Are you constantly busy at work, yet not accomplishing anything? Do your days “disappear” before you can finish your assignments? Time management, one of the most important skills that employees can master, is instrumental to increasing productivity and reducing stress.
We’re busier than ever before – constantly plugged in and accessible. In our mobile-focused, multi-tasking world, it’s become a badge of honor to be busy every moment of every day. You may think you’re maximizing your productivity by toggling between your emails, texts, calls and social media newsfeeds but, ironically, this non-stop, frantic activity is making you less efficient and more stressed out. Improving your time management skills is one of the best things you can do for your career – and for your own well-being.
Tips to improve your time management skills include:
- Single-task instead of multi-tasking. If you have a report to write, focus on that task exclusively. Don’t try to simultaneously work on the report, check your emails, return phone calls and research a new dinner recipe. Toggling between tasks feels busy, but actually accomplishes very little. Try doing just one thing at a time, and you’ll be amazed at how much more you get done. Block out a few hours to write the report, then move on to your next task. By single-tasking, you’ll accomplish more, and be far less frazzled.
- Plan your day. Time management experts swear by this tip. Though it sounds counterintuitive, it’s helpful to spend some time at the end of each day getting organized for the next day. Create a To Do list, determining the hottest priorities so you can get right to work when you return to the office the next morning. Many experts recommend a system like Outlook, which allows you to organize your calendar and To Do list in one place. As a bonus, you can easily transfer information between your Outlook emails, calendar and task list. Some experts also advise color-coordinating – either by task, project or category – to make it easier to see each day’s activities and action items at-a-glance.
- Tackle the hardest stuff first. Work on your biggest, hardest task early in the day. Completing your most intimidating project will provide a sense of accomplishment and eliminate that feeling of dread, knowing that you have an overwhelming assignment hanging over your head. Most people feel most focused and energetic in the morning, making this the ideal time to concentrate on complex projects. Save your “less intense” tasks (e.g., filing, coordinating meetings) for later in the day, when you’re feeling less energetic.
- “Chunk” your most daunting tasks. There’s an expression that if you need to eat an elephant, you should do it one bite at a time. In other words, if you’re facing a large, intimidating project, it’s less overwhelming if you break it into more manageable chunks and tackle one chunk at a time. This approach will prevent you from procrastinating (and wasting valuable time) worrying that the project is too daunting. Spend your time getting each chunk done rather than fretting about the enormity of the overall project.
- Take breaks. After spending several hours focused on a project, take a break. Short breaks can actually boost your productivity for the rest of the day. Ideally, take a short walk outside. The fresh air and exercise will help refresh you, clear your mind and help you prepare to conquer your next assignment.
- Block out distractions. It’s so easy to get sucked into a conversation with your colleagues about last night’s Red Sox game or episode of Scandal. There’s so much to see on Pinterest, and you want to get caught up on the latest Facebook posts. Spending even 10 minutes at a time on these “distractions” can quickly add up. Block everything out by turning off your email, smartphone and social media feeds. Close your office door, if you have one, or work in the conference room with the door closed. Politely tell chatty coworkers that you’re on a tight deadline and will catch up with them another time. Then spend a few distraction-free hours on your assignments.
- Turn to the experts. Tap into some helpful resources, such as time management classes, webinars and websites, to leverage tips from subject matter experts. Read a helpful book on this topic – like Getting Things Done, by David Allen, which is filled with valuable tips, advice and best practices for becoming more organized, efficient and productive. Time management experts can inspire and motivate you to make changes in your routine, behavior and systems, which can greatly improve your time management skills.
We experience constant “noise,” spending our days frantically responding to emails, calls and texts. We multi-task so much that we can’t focus completely on any one thing. And then we wonder why we are so busy, but not actually accomplishing anything. We need to stop trying to simultaneously prepare for an important meeting, check email, respond to texts and plan a dinner party. Improving your time management skills will not only boost your efficiency, but it will also reduce your stress level and frustrations.