In an effort to be more productive, some of us have turned our workdays into an increasingly complex series of time management exercises that aren’t really helping us get more done in the same amount of time. Never fear, help is here! These five tips will help you manage your time more effectively at work, increase your productivity, and reduce your stress levels.
1. Measure Your Expectations: How much do you think you can get done in a day? This question seems easy to answer but, the fact of the matter is, a lot of us create lengthy, ambitious to-do lists at the beginning of the day or the start of the week that could never possibly get done in time. It’s time to set some realistic expectations of what you can achieve in a given amount of time. The best way to do that is to take a week or two and measure how long certain tasks take you. Set timers, make notes, and see what your realistic working speed is. It’ll probably vary a little day-to-day, which is why doing this over the course of a week or two will give you a better picture of your average productivity levels.
2. Communicate Your Expectations: Once you know how much work you can reasonably complete in a specific time frame, it’s time to be up front about it with your teammates and collaborators. Be explicit about what can be expected of you in a given amount of time. Once these realistic deadlines are set, you can find ways to boost your productivity to meet or exceed these expectations. While perfection can’t be achieved, high quality output will be increased once the deadlines you’re charging towards are more realistic.
3. Resist the Urge to Make Everything Urgent: If everything is urgent than nothing is. Everything you’re working on may be important, but every task won’t be time-sensitive. It’s important to understand the difference so you don’t derail your productive day to put out fires only to discover they weren’t time sensitive problems in the first place while your original workload was. That way, when truly urgent work comes up, you can shift your schedule to focus on time-sensitive tasks but let the less important tasks simmer until later in the day or the week.
4. Leave Buffer Space for Deep Thinking and Problem Solving: The problem with planning out every minute of your day is that you’ll often forget to schedule in time for more challenging deep thinking and problem solving. The time it can take to solve a problem totally depends on the problem and the person solving it, two factors which can change due to a wide variety of variables. Because of this, it’s important to build some buffer space into your schedule to allow for deep thinking, creative brainstorming, and problem solving. This buffer time can also be used to get ahead on projects, handle urgent tasks that have popped up, or whatever you end up needing it for that day.
5. Start Setting Timers: Are there a few tasks you find yourself lost in that end up swallowing way more of your time than you anticipated? If so, it’s time to break out the timers. Give yourself exactly an hour or thirty minutes or three hours or however long you’ve deemed reasonable and start the clock. Work on that task only until the timer sounds, then shift your focus to more important things. This will keep you on track and make you more aware of how long some tasks take to complete, which will help you build more realistic expectations for your schedule in the future.
Time is of the essence in life and when you’re at work so it’s best to know how to maximize your time management in a way that works for you. These five tips will help you find the right balance of managing your time and increasing your productivity without sacrificing your sanity to ever-increasing stress levels.