It’s a well-known cliché that we can’t buy time or add more hours into the day. However, if you’re the sort of time-poor executive who’s already thinking about skipping to the end of this article, it might be worth sticking with us and reading on…
Time management is one of the biggest challenges faced by modern society, on a professional and personal level. Yet it’s the working environment where the biggest savings are often achievable. Many people would be horrified to discover how much time they waste each weekday, through a combination of procrastination, inefficient technology and bad planning. If 5 pm finds you frantically trying to finish something while colleagues put their coats on, these ten time management tips might be of value.
1. Plan each day in advance.
This can be as simple as a text document on your desktop, listing key tasks over the next couple of days. Alternatively, you could use an interactive tool like Trello. This is ideal for scheduling and event planning since colleagues can add their own thoughts. Organize notes and reminders about goals or deadlines as they arise, and maintain detailed records to reduce research or preparation times in future.
2. Do one job at a time.
The human brain can’t really multitask, so don’t let Outlook’s two-tone email notifier distract you from what you’re doing. Switching between tasks is when mistakes occur; it’s more productive to tackle jobs in linear succession. Plus, coming back to a document with a fresh perspective often identifies potential improvements. Always re-read emails and documents before sending them.
3. Pull up the drawbridge.
There’s no guaranteed way to stop colleagues interrupting you, other than wearing over-ear headphones and locking your office door. But technology doesn’t have to interfere. Close email programs while you finish a task – messages rarely require instant responses. Set phones to silent, and ignore anything other than calls. Block out time in your calendar so people know you’re busy.
This combines points 1, 2 and 3. If job A has a deadline of 5 pm today, job B’s deadline of next month has to wait. Prioritizing is clearly industry-specific, but a couple of general time management rules apply. Tackle earlier deadlines first, and delegate if possible. Be honest about your availability if someone asks for assistance. Your own duties ought to take precedence, even if it means saying no to people.
5. Stop doing non-essential work.
Many things are helpful or beneficial, like devising a new root directory filing system or researching SEO keywords to use in corporate blogs. But none of this is crucial to the daily functioning of your business. Lengthy chats about last night’s game with colleagues or looking at new cars should also be saved until you’ve tackled priority tasks and tidied your desk (and desktop).
6. Communicate clearly.
Having to explain something a second time is frustrating and inefficient. Try to give people clear, concise instructions about what you want them to do. Re-read emails or instructions, looking for ambiguities or unnecessary sentences to crop out. This will give colleagues a more accurate steer on how to proceed, making them more likely to give you what you asked for at the first attempt.
7. Minimize meetings.
Yes, they’re good for spitballing ideas. And yes, there’s usually coffee and biscuits. But how many times have you left a meeting feeling empowered and energized? If you have remote-working colleagues, arrange Zoom or Skype group chats to reduce commuting times. Appoint a meeting coordinator to draft up an agenda, keeping people on-topic if the conversation drifts.
8. Reduce caffeine.
If reading the last point made you reach for the coffee pot, put it back. Caffeine has cardiovascular effects that make us jittery and easily distracted. Reducing caffeine levels may improve attentiveness, and modern decaf coffee is perfectly pleasant. High-carb lunches and sugary snacks also cause energy spikes, followed by productivity-harming slumps. Stick to healthier brain-food snacks like fruit and nuts.
9. Take proper breaks.
If we’re honest, most of us have worked through lunch. However, this damages our overall productivity. A tired mind takes longer to process information, making us less efficient as the day wears on. Try to leave the office at lunchtime, even for a quick walk around the block. Mindfulness, exercise and meditation also improve afternoon attentiveness.
10. Review the week on Fridays.
The commute home is a good time to consider how the previous five days panned out. Be self-critical – did you spend half an hour playing Two Dots in the toilet, or write a lengthy email when a quick phone call would have sufficed? Even mundane jobs like filing might improve your ability to get things done going forwards – clutter and confusion are the enemies of time management.
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