We’ve all experienced the woes of time management at work. You wake up hopeful and optimistic—not only will you meet all your deadlines, but you’ll hit the gym and make a healthy home-cooked meal, too. But then, things do not move as you expected. You leave late, you hit traffic, and you arrive at your desk already frustrated with the world. The good news is that there are ways to reclaim those seemingly elusive lost hours of the day. It’s all about personal time management—manage your time instead of letting it manage you. We’ve got ten time management tips for work to get you started.
1. Figure out how you’re currently spending your time.
If you’re going to optimize your personal time management, you first need to figure out where the time is going. Try diligently logging your time for a week by tracking your daily activities. This audit will help you:
- Determine how much you can feasibly accomplish in a day.
- Identify timesucks.
- Focus on activities that provide the greatest returns.
- As you conduct this time audit, it will become pretty clear how much of your time is spent on unproductive thoughts, conversations, and activities.
You’ll gain a more accurate sense for how long certain types of tasks take you (which will be very helpful for executing on a later tip). This exercise can also help you determine the time of day when you are most productive—that way, you know when to work on your projects requiring the most focus and creativity.
2. Create a daily schedule—and stick with it.
This step is absolutely crucial for learning how to manage time at work. Don’t even attempt starting your day without an organized to-do list. Before you leave work for the day, create a list of the most pressing tasks for the next day. This step allows you to get going as soon as you get to the office.
Putting everything on paper will prevent you from lying awake at night tossing and turning over the tasks running through your brain. Instead, your subconscious goes to work on your plans while you are asleep, which means you can wake up in the morning with new insights for the workday.
If you can’t do it the day before, make sure you write out your list first thing in the morning. You’ll find that the time you spend creating a clear plan is nothing compared to the time you’ll lose jumping between tasks when you lack such a plan.
3. Prioritize wisely.
As you organize your to-do list, prioritization is key for successful time management at work. Start by eliminating tasks that you shouldn’t be performing in the first place. Then identify the three or four most important tasks and do those first—that way, you make sure you finish the essentials.
Evaluate your to-do list and make sure you organized it based on the importance of a task rather than its urgency. Important responsibilities support the achievement of your goals, whereas urgent responsibilities require immediate attention and are associated with the achievement of someone else’s goals. We tend to let the urgent dominate when we should really focus on activities that support our business goals.
To avoid this pitfall, use one of the time management tips for work found in Stephen Covey’s book First Things First. He offers the following time management matrix, known as the Eisenhower matrix, as an organizational tool for prioritizing tasks based on these ideas of importance and urgency.
4. Group similar tasks together.
Save yourself time and mental energy by trying to complete all of one type of to-do before moving on to the next. For example, create separate chunks of time for answering emails, making phone calls, filing, etc. Don’t answer emails and messages as they come in, as doing so is distraction at its finest. Turn off your phone and email notifications to completely eliminate the temptation to check at an unappointed time.
5. Avoid the urge to multitask.
This is one of the simplest time management tips for work, yet it can be one of the hardest to follow. Focus on the task at hand and block out all distractions. It can be tempting to multitask, but you’re just shooting yourself in the foot when you attempt to do so. You lose time and decrease productivity when switching from one task to another.
Similarly, don’t get overwhelmed by a to-do list stretching a mile long. Stressing over it will not make it shorter, so breathe in, breathe out, and take it one task at a time.