There seems to be a divide in this world that separates those who are perpetually late, with those who are consistently on time or early.
This divide is so strong that we use it as a way to differentiate personalities.
“I’m an early bird.” “I’m fashionably late.”
It’s not just something we’ve made up, either. Various cultures have entirely different belief systems around time, what’s the right time to do something, how we should respect or value time, etc.
Just ask many Europeans, who don’t even start their evenings out until two or three am, a time when my friends and I are usually back home and in bed. Or ask the Spanish, who value their daytime so much, shop-owners will close their doors and head home for a long lunch or a siesta.
Talk to farmers, who are up at the rooster’s crow every morning ready to work for as long as the sun will give them light.
My point is, time shapes us. It shapes our cultures and our families and our philosophies on how to make the most out of life.
And if you’re squandering time, well, you’re quite literally wasting life.
Time Management Strategies
I do not happen to be under the belief that we live to work. I think we work to live, and the things that happen outside of the office are what make life special.
I also believe, however, that whatever you do, you should do it well. If your job is what feeds you, then you should feed good energy and proper use of time back into it. Your company and managers have invested in you, and it’s imperative we reciprocate the respect of that investment.
According to my colleague Claire Brenner’s guide on time management, “A company’s most expensive asset is its employees.
Think about it – if a 100-person company has an average yearly salary of $75,000, that’s $7.5 million, before benefits and perks. As employee count grows, so does the total cost.”
That being said, it’s not always easy to put our noses to the grindstone and get things done day in and day out. In order to make the most of our working hours, it’s important to step back and evaluate if our current performance is conducive to long-term sustainability.
Are we working in a format we can maintain, or are we all slowly burning out over time?
The following time management strategies are intended to help you actively take control of the workday as opposed to passively losing track of the limited hours in your life. If you’re having trouble staying motivated, or if you’d like some quick productivity help, read more on how to work smarter, not harder.
Identify Personal Problem Areas
When it comes to time management, we can often be our own worst enemies. Overwhelming amounts of work can often make us shut down and turn to things that are soft on the brain, such as social media or TV. If you’re struggling with time management, identify these habits within yourself. What are your distractions, and what triggers you to turn to them?
For example, maybe you’re confused on an assignment and instead of asking for help, you check your email for the 23rd time. By first identifying how your time is slipping away from you, you’re putting yourself on the right track to reclaiming it. Make a list of the ways you waste time and the reasons you typically turn to those distractions.
Evaluate External Time Sucks
Now that you’ve thought about your own personal distractions, it’s time to think about the time-sucks you can’t control. Examples of these are work meetings, client lunches, team birthday celebrations, company parties, office visitors, and any other obligation to which you can’t say no.
Write these out in a list and determine how much time you’re spending on a weekly basis doing work away from your desk. If the time is significant, speak to your manager or boss about how these obligations are affecting your work. If you have the power to say no, exercise it. Sometimes we get added to meetings we don’t really need to be in, or we get pegged as the person who will always volunteer for meeting set-up or tear-down.
If these things are affecting your ability to do your job well, say no. Protect your time by telling colleagues it’s not a good week to take on the extra responsibilities. They may be upset for a little bit, but should ultimately understand you have an equally important role to play.
Organization plays a key role in managing your time well. This means having clarity around your tasks, scheduling what work you can accomplish in a day, understanding the expectations surrounding tasks or projects, and more.
A disorganized person will always spend more time than they have to on a project or assignment because they will have to backtrack to find key documents, information, or permissions. One easy way to stay organized is by creating a detailed to-do list that includes tasks and subtasks. Often, this can be done within a project management software, or a calendar software.
You could also help yourself out by devoting smaller increments of time every day to sort through your inbox and send out queries and responses. This makes you feel more in control of communication, as opposed to feeling like your inbox owns you. Additionally, consider organizing your tasks by priority.
TIP: If you’re confused or are struggling with your workload, learn how to prioritize at work.
Rethink Your Strategies
Becoming a more skilled steward of your own time involves taking a step back and evaluating your strategies. Earlier, I advised you to look at your key distractions. Now, I want you to look at the strategies you’re taking throughout the work day. Where are you not using your time most efficiently?F
or example, how do you communicate with your colleagues? Are you frequently walking up to them and holding 15-minute conversations? Are you sending emails? Are you shooting over a Slack message, or otherwise communicating through an in-office messaging app?
None of these strategies are inherently right or wrong, and all can be inefficient depending on how they’re used. If a 15-minute conversation is the best way to get the information you need from a colleague, and they agree it’s a good use of their time, do it.
If your company is email-driven and will read an email more thoroughly than a Slack message, again, use that. If a Slack message is the quickest way to get an answer from someone on a different floor, type up a quick question and send it over. The point here is to evaluate how you’re using these tools.
Using Slack to send GIFs all day, or turning a 15-minute conversation into a 30-minute weekend recap may not be efficient uses of company time.
You may not know this, but there are actually a lot of tools out there to help people who struggle with time management. These range from timers that allow you to segment your day into periods of work and breaks, to productivity helpers that block you from accessing certain websites.
If you’re someone who struggles with wasting your own time, try some of these task management software tools. While G2 Crowd doesn’t endorse any particular software or solution over another, these are simply a few examples to help give you a jump start on your time management improvement and productivity research.
Another digital solution you could pursue is the use of productivity platforms such as project management, team collaboration, or calendaring software. These tools exhibit a number of features that are meant to increase efficiencies in the workplace.
They make it possible to schedule out your tasks in a visual format, assigning tasks to days, or placing them in descriptive columns. Productivity tools also allow teams to communicate within the tasks, providing updates on progress and assignment status.
Additionally, these tools can generate daily or weekly reports that reveal overall progress for the team or for an individual.
Create an Action Plan
You’re not going to get better at time management simply because you’re reading this article. With any habit change, it takes time and practice. In order to show actual improvement, you’ll have to develop a plan. Make a list of the things you want to improve on, and accompany that with steps you can take to get better.
For example, say you are aware that your time on social media is affecting your work success. Your action plan might consist of the following steps:
—Download time-tracking software
—Determine how much time is spent using personal distractions
—Use website-blocking software to decrease this time incrementally on a daily basis—Generate time-tracking reports weekly for three months
—Evaluate the change over time to determine if more work is needed Action plans will look different depending on your personal goals and current challenges. If you want a strategy to help you get started, use this evaluation sheet to score your productivity and determine your baseline with time management.
Feel free to utilize the following documentation to assist you in evaluating your use of personal and company time:
Take Work Breaks
This may sound counterintuitive in an article talking about time management, but I promise it’s not. Taking consistent breaks away from what you’re doing has been proven to increase overall productivity and is a strategy on how to be happy at work.
This doesn’t mean to work for 15 minutes and then spend an hour live-streaming the big game. This means you should spend a reasonable amount of time working, say between 45 minutes to an hour and a half, and then take a small 15 or 20-minute break in between.
Better yet, try and make the break productive. Go for a walk outside of your office to get your blood flowing and your heart pumping a little harder. Spend some time on Duolingo or Luminosity, both fun apps that use gamification to challenge your brain in linguistic and motor skills.
Managing your time properly isn’t about working yourself into the ground. That’s a great way to burn out, which is the opposite of what we want to do here. Rather, proper time management means restructuring your day so as to make the most of your limited working hours.
Benefits of Time Management
Time management brings a wealth of benefits to your life, both in and outside of the workplace.
Have you ever had a truly unproductive day, only to go home and feel even groggier than you did when you woke up that morning? Managing our time poorly can often feel more exhausting than using our time wisely.
The following are even more benefits of proper time management:
- Leads to Increased Productivity: We all know the positive effects of crossing a to-do off our list and marking it as “done.” You feel accomplished, productive, and ready to take on another task.
- Decreases stress and increases energy: Think about how you feel after a workout. Although you just exerted extreme amounts of energy and burned many calories, you still feel better than you did before. This is similar to the effect of getting your work done. The rush that accompanies completing a large project or daunting task helps decrease your stress levels and energize you to continue to reach your goals.
- Allows focus on what is important: A huge benefit of efficient time management is that it forces you to sit down with your work and really sort through what matters. You become better at organizing and prioritizing your work so the non-negotiable tasks are completed first. Knowing that you have the important stuff out of the way again, decreases your stress levels and increases the energy you have in other parts of your life. This could mean you feel better at Friday night dinner, or can finally commit to taking your dog on evening jogs.
- Enables goal achievement: Proper time management strategies make it easier to meet your goals. You’re working toward completing tasks and projects more efficiently, which inherently pushes you toward the finish line in less time.
- Develop skills such as delegating, prioritizing, planning, organizing, etc: Improving your time management strategies requires becoming an active participant in your own life. It helps develop leadership skills for career growth.You can’t sit on the sidelines as work and life happen to you. Rather, you have to actively make decisions that will benefit your job and, in turn, your personal life. Learn how to say no. Learn how to ask others for help. Learn how to plan ahead and write things down in a calendar.
Perhaps it sounds too good to be true that all of these things could change simply by learning to manage your time better.
But like we discussed above, time defines and directs our lives. How we distribute that time, in turn, defines us.
How we spend an hour reflects how we spend a day. How we spend a day reflects how we spend a week, a month, a year, etc. Before we know it, we’re wondering where all the time went, when we thought we had all the time in the world.
So it’s important then, to take a good long look at our days and evaluate if we’re honoring our lives on a daily basis. Am I making good use of the limited time I’ve been given? I can’t answer that question for you, but I hope you’d take a few hours to figure it out.
Are you ready to learn more about workplace productivity? Learn how you can implement the key fundamentals of project management.