5 Simple Steps to Better Time Management Skills
Time, as the cliché goes, is money. Whether you are working for an established company, are an entrepreneur, or are a job seeker, learning to manage your time and limit distractions is key to achieving your goals. Getting bogged down by unimportant emails or turning your attention to a Smartphone screen will hinder your productivity. Here are five steps to recognizing problem areas and curbing costly behaviors.
Step One: Identify Your Personal Pitfalls
Maybe your inbox is always on your screen, waiting for replies, enticing you to click over every few minutes. Maybe you and your colleague’s conversation veers from work-related topics to the latest Netflix craze. It could be that your phone’s notifications constantly pull your attention away from the task at hand. Whatever it is that’s splitting your focus, it’s important to take note of it. Literally.
Keep a Log
Keeping a log of when you’re distracted and noting the cause behind the distraction is an important first step to regaining control of your time. For a week, write down when you find yourself off-task. Remember, the point of the exercise is to acknowledge where the problems are, not to beat yourself up about every moment of wasted time. After analyzing your notes, you will most likely see problematic trends. From here, you can determine the best ways to remedy them based on the nature of the distraction.
Step Two: Limit Digital Distractions
It’s a good practice to set aside blocks of time to answer emails or respond to clients who may reach out through social media. Quickly scan through emails and handle the most important items first. If you work in an office, tell your colleagues you only check emails at certain times (for example first thing in the morning, after lunch, and before leaving for the day). That way, they’ll know to come to you directly if they have an urgent problem.
Apps for Focus
As for distractions that arise from Smartphones, there are apps that can help you retain your focus. Applications such as Stay Focused – App Block and FocusMe can keep you away from social media and the internet while also tracking your productivity. Forest: Stay Focused is another app that can help increase your focus using the Pomodoro method.
Step Three: Preempt Outside Interruptions
If your earlier analysis shows you’re routinely interrupted by other people consider designating time for when you are available. If you schedule short meetings with your co-workers or staff as informal check-ins, those exchanges can be used to address small issues or answer questions. Phone calls can be handled similarly to emails: have a time set aside to return voicemail messages. Deal with the most important calls first, and make notes to handle less important ones as you are able.
Step Four: Planned Breaks
It’s physically impossible to be at maximum productivity levels all day long. Our brains need breaks. Use this knowledge to your advantage and plan out small rewards for each of your breaks. It could be a walk around the building to stretch your legs, a chance to refill your coffee or grab a snack, or a moment to handle a personal matter. It may be useful to set a timer during your breaks to keep them from becoming unintended distractions. Five minutes is a good place to start.
Step Five: Reflect and Reevaluate
After implementing some or all of the above tips, it’s critical to reflect on what is working for you and what is not. Do you feel you’re missing important updates by only checking your email twice a day? Maybe it would be better to check it for five minutes at the end of every hour instead of in a thirty-minute block after lunch. Can you shorten that fifteen-minute check-in with IT to five minutes? Is it possible to communicate via phone instead of meeting face-to-face?
Reevaluating how you use your time on a regular basis will help keep you on track and more productive. At the very least, reflect on how you spend work-time if you move to a new department, find another position at a different company, or experience a significant change to your workload.
By working on your time management practices, you are cultivating a skill that will carry you through the rest of your career. There is no shortage of time management strategies; however, you may only need to incorporate a few into your daily routine to see positive results. Attempting to use every strategy at once is likely to lead to frustration, so take it one step at a time and remember to be patient with yourself.
If you need a little assistance, contact the team at Vision to Purpose or check out their Career Services page. They are a great resource.
About the Author:
Tristina Marx is a blog contributor for Vision to Purpose providing self-help, business, and career-focused topics.