The working world isn’t what it used to be. Most people’s work days are filled with enough responsibility and tasks for two or three other people. The great conundrum for many business professionals today seems to be figuring out how to squeeze twenty-four hours’ worth of work into each eight-hour work shift. Running from meeting to meeting, answering endless emails, and still performing the daily duties associated with a particular position can be incredibly taxing, often leading to overworked employees or missed deadlines—or a combination of both.
If you’re struggling to get your pulse on your own time management techniques or are finding it harder to not procrastinate, it may be time to switch things ups. Here are a few actionable time management tips that can help you take the distress out of your daily workflow:
- Start Your Day with a Planning Window
Although it’s not always possible, try to avoid setting up meetings during your first hour at work. If you’re bombarded with meetings the moment you walk in the door every day, you’re setting yourself up for several hours of stress as the day gets underway. If you absolutely must attend a meeting at your scheduled start time, try to arrive at work an hour early. Although it may not seem ideal to add an hour to your day, starting your day with a window for proper planning can do incredible things for your productivity and efficiency.
During this hour:
- Check Emails. Respond to anyone who needs immediate attention, even if you just acknowledge you’ve received the message and will be reviewing it in further detail later. This technique often keeps the email flood waters at bay when recipients know you’re working on their requests.
- Review Your Calendar. Take a look at the hours ahead so you have a solid grasp of the meetings coming up. This will help you prioritize work in your meeting-free windows. If you notice your calendar is getting out of control, block out the remaining windows for work time. This way, if someone needs a meeting with you, they’ll need to look at a day with more availability.
- Write Down Your Top Three Must-Dos. Now that you know what your day looks like, what three things must you accomplish today, no matter what fires may need to be put out in the coming hours? Write them down to solidify their importance, and cross them off as you complete them.
- Schedule Your Tasks
One of the reasons it’s hard to get things done in a day is because there’s simply not enough time to do them. That sounds simple enough, but if it was so easy to fix this simple problem, it wouldn’t be an issue to begin with!
Each time you receive a task, evaluate the following information:
- When is it due?
- How long will it take you?
- When can you start to ensure you deliver by deadline?
Armed with this knowledge, you can open your calendar and find a window on which to dedicate to this particular task. If you have a large task like getting ready to move, try to break it up into a separate steps on separate days, like planning, contacting professionals/getting quotes, and packing stages. Schedule it as though it’s a meeting, and don’t let it get overridden by other requests as they come in. This is your time to work on this particular task. Period. Not living by hard and fast rules can lead to everything being completed at the very last minute.
- Don’t Snooze or Dismiss Calendar Alarms
One of the first habits people fall into when they try to integrate #2 into their workflows is ignoring the calendar invite. Obviously, this defeats the purpose of the exercise. As tempting as it may be to fall back into your old ways, don’t disregard the calendar reminders that are telling you to start working on your tasks. Remember, you put them there for a reason, and they serve an important job.
- Manage Disruptions
You don’t have to answer every call or email the moment it comes in. If you’re deep in your work, train yourself to let calls go to voicemail and disable your email notification envelope. For people who are very customer service-oriented, it can be easy to forget that people don’t expect you to be readily available at the drop of a hat. They know you’ll get back to them as soon as you can.
If you’re having trouble buying into the idea of ignoring disruptions until you can properly address them, consider that, “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task,” according toLifehacker.com. Just imagine how much time you’re wasting if you’re taking a half-hour off of every task each time you get interrupted!
When it comes to great time management, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for your colleague may not work for you, but it’s important to keep trying until you find the perfect combination of tools and tricks for your own unique processes. Once you’ve got a handle on effective time management skills, you’ll be amazed at how much less stressful the office can be.