The best way to manage our time in the workplace isn’t necessarily to have a more comprehensive schedule, but instead to have a smarter schedule. The real trick is to make sure you have the energy and attention to deal with all your tasks. Here are some tips to help you do just that:
1. Figure out when you’re most productive
Take notes on your natural high and low points each day. Everyone has periods of time when they’re full of energy and times when it’s a struggle to just keep awake. When you determine those times, schedule high-priority tasks during the times you’re raring to go. When you’re not at your best or find your energy waning, give yourself a break, even if it’s a short walk away from the desk or a few minutes to stare out the window.
2. Understand your goals, don’t assume
When setting priorities, keep in mind what you and your managers most want to accomplish. Discuss what your manager considers “urgent” and “important” to ensure you’re on the same page. For example, don’t waste your high productivity time answering emails first thing in the morning if your manager doesn’t mind getting an answer later in the day.
3. Log your daily activities
Figure out how you’re already using your time. Which tasks are repetitive? How much time do you devote to dealing with crises, or on planning ahead? Once you have a clearer picture of where you spend your time, you become aware of areas that you can streamline. You may discover that you spend too much time taking care of other people’s problems rather than focusing your own work. Or, you might notice that you are more productive when you plan for the next day’s activities right before you leave work.
4. Remember that the clock is not in charge
It’s easy to assume that everything must happen according to a tight schedule. Only a few tasks each day have to happen by a certain time. Know what hard deadlines you have for the day then remember that everything else is your choice. Schedule time in your day for unscheduled interruptions, new ideas or roadblocks. When you finish early, don’t just turn to the next task. Take time to relax, recharge, consider the day’s priority list or have a conversation with others about how things are going. When you don’t feel hemmed in by the unrelenting clock, you’ll have more energy when you need it.
5. Keep updating your plan
Review your task list when you arrive at work. Make adjustments based on your priorities so you aren’t locked into tasks that could be postponed or even dropped just because they were on the list at the start of the day. If you have free time, consider getting a jump on your long-term goals instead of filling in with unimportant tasks. At the end of the day, take a few moments to rough out a few top priorities for the next day, so that when you update your plan tomorrow, you have somewhere to start.
6. Make sure your time is your own
Tips to avoid and weather distractions:
- Find out if you’re allowed to wear headphone or earbuds when you need to concentrate.
- De-clutter a spot on the wall to stare at while focusing on other things.
- Ignore the phone unless you’re expecting an important call or your job requires that you answer every call.
- Avoid looking at email, texts or instant messenger until you’re finished with your task.
- If you can, move to a quiet spot in an office or conference room. Let people know what you’re doing and where to find you if necessary, but otherwise, give yourself time to work without interruptions. You’ll be amazed at how much more productive you’ll be during those periods.