We all have the same number of hours in the day, so why is it that some people seem to get so much more done? The ability to effectively manage your time is key to productivity. You may not be able to create more time in your day, but applying time management skills can help you make the most of the time you do have!
We know that if we want to have a meeting, get a haircut, or see our healthcare provider, we need to make an appointment. We schedule our errands and vacations. But when it comes to our own time and work we do independently, too often we take a piecemeal approach and just do whatever comes to hand first. Taking the time to schedule work tasks, even those you do independently, helps you make better use of your time. Instead of doing work as it comes to you, take the time to slot in a block of time on your schedule for each tasks. Don’t forget to schedule in breaks, too! Scheduling tasks makes them a priority – after all, you wouldn’t just skip a doctor’s appointment or other scheduled obligation. Seeing something on your schedule also helps you remember that it needs to get done! Scheduling can take some time to master – you may discover that tasks take much more (or much less) time than you plan for. Spend a week or so keeping track of how you spend you work time so that you can better plan ahead for how much time to schedule a given task or project.
Managing your priorities is key to managing your time. Taking the time to determine what is most important, whether in terms of value or in terms of completion, is the first step. Take time each day and week to determine what your priorities for the coming days are. Slot these into your schedule first. This allows you to ensure that time is blocked off and resources allocated for the most important tasks and projects. When we don’t take time to set priorities, everything becomes equally urgent – which means that we move from task to task in a way that is haphazard and does not make the best use of our time or energy. Setting priorities helps ensure that you take care of the things that are most pressing or which deliver the most value. Prioritizing is especially key when working with others. If people who must work together have differing senses of what the priorities are, this can lead to miscommunication, conflict, and reduced productivity.
A major key to productivity, especially if you want to find a flow state, is to manage your distractions. Distractions happen – we can minimize them and manage them, but never eliminate them altogether. Creating a plan for managing distractions is a key time management skill. The first step is to determine what your major distractions are. Is it colleagues popping into your office? Is it your email or voicemail? Do you get bored with routine tasks if you have to focus on them too long? Figuring out what your major distractions are can help you brainstorm solutions and better manage them.
Some common distractions are:
- Colleagues stopping by to chat
- Checking email or voicemail
- Noise in the environment
- Clutter in your workspace
- Boredom after spending too long on one task
You can solve these by:
- Establishing “open door” hours
- Closing your door or otherwise indicating “Please Do Not Disturb”
- Using noise canceling headphones
- Setting a regular time to check voicemail and email
- Letting calls go to voicemail
- De-cluttering your workspace
- Building in breaks
Multitasking is exactly what it sounds like – trying to do more than one thing at a time. Many of us multitask throughout our day – listening to a colleague while checking email, working on a document while talking on the phone. We have the idea that we get more done when we multitask or that this is the best way to maximize our time. However, studies show that 30-40% more time is spent when you multitask rather than when you mono-task (work on one thing at a time). Multitasking also means your attention is divided, which can lead to miscommunication and errors. Multitasking can also damage relationships, as it may convey that we are not really interested in what another is saying. It can be difficult to break the multitasking habit, but it is key if we are be the best we can be
Cliff was one of the busiest people in the office. He always had at least three things going on. To make the most of his time, he did two or more things at once – edited a document on screen while he was on a conference call, filed papers while he talked to one of his direct reports. He just could never get ahead – it seemed the harder he worked, the more behind he fell. He didn’t understand why his office mate, Shawna, always seemed to be so on top of things. She only ever worked on one thing at a time. She let her calls roll to voicemail, and only checked her email four times a day. Cliff didn’t understand how she could possibly get everything done that she did. She also seemed so much less harried than he did – she even had time to take a little break a couple times a day to walk around and get a cup of tea. He asked her what her secret was. “I only do one thing at a time,” she said. “This way my full attention is on one thing, and then I can move on to another later.” She told him to try it for one week. He scoffed, but agreed since he was so stressed. To his amazement, Cliff found that tasks took less time than he thought they would, and he was able to work much more efficiently when he focused on one thing at a time.