A recent study of 3.1m global workers, published by the National Bureau of Economic Relations, found that the working day lasted almost an hour longer (48.5 mins), during lockdown.
Separate data from NordVPN found that when a large proportion of UK businesses started to work remotely in March, the majority of professionals put in an extra two hours outside their usual working day. Work-life balance appears to be being compromised, and time-management is being tested to its limits.
What can we do?
Here are some great time hacks to befriend Father Time for better time management.
- Do not answer your phone until you have written down your plan for the day. Technology is great but paper and pen are simpler to glance at. This allows you to see a lot of information at once. With pen and paper, you can create a visual plan. When you write something down, it creates a stronger connection in your brain.
- Don’t just plan your day; plan your week and your month. By planning days, weeks, and months, you will make time to do things each day that are important to you.
- When working on your computer, use the Pomodoro Technique. Twenty-five minutes is the ideal amount of time to maximise focus while staving off Hyperfocus (the phenomenon of intense fixation).
- Limit the number of things that you work on during the day. If you often have several projects going on at any given time, limit yourself to three (sometimes two) a day. When trying to focus on everything, you may get nothing done — the keyword being “done.” There is a difference between being busy and being productive.
- The key to productivity has more to do with energy management than with time management. Those who get good sleep and exercise often accomplish more because they have more energy. This makes the difference between remembering that to return a call and returning it right away.
- Always wear a watch, and have your daily plan in front of you all day.
- Put every appointment/meeting/gym session/social event/payment due/important task in an electronic calendar that is accessible on your phone. Always set reminders for calendar events and for at least an hour before the event or appointment.
- Review your calendar for the upcoming week every Sunday night before going to bed making you ready to go on Monday morning.
- Do what matters most first.
- E-mail yourself reminders and lists. You will no doubt check your e-mail frequently to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything.
- If a task takes two minutes or less, do it then and there.
- Under-promise and over-deliver.
- Set boundaries around your schedule. If someone asks you to do something and you don’t think you can spare the time, don’t be afraid to say why you can’t help them right now.
- Banish the words “let me just” from your vocabulary. Once you decide what you want to work on, don’t say, “Let me just check my e-mail” or “Let me just check what xx thinks.” Remember, nothing ever takes just 30 seconds, and your day will get away from you if you keep putting other (less important) things first.
- When putting appointments and meetings in your calendar, don’t forget to block off the time it takes to get to and from the meeting and any prep time. Travel time might include parking, walking from your car, waiting for a subway, or even taking a slow elevator.
And here are the major pitfalls to look out for:
Mistake #1: Failing to Keep a To-Do List
Do you ever have that nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten to do an important piece of work? If so, you probably don’t use a To-Do List to keep on top of things. (Or, if you do, you might not be using it effectively!)
The trick with using ‘To Do’ lists effectively lies in prioritizing the tasks on your list. Many people use an A – F coding system (A for high priority items, F for very low priorities). Alternatively, you can simplify this by using A through D, or by using numbers.
If you have large projects on your list, then, unless you’re careful, the entries for these can be vague and ineffective. For instance, you may have written down “Start on budget proposal.” But what does this entail? The lack of specifics here might cause you to procrastinate, or miss key steps. So make sure that you break large tasks or projects down into specific, actionable steps – then you won’t overlook something important.
You can also use Action Programmes to manage your work when you have many large projects happening at once. (Action Programs are “industrial strength” versions of To-Do Lists.)
Mistake #2: Not Setting Personal Goals
Do you know where you’d like to be in six months? What about this time next year, or even 10 years from now? If not, it’s time to set some personal goals!
Personal goal setting is essential to managing your time well, because goals give you a destination and vision to work toward. When you know where you want to go, you can manage your priorities, time, and resources to get there. Goals also help you decide what’s worth spending your time on, and what’s just a distraction.
To learn how to set SMART, effective goals, read up on Locke’s Goal Setting Theory. Here, you’ll learn how to set clearly defined goals that will keep you motivated.
Mistake #3: Not Prioritizing
Your assistant has just walked in with a crisis that she needs you to deal with right now, but you’re in the middle of brainstorming ideas for a new client. You’re sure that you’ve almost come up with a brilliant idea for their marketing campaign, but now you risk losing the thread of your thinking because of this “emergency.”
Sometimes, it’s hard to know how to prioritise, especially when you’re facing a flood of seemingly-urgent tasks. However, it’s essential to learn how to prioritize tasks effectively if you want to manage your time better.
One tool that will help you prioritize effectively is the Action Priority Matrix, which will help you determine if a task is high-yield and high-priority, or low-value, “fill in” work. You’ll manage your time much better during the day if you know the difference.
Mistake #4: Failing to Manage Distractions
Do you know that some of us can lose as much as two hours a day to distractions? Think how much you could get done if you had that time back!
Whether they come from emails, IM chats, colleagues in a crisis, or phone calls from clients, distractions prevent us from achieving flow, which is the satisfying and seemingly effortless work that we do when we’re 100 percent engaged in a task.
If you want to gain control of your day and do your best work, it’s vital to know how to minimise distraction and manage interruptions effectively. For instance, turn off your IM chat when you need to focus, and let people know if they’re distracting you too often.
Mistake #5: Procrastination
Procrastination occurs when you put off tasks that you should be focusing on right now. When you procrastinate, you feel guilty that you haven’t started; you come to dread doing the task; and, eventually, everything catches up with you when you fail to complete the work on time.
One useful strategy is to tell yourself that you’re only going to start on a project for ten minutes. Often, procrastinators feel that they have to complete a task from start to finish, and this high expectation makes them feel overwhelmed and anxious. Instead, focus on devoting a small amount of time to starting. That’s all!
You might also find it helpful to use Action Plans. These help you break large projects down into manageable steps, so that it’s easy to see everything that you need to get done, and so that you can complete small chunks at a time. Doing this can stop you from feeling overwhelmed at the start of a new project.
Mistake #6: Taking on Too Much
Are you a person who has a hard time saying “no” to people? If so, you probably have far too many projects and commitments on your plate. This can lead to poor performance, stress, and low morale.
Or, you might be a micromanager, someone who insists on controlling or doing all of the work themselves, because they can’t trust anyone else to do it correctly. (This can be a problem for everyone – not just managers!)
Either way, taking on too much is a poor use of your time, and it can get you a reputation for producing rushed, sloppy work.
To stop this, learn the subtle art of ‘saying yes to the person but no to the task’. This skill helps you assert yourself, while still maintaining good feelings within the group. If the other person starts leaning on you to say “yes” to their request, stay cool under pressure.
Mistake #7: Thriving on “Busy”
Some people get a rush from being busy. The narrowly-met deadlines, the endless emails, the piles of files needing attention on the desk, the frantic race to the meeting… What an adrenaline buzz!
The problem is that an “addiction to busyness” rarely means that you’re effective, and it can lead to stress.
Instead, try to slow down, and learn to manage your time better.
Mistake #8: Multitasking
To get on top of her workload, Linda regularly writes emails while she chats on the phone to her clients. However, while Linda thinks that this is a good use of her time, the truth is that it can take 20-40 percent more time to finish a list of jobs when you multitask, compared with completing the same list of tasks in sequence. The result is also that she does both tasks poorly – her emails are full of errors, and her clients are frustrated by her lack of concentration.
So, the best thing is to forget about multitasking and, instead, focus on one task at a time. That way, you’ll produce higher quality work.
Mistake #9: Not Taking Breaks
It’s nice to think that you can work for 8-10 hours straight, especially when you’re working to a deadline. But it’s impossible for anyone to focus and produce really high-quality work without giving their brains some time to rest and recharge.
So, don’t dismiss breaks as “wasting time.” They provide valuable down-time, which will enable you to think creatively and work effectively.
If it’s hard for you to stop working, then schedule breaks for yourself, or set an alarm as a reminder. Go for a quick walk, grab a cup of coffee, or just sit and meditate at your desk. Try to take a five minute break every hour or two. And make sure that you give yourself ample time for lunch – you won’t produce top quality work if you’re hungry!
Mistake #10: Ineffectively Scheduling Tasks
Are you a morning person? Or do you find your energy picking up once the sun begins to set in the evening? All of us have different rhythms, that is, different times of day when we feel most productive and energetic.
You can make best use of your time by scheduling high-value work during your peak time, and low-energy work (like returning phone calls and checking email), during your “down” time.
Corndel has created a publicly available Support and Resources Hub to help organisations and learners navigate these challenging times. Please feel free to browse. This hub is updated continuously through this period.
This material has been sourced from mindtools and Time hacks from the ADHD coach, host of the podcast “ADHD reWired” (erictivers.com). It forms part of the ‘Stretch Library of Resources’ available to all Corndel Learners. More information on Corndel Diplomas.