Time Management Without the Clock

We all want to be productive in the workplace, right?  This means days filled with tasks that are all considered “top priority.” If you’re like me, you may be good at creating task lists, but do you know how much time to devote to each task?  If I’m so organized, why am I still leaving at the end of the day without accomplishing everything on my list?

I discovered that my perfectly scheduled plan wasn’t so perfect after all. I put too much focus on organizing my schedule and forgot what really matters: attention and energy.

I was overscheduling myself trying to accomplish everything on my list.  When we overschedule, we fracture our attention. Living “by the clock” meant I was distracted by what was coming next rather than focusing on what I was doing. “I only have five more minutes to work on this,” meant that instead of paying attention to the report in front of me, I become focused on and more worried about the upcoming budget meeting, especially if I didn’t think I would finish “on time.”

On the flipside, I wasn’t scheduling activities to increase my concentration and efficiency.  Remember that feeling when cramming all night for an exam or working until all hours to prepare for a meeting or complete a project?  It’s the feeling of the struggle to finish something when we’re too worn out to think straight. When we’re rested and energized complex tasks go faster, it’s easier to concentrate, we minimize the chance of mistakes and we can jump easily into the next project.

Three Tips to Focus Your Attention and Energy

  1. Boost your energy – This means recharging yourself mentally and physically. Build in time to exercise, even if it’s something low-impact like taking long walks.  Take time to eat a good meal rather than grabbing something on the go. Schedule ample sleep time. Take regular breaks from the desk. The act of getting away from your desk and taking a quick walk can recharge you. When you return, you’re ready to scratch something else off your list.
  1. Reduce distractions – When you need to concentrate on something difficult, like a complex discussion with a client or analyzing sales data, find a space without much clutter to work in. Even if you’re on the phone, it’s easier to concentrate when there aren’t people nearby or noises in the background. Once you’re done, take a moment to recharge before diving into the next task.
  1. Prioritize tasks – Look carefully at your task list and identify which are urgent and which are important. To determine this, ask:
    • Does the task need to happen as soon as possible?
    • Are there consequences for you or others if you don’t complete it right away?

If the answer to the first question is “yes,” but the second is “no,” then it’s urgent but not important.
If the answer to the first is “no,” but the second is “yes,” it’s important but not urgent.

Set your priorities accordingly. Urgent and important tasks need to be completed first. Important tasks that aren’t urgent should happen next, so that the potential consequences aren’t hanging over your head. Urgent tasks that aren’t important can happen later or not at all, depending on the circumstances. Undertake low-urgency, low-important tasks only if you have dealt with the other priorities and still have the time and energy.

With these strategies, you will find your day less tightly-scheduled and you’re able to complete your tasks faster and better.