13 January 2023
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We’ve all been there: the calendar is chock-full, meeting invites are flying into your inbox left, right and centre and the tasks are stacking up faster than you can say, “I don’t have enough time for all this!”
Sound familiar? I’ll hastily apologise for possibly sending you back into a momentary panic state. However, if this is something you experience often – it might be the time to start thinking about your time management techniques.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the best time management tactics to increase productivity. I’ll try and make this quick because if you’re reading this, I’ll hazard a guess that you don’t have all the time in the world to read a thesis on time management. So, without further ado:
These may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many people forget the simplest ways to manage their time better.
A few small changes can make all the difference in improving your productivity, reducing stress and helping you hit those all-important deadlines. The quicker you get your work done, the more time you have to yourself.
This first step happens right at the start of your working day before you even try and attempt to do anything else: write a to-do list.
Consider which tasks need to be completed today, which would be nice to complete today, and which can slide to another day. This way, you can work out a priority order to help you decide what to do when, potentially categorising your tasks into low, medium, or high importance, or assigning each a number from one to ten – whatever works best for you.
And the best part, when you’re done with a task, be sure to tick it off the list physically – there is nothing quite as satisfying as crossing another task off of the seemingly never-ending list, and another and another.
We’re all guilty of getting a little distracted. But sometimes, some focused time is all that’s needed to get those tasks ticked off.
Put yourself in a room where you can be alone – if in the office, it might be a breakout room or meeting space. At home, take yourself to your usual workspace and close the doors. If you’re in the office and there’s no space available, put some earphones in.
Some find classical music helps with focus, or even white noise to drown out distracting noise. A few people in the LITTLE studio prefer a relaxing bit of heavy metal to help them concentrate – whatever works best for you…
And it’s not just physical distractions, it’s the virtual ones too. It’s easy to deviate from the task at hand if an email comes in that you think will only be a 10-minute task. Switch off all notifications, whether email, Slack, Teams or whatever channels you use, if you need to focus properly. If you need to, tell your team they can contact you via WhatsApp if they need something urgently – that way, you won’t be distracted by notifications on your computer screen.
A structured Google or Outlook calendar can speak a thousand words to your team, and it’s a great way to plan out your working day thoroughly.
Block out time for admin and focus time so your team can see the way your day is structured so they know if you’re busy or why you might not be responding. That way, you can stop unnecessary meetings from being added in your calendar.
Give yourself assigned times in the calendar to check and respond to emails, say first thing in the morning, after lunch, and last thing before leaving – this also helps you to avoid those distracting emails popping up in the top corner of your screen.
Regular breaks prevent you from becoming overworked and losing concentration, allowing you to be more productive as a result.
This also means you have scheduled times to grab food and a drink, so you don’t break off in the middle of tasks. And going back to our previous point, you can even pop these breaks in the calendar to ensure you actually take them!
Taking these breaks is especially important for home workers, who can often lose track of time when slammed with back-to-back meetings and there’s nobody around to ensure you head off on your lunch break.
So, take this as your reminder to go bob the kettle on – you deserve it.
This can be one of most helpful, but one of the most difficult, techniques to master, and that’s saying no to meetings.
We’ve all sat through our good share of meetings that have felt a little pointless, where your mind slips away to your jam-packed to-do list you could be getting on with instead.
If someone invites you to a meeting, ask for an agenda so you know what it’s about. That way, you can choose whether it’s necessary for you to attend at your discretion.
Don’t feel that you have to attend every meeting – if you feel like it’s unnecessary for you to attend, just ask someone to send you a summary of what’s discussed.
Now let’s delve into some of the more advanced, research-backed methodologies for managing your time. There are tonnes of these to choose from, so this isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are a few of our favourites:
This might sound a little strange, but have you ever tried using tomatoes to time your hours?
Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato, and the method’s name arose when university student Francesco Cirillo decided to dedicate himself to 10 minutes of focused study time, using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to time himself and stay motivated. Hence, The Pomodoro Technique.
The method is as follows:
This technique calls for prioritising your tasks to enhance productivity.
By drawing a four-box square and grouping your tasks into Urgent, Not Urgent, Important and Not Important, the framework takes the strain away from the decision-making process so you can see clearly which tasks need to take priority.
This one can be tricky to imagine without the visuals, so click here to properly see how to quadrant takes shape.
This takes us back to our earlier point about structuring your calendar out into regimented blocks of time. Include time blocks for responding to emails, meetings, focus time, lunch and whatever else goes into your day.
By dedicating time to tasks in your calendar in advance, you don’t need to constantly make choices about what tasks to do when. You’ve got your plan, so stick to it.
Some people work better with a more visual to-do list, and that’s where the Kanban method comes in. Toyota established the method to enhance productivity and make their factory flow more efficient.
A Kanban Board is composed of multiple columns, each column indicating what state your tasks are currently in. Titles for your columns can include “To-do”, “In progress”, “Done”, “On-hold”, and so on – whatever works best for you and your working methods.
The Getting Things Done method is a popular task management system. When it comes down to it, the idea behind the technique is simple: the more information in your head, the harder it is to decide which needs attention, meaning you spend more time worrying about these tasks than actually doing them.
The method takes five simple steps to declutter your brain:
Though this technique has a little bit of a strange name, the psychology behind it is pretty simple, and great for procrastinators.
The method lies in figuring out what your most daunting, most important task of the day is – your “frog” – and eating it (getting it out of the way first thing in the morning). And repeat.
This sets you up for a win every day; if you know you’ve achieved that big, scary task at the start, it’ll help you ride that high for the rest of the day, too.
Gone are the days when you were frantically running late to work, your inbox stacked with pointless emails and sitting through meetings that mean nothing to you. From now, you’ve got the tools you need to own your schedule and your time.
Just put a few of these time management techniques into action and you’ll be well on your way to feeling happier, less stressed and much more productive – better for your personal and professional life alike.
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