Time management tips

Tips to optimise time management in the workplace

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“I’m so busy”, has always been a common phrase at work, but with consistently strained resources employees are juggling increasingly long to-do lists and the pressure to raise productivity just keeps growing. 

But does productivity equal more hours at the desk, or can you better manage your workplace stress and improve productivity with an approach we’ve all heard of: time management. 

What is time management?

In its simplest expression, time management is the process of intentionally allocating your time effectively. It involves actively prioritising tasks and responsibilities, then scheduling the week to ensure time is spent on the most critical tasks. By effectively planning how to spend each day, you can better manage distractions that occur. 

Effective time management allows us to wisely define how we use our work hours – and concentrate on the tasks that warrant our focus. Poor time management can cause employees to become overwhelmed with their workload and their work/life balance can suffer.  

What good time management looks like

There are three main components that develop good time management skills: 
1. Prioritisation 
2. Time blocking 
3. Commitment, but flexibility when priorities shift 

Tips for better time management at work:

1. Prioritise, what are the most urgent and important tasks 

In principle, effective time management is not hard – but it can be difficult to commit to and make it part of your routine. Provided you set aside a small amount of time once a week to prioritise and schedule your to-do list, effective time management skills can become one of your key strengths. 

Be proactive not reactive: Time-poor people often have one thing in common: rather than allocating the appropriate amount of time to specific tasks to ensure they are completed to a quality standard, they spend their days in a reactive mindset, responding to every request that lands on their desk. 

If this sounds familiar, it’s time to shift focus. Rather than having to spend time putting out the daily fires, concentrate on the big picture. Write down your outputs before the day or week begins and prioritise depending on the significance of each task. 

What’s genuinely urgent and important? Take a moment to reflect on what value the items on your list add to your wider team or organisation, and whether that is matched by the urgency attached to it. Some assignments may be urgent because they come with a clear deadline, but they may not be vital to the organisation. Often, these unimportant tasks are the ones that make the most ‘noise’, but ultimately add little value. These tasks should be postponed or delegated. If they are being requested by other co-workers, ask if the deadlines can be extended. 

At the same time, while some important tasks may not be urgent, failing to address them would, over time, lead to a negative outcome for yourself, your team or your organisation. Therefore, they should be front of mind. 

A simple equation is ­– if the task is both pressing and essential, prioritise that. If it doesn’t meet both requirements, it can be left until higher focus tasks are completed. 

For more on how to identify and prioritise tasks based on urgency and importance, the Eisenhower Matrix has stood the test of time.

Before moving on, it may also help to refer to your role’s objectives to remind yourself of the strategic targets you have committed to achieve. When scheduling each week, ensure you allocate enough time to achieve these deliverables too.

2. Time block your week 

Once you have put in the work to distinguish the tasks that take precedence, put a plan in place. Block out half an hour at the end or beginning of each week – depending on what works best for you – to schedule your prioritised task list for the week ahead. 

This isn’t as simple as jotting down a quick to-do list for each day. For successful time management, you need to eliminate distractions and assign a time block to each project – just ensure you set realistic timeframes. If you are unsure how long a task will take, it’s better to overestimate than underestimate. 

Plan for the unexpected: It’s very easy to be distracted by a constant stream of emails landing in your inbox. That’s why effective time managers allocate time in their daily schedule to check their email, instead of being tempted to check after every notification. If you’ve tried time blocking in this way before and still find yourself distracted, turn off notifications when working on other tasks. If a task genuinely requires your immediate attention, the requester will find a way to contact you. If not, ignoring your inbox for a period of time will help to keep your schedule on track and your productivity high.

Any emails of low relevance that will take more than your allocated time to respond to should be added to the list of tasks you’ll schedule during your next weekly planning session. Don’t alter your schedule just to sweat the small stuff. 

However, when high-priority tasks unexpectedly and inevitably come your way you may need to change your plan. 

Avoid unnecessary meetings: Like them or loathe them, meetings are a fundamental component of the world of work but that doesn’t mean you need to fill your calendar with them. Before accepting each meeting invitation, consider how the meeting is relevant to you. Ask the organiser to send you the agenda. If your input isn’t critical to the meeting itself, your productivity will be better served by allocating the time to more important tasks. 

Similarly, if you attend a recurring meeting that consistently achieves little of value towards your wider goals, chat to the meeting organiser about your reservations and whether it can be reviewed. 

When are you most productive? It’s important to remember that we all work best at varying times of the day. Think about when you feel at your most productive and develop your schedule accordingly. Whenever your energy levels are at their highest, set aside this time for high priority tasks. In turn, reserve your less efficient times for your lower-priority tasks.

3. Commit to your plan – but be flexible when priorities shift 

Just like any routine, you need to make an effort to commit to your new time management plans at first. On average, it can take two months to form a new habit, so try to be consistent until it becomes habitual. 

Priorities need to be adaptable – a task could become more important or urgent at any point in time, which is why efficient time managers remain flexible enough to alter their schedule if required. 

4. Make good use of time management tools 

Mastering time management skills takes time and practice, so in the meantime the best way to act on the previous tips to improve your ability to meet deadlines and complete certain tasks with less stress is to utilise time management tools, usually in the form of time tracking software. 

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