“Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” – Groucho Marx
What is a more valuable commodity than your time? Truly, there is never enough of it. That’s why when it comes to the time you spend at work, learning how to maximize the hours of your day is critical to success. Not only does good time management make you a more efficient and productive worker, but it enables you to better take advantage of the valuable time spent out of work as much as it allows you to maximize the time spent in work. This is a key component to a healthy modern workplace.
Admitting you are bad at time management is a tough pill to swallow for many workers. People often pack their schedules with meetings and find themselves rushing from one task to the next and think they have things under control. But if you’re routinely working late, sweating deadlines, and tardy for meetings, it’s likely you’re not as good at managing your time as you may believe.
Fortunately, good time management can be a learned behavior. That’s why we’ve put together nine tips to improve your time management for anyone who’s ever wondered where the day has gone.
1. Accept your limits
There are only so many hours in a day and if you’re reading this, chances are you’re not Beyoncé. And unlike some of the great business leaders at our time who raise eyebrows with their supposed schedules and preferences, you still have to eat, sleep, and perhaps spend a little time with yourself, family, and friends. That’s why it’s so important to accept your own limits. Saying yes to every request is the first step towards time management failure. Set realistic deadlines and don’t be afraid to give yourself a little wiggle room. Last minute fire drills are sometimes unavoidable, so be sure that your schedule can accommodate them if necessary without causing a cataclysmic chain reaction.
2. Limit email checking
I once had a boss who would check email twice a day – when he got into the office in the morning and directly after lunch. That’s it. Before setting these email limits for himself, he found that he spent so much of his time responding immediately to questions and requests that he had little time left over to actually work. And his deadlines were suffering for it. Don’t let yourself get sucked in to the immediacy of email. Turn off instant notifications that pop up every time a new mail hits your inbox. Set strict times of the day that you allow yourself to check and respond to email. If you don’t get through all of them in that time, that’s okay. Don’t worry about missing something important. Everyone asking something of you believes their request is the highest priority. If it really is an emergency, don’t worry, they’ll find you.
3. Nix your bad habits
Or, at the very least, realize how much time you’re devoting to bad habits and strive to cut back. This could be allowing yourself to be pulled too deeply into emails, fixating over ultimately unimportant details, or succumbing to the myriad distractions at our fingertips such as Facebook, Instagram, or texting. Managers know that employees are not working 100% of the time at their desks; we’re all human. Except for Elon Musk. And particular times of year—such as holiday shopping season and March Madness—are particularly detrimental to office worker productivity. But recognizing how much time you personally spend on these activities is the first step in cutting back and becoming a more efficient worker.
4. Take advantage of technology
While it could be said there is no greater distraction than the technology we now have available to us, there are just as many, if not more, tools that have emerged in recent years to help employees work more efficiently, complete tasks more quickly, and cut out previously unavoidable busy work. It can be a small act of time management success, such as turning on Do Not Disturb mode on a messenger app that could save minutes every day. Or a large act, like investing in a software solution that could save hours. According to recent studies, the number one time waster in the office is meetings. The right type of meeting management software makes it possible to find and book meeting rooms in just a few seconds, book catering with a few clicks, and handle all visitor management so employees don’t have to. By eliminating all of the necessary yet tedious tasks of meeting management, a single software solution could save thousands of hours of lost productivity every year, adding up to millions of dollars for companies.
Begin each day by refreshing your TO DO list and prioritizing each task. Identify low value tasks and determine what can be delegated, what can wait, and what isn’t actually necessary at all. I like to start my day with the big, important projects while my mind is fresh (and my coffee is hot). That way, when my brain is feeling fatigued later on, I’ve accomplished what is most important and I can spend the rest of my day on smaller, lower priority tasks that may take 10 to 30 minutes of my time each. This way, I’m not dreading or wasting time to avoid those larger projects because my habit is to tackle them immediately. Usually, getting started is the hardest part. Personal time should also be a consideration when prioritizing for the day. Your time is valuable. Sometimes getting home for dinner with your family is just as important (if not more so) than prepping for tomorrow’s meeting. Your mental health and long-term morale will thank you.
6. Create a routine and stick to it
Routine is important for everyone, but especially for those millions of modern workplace employees who work remotely. Get up at the same time every day, dress to impress, prep as if you were going to the office, break for meals at the same time each day. U.S. President Barack Obama once told Vanity Fair that he only gave himself the option of two suits to wear every day so he didn’t waste time making decisions that ultimately don’t matter. Employ the Obama method. It doesn’t matter if you start your day with a 5-mile run or a hot plate of eggs; if you sit down to work at 7 a.m. or 11 a.m.; if you work from home or in a coffee shop; just be consistent with your routine and you may be surprised at how freeing it can be.
7. Get organized
This is especially important for those with seemingly endless folders of files. Create a detailed filing system so you know where everything is at all times. This eliminates precious time spent searching for resources and makes it easy to quickly pull up past work. But don’t stop with just your personal documents. Get your whole team on a consistent filing system and nomenclature so everyone can clearly see the file type, purpose, and iteration of any document that may be shared.
8. There’s no such thing as waiting
Whether waiting for an email response, document approval, or even sitting in a doctors waiting room, capitalize on that time by catching up on email or moving on to the next task. The digital world makes constant work a possibility, for better or for worse, so use it to your advantage.
9. Set achievable goals
This is a culmination of all of the other time management tips so far. At the very least, you should be able to create one takeaway or goal from each of those and set it into practice immediately in an achievable way. Do you spend one hour a day reading articles? Limit yourself to 10 minutes. Setting a goal with a theoretical end in mind makes it easier to stick to, such as setting the goal of not responding to personal text messages during working hours for one week. After that week, you might find the urge to pick up your phone has diminished greatly.
Create good time management habits and you might be surprised at how well you can stick to them once you get over the hump. After all, you can’t change the amount of hours in a day, but you can change your behavior for improved time management.