Do you struggle to get the most out of your day? Are you finding it hard to work within given parameters? Are you always running late? If time management isn’t your forte, it just makes everything harder. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Take a look at these 5 different approaches.
Each one is designed to help you get more productive in the time you have available. None of them is particularly new and neither do you need to be a rocket scientist to master any of the techniques, but find one that works for you and your work rate could go through the roof!
In many instances, new technologies can be implemented to improve productivity and job satisfaction – but in some, it’s just good old-fashioned concentration, hard work and even a pen & paper.
1. Conquer your distractions
For this technique to work, you need to be ruthless and self-disciplined, with a single minded determination not to be led astray by all the usual workplace distractions. You WILL complete the task at hand and nothing in the world (OK, the office) is going to stop you.
Unsurprisingly, eliminating distractions is one of the most effective ways to increase your productivity.
Setting honourable intentions is all very well, but it needs to be backed by action. No doubt you’re well aware of all the ways your attention is diverted away from the job in front of you – so how can you effectively block them out?
For most of us, the internet is the biggest distraction. A quick impulse buy on Amazon, a furtive glance at your Facebook feed, a tempting article to read to a brief check of the latest cinema releases are all but a click away and far too easy to succumb to.
Whether on your computer at work or the smartphone on your desk (or even in your pocket), you need to eliminate all those productivity sinks around you.
Put all your ‘favourite’ websites on a blacklist and password block them so you can’t get in. Mute email and social media notifications on your phone or, better still, switch it off while at work. Your tendency to procrastinate should reduce noticeably.
Of course, there are likely to be other distractions that have nothing to do with the internet. Chatty colleagues, phones ringing, visitors arriving, background noise – these can all take your focus away from the job you’re meant to be concentrating on.
Find a quiet space away from the office hubbub, get comfy in an ergonomic chair and invest in some noise cancelling headphones to minimise any disturbances. Then put your head down and get on with it.
2. Make a To Do List and stick to it
Pretty obvious when you think about it, but when your head is all over the place and you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the things you have to do, it can be really helpful to make a good old To Do list. There’s a reason why this old school time management tool is still around – it works.
Writing your tasks down means there’s no chance that you’ll forget, without having to strain your brain cells remembering what to do next. Break up larger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks and keep them in order of priority. You could have a label system for urgent and less urgent jobs.
Once you get good at list making, you’ll be creating separate lists for each day, week, month and year, using this handy organisational tool to shape your working day. Tick each task off when complete and make sure you finish your daily To Do list so you can start the next day with a clean slate.
3. Try the Pomodoro Technique
You may not have heard of the software developer and entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo, but he has been credited with the invention of the Pomodoro technique, named after his tomato (pomodoro in Italian) shaped timer that helped him with his time management while at university.
The idea behind this is not only beautifully simple, it is said to work in perfect harmony with our natural attention span. Break down any project that requires deep focus – say, creative work or writing a report – into chunks of 20-25 minute time blocks. Devote yourself totally to the task for the duration of one time block, then reward yourself with a fun 5 minute break before tackling another 20-25 minute chunk.
The repeated patterns of cyclically and strictly timed work blocks is surprisingly successful in terms of concentration and focus, which naturally declines after about 20 minutes. Rather than soldiering on with reduced productivity or giving into the urge to check your Twitter feed, give yourself permission to have a scheduled break.
All you need is a timing or alarm clock device (it doesn’t have to be shaped like a tomato!) – what have you got to lose?
4. Embrace single tasking
Multitasking is overrated, and it slows you down – that’s now becoming an ever more accepted fact. Rather than taking on everything at once and thinking you’re getting a lot done, you’re actually spreading yourself too thin, while jumping from one task to another has several negative side effects.
Take that blog post you’re in the middle of writing. Suddenly the phone rings and your train of creative thought is rudely interrupted; now you’re in talking and listening mode. After you’ve put the phone down, it can take up to 30 minutes to regain the same level of concentration you had before. That’s 30 minutes wasted.
In fact, recent research has shown that the more you multitask, the more you’re used to responding to distractions, and the less efficient your time management.
Instead, return to the tried and tested technique of doing one thing at a time. Look straight at the task ahead and tackle it, without any sideways glances to see what else you could/should be doing. Whenever you’ve fully completed a task, take a proper break before you embark on the next job. Ideally, you should start the next project in a different location too.
Finally, if you can, schedule projects to run consecutively, not concurrently. Don’t start on another project until the one you’re currently working on is finished.
5. Follow the Pareto Principle
Surely you’ve heard of the 80/20 principle? The idea was first developed by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto back in 1906 who used the formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in society, arguing that 20% of the people owned 80% of the wealth.
Since then, variations of the same principle have been applied to all sorts of fields, and it’s become a powerful time management tool.
The general idea is that 80% of your output is produced by 20% of your efforts. (And that it takes the other 80% of your efforts to produce the remaining 20% of output).
If you’re not convinced, just take a look at what you accomplished last week, how long each of the jobs took and with what result. Chances are that only a small fraction of your tasks actually brought you substantially closer to your business goals.
Applying the 80/20 principle ruthlessly will allow you to focus on the really crucial jobs that produce 80% of the value – the rest are ‘nice to haves’. It makes the best use of your precious time and energy, deploying it where it really counts.