Learn to effectively manage your daily demands for positive outcomes.
Many individuals now working remotely because of stay-at-home orders have quickly realized the need for effective time-management strategies. But learning the art of time management yields a positive impact in any environment.
The obvious benefits are improved task management, higher productivity, decreased stress levels, and better work-life balance. Conversely, when we struggle to balance our time, priorities, and distractions, we miss deadlines, produce poor quality work, and experience burnout.
Here are seven simple hacks to help you manage your time—and be more creative, happy, and productive in your career.
Conduct a time audit
If you don’t know where all your time is going, conduct an audit. Use an app such as RescueTime or Toggl to track what you do. Or go old school and develop your own spreadsheet.
The goal is to track your activities in 30-minute or hour-long intervals for one week. You don’t need a long explanation of each task—just a general description such as email, meeting, browsing the internet, or the name of a specific project.
After tracking, review your list and highlight the activities that occur the most each day. For example, if you are checking your inbox or browsing the internet multiple times a day, then you know those are your time wasters.
Then, look for tasks that happen regularly such as check-ins with your manager or team. While those are necessary tasks that you need to work into your schedule, you may want to think about ways to consolidate them.
Set weekly priorities
Take a few minutes at the beginning of the week to break down your big goals into daily tasks. Deadlines and resources will be the major guide to your plan.
Factor in what you know about your personal work style, habits, and energy. For instance, if Monday is typically a low-energy day for you, schedule low-priority tasks and meetings and save Tuesdays and Wednesdays for more creative and demanding responsibilities. Whether you create your plan on Sunday night or Monday morning, having a blueprint for the week will help you transition from a weekend mindset to a productive workweek.
Plan your day
Use the first 15 minutes of each day to create a daily to-do list. Use pen and paper or tap digital apps and tools for help. Either way, a good strategy is to put two or three tasks that are the most critical at the top of your list.
Multiple experts recommend that you tackle those first thing in the morning, because accomplishing them will give you the boost you need for the rest of the day. However, if you know your best workflow occurs in the afternoon, then create your schedule accordingly.
Do not forget to include everyday duties such as answering email or making phone calls. You can use those as a transition or buffer between more important tasks.
The idea is to schedule potential distractions and interruptions—and keep to the schedule. According to multiple studies, it takes on average 25 minutes to return to an original task after an interruption.
Finally, avoid putting anything on your list that you do not have the resources to complete. If you need to wait for data or collateral from a team member, you may need to break down a bigger project into bite-size tasks.
Set time limits
Take a look at your time audit and identify tasks that took longer than you expected. Then set time limits for those items for the future.
According to experts, trying to beat the clock should help you focus more and work more efficiently. If you find yourself going beyond the time limits on a regular basis, check whether unscheduled breaks, tasks you’ve identified as time wasters on your audit, or something else is interrupting your workflow.
Declutter your space
Clutter in your environment can make you lose focus. And when you lose focus, you lose time.
Keep your workspace organized and clutter free so when you sit down to work, there are no distractions to sidetrack you. At the end of each day, take a few minutes to clear your workspace and computer desktop.
Put away all of your documents in the appropriate files, both physical and online. This will help you dive into work immediately the following day.
Organize your email
McKinsey Global Institute estimates that workers spend 28 percent of the workweek managing email. A key tactic for speeding up communication and wasting less time on unnecessary exchanges is to organize your email inbox.
Use the FAST system as you open incoming messages. Once you read an email, decide whether to file it, assign it to someone, store for future reference, or trash it. When you file or store a message that contains important information but does not need an immediate answer, consider adding specific, actionable labels for later reference.
You can use filters to automatically assign labels to incoming mail based on the sender or some other information or keywords they contain. Also, set your spam or junk email filter to remove unsolicited and mass emails from advertisers, marketers, and other time wasters.
Do not disturb
Why are common distractions like emails and phone calls so detrimental? Each time you are pulled away from a task to answer an email or call, you need to shift your focus. Then you have to refocus when you return to the original task. That is time you cannot afford to lose.
When you are working on high-priority tasks, put your phone on silent mode and turn off data. Use your email’s do not disturb feature to temporarily silence and hide notifications. Social media is another major interruption at work, so turn off alerts when working.
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