Time is the great equalizer—everybody gets the same twenty-four hours each day. Making productive use of that time can mean the difference between getting things done and scrambling to keep up. These time management tips will help you streamline your day and work smarter.
1 Do a time audit.
Do you get to the end of every workday and wonder where the time went? Maybe you wonder why you didn’t manage to accomplish as much as you’d hoped you would. You could be wasting more time than you realize. There may well be a discrepancy between how you think you spend your time and how you actually spend it. A time audit can be an eye-opener!
Here’s a simple method for conducting a time audit.
- Get some sort of timer that you can set to go off every thirty minutes. (The alarm app on your phone could do the trick.)
- Begin the timer and go about your day. Try not to think about the timer—just let it run quietly in the background.
- When the timer goes off, write down what you’re doing at that very moment. Be honest! If you’re checking Facebook or sending your best friend a funny text, own up to it.
- Set the timer for another thirty minutes and repeat the process until the end of your day.
- Review how you’ve spent your time. How often were you caught doing something that wasn’t productive?
Try conducting an audit every day for a week to get a good overview of how you’re spending your time. (You can vary the time between check-ins so that you don’t begin to anticipate the alarm going off every thirty minutes.) If you find that you’ve been spending too much time checking your email, scrolling through your social media feed, or chatting with co-workers, you’ll know exactly where you have to make adjustments.
2 Block out distractions
Now that you have a better idea of what’s distracting you, it’s time to block that thing out. If social media is your downfall, for instance, try a productivity app that blocks online distractions. FocusMe, Cold Turkey, and SelfControl are a few available options. If you’re working on a writing project, try going into fullscreen mode to prevent yourself from opening tabs or answering desktop notifications.
Speaking of notifications, turn them off. Unless it’s critical to your job, odds are good you don’t need to be alerted every time a new email comes in or someone interacts with you on social media.
3 Schedule yourself
Worrying about how you’ll fit all your tasks into the average workday can put a serious strain on your productivity. When we’re stressed, we struggle to stay productive, which can lead us to work longer hours to meet deadlines. Who needs that?
To-do lists can become overwhelming if you’ve got a lot to accomplish. Instead, use your favorite calendar tool (or even a good old-fashioned datebook) to schedule yourself. You might set aside an hour for answering emails, two for researching and outlining that important report for next week’s meeting, one for a lunch date with a colleague, and so on. If you have a shared corporate calendar, all the better. You can remind your colleagues to interrupt you only when absolutely necessary if you have time blocked off for important tasks. (See tip five!)
You’ll be surprised what time blocking will do for your productivity. For example, if you’re in the habit of answering emails as they come in, you may well be interrupting your own workflow to do it. That means that after you’ve dropped everything to answer that email, you’ll have to take extra time to reorient yourself to the task you’d been working on before it came in. Scheduling yourself allows you to set your priorities in advance and avoid being distracted by less important matters.
4 Avoid multitasking
You may think you’re good at multitasking, but odds are you’re wrong. When you divide your focus between tasks, you’re actually diverting attention from one task to another and using more brain bandwidth. You’ll perform better if you give your full attention to one task at a time.
Grouping similar tasks can also keep you in the right mindset. You might, for instance, group your writing tasks together and do them during one particular block of time. Administrative tasks can fall into another time block. Need to be active on social media? Cool. Block time for using a scheduler like Buffer to queue up your posts for the day so you won’t feel the constant need to check in.
5 Insist that others respect your time.
You know that meeting you were asked to attend that had almost no relevance to you? The one where you had nothing to contribute? That’s an hour of your time you’ll never get back. Get out of those do-nothing meetings. Every meeting should have to justify its existence, and every meeting organizer should have to justify your required attendance, especially if not attending the meeting would ultimately make you more productive.
The same goes for chatty coworkers. You have a right to work time free from unnecessary interruptions, so ask for it. You could say something like “I have a lot of trouble concentrating sometimes, and interruptions take me out of the flow when I’m working. Could we save chit-chat for when we’re off the clock?”
6 Keep your “call to action” in mind.
What do you want to get out of that phone call you’re about to make or that meeting you’re about to schedule? You need to know what you’re asking for, or at least what you hope to achieve, before you dive in. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending time in conversations and meetings that aren’t ultimately productive.
Take a few minutes after meetings and phone calls to reflect on whether you achieved the outcome you were hoping for. If you didn’t, plan your next steps so you can attain it. You’ll be more prepared when the opportunity to address the issue comes around again.
7 Get enough down time and rest.
Taking a break when it’s crunch time may seem counterproductive, but one study found that lack of sleep is costing the U.S. workforce $411 billion annually. You’re not at your best when you’re sleep-deprived.
And don’t shy away from taking your vacation time. Skipping vacation is actually bad for your health. Not only that, but taking time to relax can make you more productive. When you’re well rested and refreshed, you’re far more likely to tackle your tasks with focus and enthusiasm.
Now, go out there and get things done!