We all have days when it seems like we’re getting nothing done, no matter how hard we try. Instead of getting frazzled and taking that stress home with you, try out these time management tips. By taking control of your time, you’ll accomplish more so you can head home happy at the end of each day.
Multitasking seems to be the perfect solution to our time management problems. The more you’re doing, the more you get done, right? Recent research says that’s not actually the case. Trying to do too many tasks at once is actually hurting your productivity. Most multitaskers take twice as long to finish a single task. Overall, their productivity rate is 40% lower than those who don’t multitask.
Breaking the multitasking habit can be difficult. It feels so productive. Take baby steps toward focusing on one task at a time by “time boxing.” Grab your calendar and pencil in one hour per day to work on a major task – and only that task. No email, no meetings, no phone, no interruptions. You might even find you like working on one thing at a time, especially when you find out you’re finishing more that you used to!
Creating a to-do list is one of the most basic time management strategies out there. Almost everyone suggests starting out each day with one because having a tangible reminder of the things you need to get done can be a great tool – as long as it’s manageable. Once your list starts getting out of hand, it’s doing you more harm than good. If your list includes more tasks than you can possibly finish in a day, then you’ll just end up feeling overwhelmed. That doesn’t mean that you should give up on your to-do list, it just means you need to have a better one.
Instead of adding more and more things to the bottom of your ever-growing list, plot out a plan for how you’re going to use the time you have. First, make a list of the most important tasks you need to finish today. Then decide how much time each of those tasks will take to complete and write them into your calendar. Don’t forget to leave some time for breaks, lunch, and emergencies that might pop up. Once you’re done, you’ll have a schedule for your day. Tying each task to a set, realistic amount of time will keep you from overbooking yourself so you can leave work feeling like you’ve accomplished something instead of thinking about how much you didn’t get done.
There have always been distractions at work, but with the internet and smart phones it’s easier than ever to waste time without even realizing it. You make a plan for the day and before you realize it the clock says 5:00, but you feel like you accomplished nothing. Where did the time go? Lost days happen to all of us from time to time, but you don’t want to let it get out of control. If you find that you often can’t figure out where your time went, there’s a simple trick for getting it back. Start each day with a blank piece of paper and write down everything you do. If you check email for 15 minutes, write it down. If you go to the breakroom to get a cup of coffee and end up spending 20 minutes talking with your coworkers about last night’s game, write it down. If you go to a meeting, write it down. If you spend 30 minutes surfing the internet instead of doing the research you meant to do, write it down. After a week or so of writing everything down, it will be obvious where your time is going. Once you know what your time-wasting triggers are, they’ll be easier to avoid.
When you have a lot to do, it’s only natural to think that you should work more. If you stay late, skip lunch, and don’t take breaks, you’ll gain a few extra hours every week and get more done. If you look at the science behind productivity, it turns out that working longer hours isn’t helping you. Each decision you make during the day costs you energy. You may not feel tired, but your capacity for making good decisions is being depleted over time. If you don’t take some time to rest, you’ll start making mistakes, mistakes that you’ll have to spend time fixing later. Taking occasional breaks will give your mind time to reset and when you return to work you’ll be better prepared to finish the work at hand. Try planning for 90 minutes of focused work followed by a 15 minute break.