you have to be able to say ‘no’, otherwise, pretty quickly you’re going to end up dealing with requests that take your focus away from more important tasks that need to be done.
That doesn’t mean you need to say ‘no’ to everything, like Warren Buffett, but if you know a request that is not urgent is going to throw the rest of your schedule off track, don’t be afraid to knock it back.
Check out this post: How To Say ‘No’ >>>
9. Beware Of Perfectionism
If you are a conscientious and hard-working employee (which I am sure you are), it is natural that you always want your work to be of the highest possible quality. While there are undoubtedly certain jobs and tasks that do require perfection, for the majority of us the majority of the time, ‘done now’ is usually better than ‘perfection tomorrow’.
Consider this famous quote by General George S. Patton:
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”General George S. Patton
Sometimes we get bogged down in the detail of things when we don’t really need to.
And often the details are not important.
Of course, that does not mean that our work needs to become shoddy and unprofessional, but so much time can get wasted on the parts of a task that have the least impact.
If you’ve been asked to put together a spreadsheet for a project, sure – make it look pretty by all means. But don’t spend silly amounts of time agonizing over whether the tabs look better in green or red.
Focus your effort and attention on the most important parts of the task, nail them and move on.
Perfectionism can be a great trait, but it is not always required for day-to-day tasks and is likely to result in procrastination and hours of wasted time, which could have been spent more productively,
Check out this post: Time Management Tips For Perfectionists >>>
10. Clean Desk
Your environment can have a huge influence on your productivity.
If you are fortunate enough to have your own office, there is a lot you can do to create a good working atmosphere.
For those that are working in an open office environment, one area you can definitely control is your own desk.
I’ve seen articles and ‘research’ claiming that a messy desk could be a sign of genius, but not many of us are geniuses, so if you’ve been using that as an excuse for your desk looking like a bomb site, you’re kidding yourself.
A tidy and organized desk creates a space that is much more conducive to organized and efficient work.
Time Hack Hero Takeaway
These ten tips should serve you well when it comes to managing your time better at work.
Remember that the whole point of time management at work is so that you can do you work and then leave it there – not bring it home with you.
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