Why time management
When everything is important, everything is urgent and you’re starting to lose your mind, then it might be a sign to start managing your time more efficiently. Or find a new job, one or the other.
I used to always come home from work exhausted, not wanting to do anything. I didn’t feel like working out, cooking, or cleaning, and not even like going out. All I did was come home, have my dinner on the coach and stay there until it was time to go to bed. Needless to say I felt pretty empty and unfulfilled. Turns out this lack of energy had a lot to do with my terrible time management skills. I constantly got distracted by my phone, by incoming emails or by colleagues having a chat, and when I was actually focused I was so focused that I didn’t even bother taking a break. This left me drained at the end of the day. Sounds familiar?
Well, proper time management will make you more productive and efficient, it will help you preserve your energy throughout the day and reduce your stress levels. Being more in control of how you spend your time on certain activities will have you working smarter instead of working harder. After following a time management course, applying these simple principles during the workday left me more energetic and productive during the evening. Both things I desperately needed to find the motivation to work on my own, personal projects.
In the end, the entire purpose of time management is making a positive change in your lifestyle, allowing you to get piece of mind.
Time management in your work environment
If you find yourself exhausted and stressed coming home after work, you might want consider planning your days better to not lose your energy throughout the day.
1. Make to-do lists
First of all, the best way to keep yourself organized is by keeping to-do lists. Writing everything down makes you clear your mind for the things you need to focus on. I constantly experience this myself. I might all of a sudden think about something I need to do or can’t forget, and the minute I write it down in my agenda, it feels like a burden lifted off my shoulders. When the time comes, I know I’ll be reminded to do what I need to do and I can take it off my mind for now.
Now of course, a to-do list alone won’t do the trick. You need to prioritize these tasks in your list. There’s several methods you could use to help you prioritize. One of them is the Eisenhower principle. This matrix distinguishes tasks between important/unimportant, and urgent/not urgent. Having a prioritized list of tasks will make them feel more manageable. At work, I like to keep these tasks in a word document. This way it’s easier to shift and change than it would be using a paper version. Even if you won’t have the satisfaction of crossing things off your list, at least you can delete them and see your list shortening. I write my tasks down in order of importance and I even add the date of when I should do or finish the task.
2. Use your agenda
Secondly, besides the to-do lists, try to keep an agenda. Write all your important tasks and meetings down and allocate a time slot to them. With important tasks, I mean everything that needs longer than 30 minutes. Make sure to build in buffers as well. These should consist of 30% of your time. This way, if a task or meeting takes longer than expected, you won’t get short on time and needlessly get stressed. Also try to notice for yourself when your most productive hours are. For me it’s definitely not in the morning – not a morning person at all-. Take your cycles of productivity into account and plan important projects with critical decisions and complex thoughts in your golden hours.
3. Be selective with meetings
Thirdly, keep meetings to a minimum. If there’s no agenda, if there’s too many participants, if the meeting lasts too long and doesn’t fit your schedule, or if the subject simply isn’t relevant to you, don’t be afraid to turn down the invitation. If needed, you can still read the meeting notes afterwards or get an update from a colleague.
4. Be efficient with email
Lastly, be efficient in going through your mailbox. All emails that take less than 2 minutes to sort out, you should do immediately. Everything that will take up between 2 and 30 minutes you should write down as a task. Things that require more than 30 minutes, you should plan in your agenda.
Turn off email notifications so that new emails don’t pop up on your screen. These will only distract you from the task you were working on. It will then take you 2 minutes to be completely focused again. If you receive 50 emails during the day and get distracted by each, you will lose almost 2 hours of productive time. Instead, read your emails on specific times during the day (for example once in the morning and twice in the afternoon), or only when finishing important tasks.
Avoid the boomerang effect on emails by doing the following:
- When emails exceed a certain amount of replies (for example 5), this means it is either a difficult or emotional subject and it might be better to deal with it in person (via meeting or phone call).
- Don’t write emails that are longer than one screenshot.
- Ask your questions in the beginning of the email.
- Give your recipient follow up actions. If yes, do this, if no, then do this.
- Think carefully about replying all or adding people in copy. Your email might not be important to everyone.
Multitasking doesn’t work
One of the biggest energy drainers and time wasters throughout the day is multitasking. We tend to jump between tasks on our to-do lists, we try to juggle all our responsibilities at once while convincing ourselves that tackling multiple things simultaneously is helping us to check them off our to-do list twice as fast. And all of this while we check Twitter, quickly post on Instagram, send a quick email and Facebook-stalk our crush. I hate to bring it to you, but multitasking simply doesn’t work.
When you need to perform mental activities, multitasking will make you 30% less productive. Even more so, it can have some noticeable physical effects as well. When you respond to all impulses during the day and don’t take proper breaks, your “archive brain” keeps working during the night and you might experience sleeping problems. This, in turn, may cause you to be exhausted and emotionally irritable. Multitasking has also been proven to produce more cortisol (stress hormone), which can cause muscle spasm, inflammation and other health problems. Lastly, being all over the place during the day can also increase your desire for sugary foods as your brain consumes more glucose throughout the day.
We all know that focusing on one task at a time leads to better and faster results. So the solution couldn’t be more simple – be completed focused on the task you are working on. I know, easier said than done in our current fast-paced information society. However, not letting your mind wander off, and focusing on your priorities, will make it easier to finish everything your start. This means cutting off all distractions, yes also the WhatsApp messages from your significant other. Turn off your phone notifications, turn off email popups, close the tabs in your browser that you don’t need and focus all your attention on the work you need to be doing.
Avoid distractions by blocking the needed time in your agenda. If you often get disturbed by coworkers, you could even make it visual that you’re working on a big task and don’t want to be disrupted. You could wear headphones, or some companies even have policies where you can put a certain object on your desk as a sign that you are focusing on an important task. Don’t be afraid to approach your boss or colleagues to discuss how you and your team can be more efficient in this aspect. Maybe there is a small meeting room where you could work when you need to be focused? Maybe you can set up a system with your colleagues where you each one of you can work completely focused for 2 hours of the day, and the others take over your incoming phone calls?
2. Build in breaks
Another time management hack is allowing yourself to rewind. According to the Pomodore technique, to take into account the short attention span of our brains (20-45 minutes), it would be ideal to take a small 5-minute break every 25 minutes. After four periods of 25 minutes, you can take a bigger, 15 minute break. This technique has many benefits as it affirms the needs of your body and brain. Not only does it give your more energy, which can then be invested in your concentration periods, it also helps you to revise your priorities and feel more productive in general. This higher productivity will in turn compensate for the “loss” of time.
Bear in mind though that these breaks need to be proper breaks where you can put your mind on standby. This means not checking your email or social media. Instead, get yourself a coffee, eat some fruit, take a walk, look out of the window, close your eyes for a second and take a deep breath. Short psychological breaks will help you release your tension and focus from one activity and get ready for the next. This way, instead of losing energy throughout the day, these short moments of transition will help you recharge and generate energy instead.
Time management in your personal life
I have adopted many of the above principles in my work life and actually experienced their benefits. However, applying these to my personal life has been more challenging. I do have an agenda and a planning but I don’t always seem to follow this to the dot. I tend to get distracted more easily and when I am really focused I don’t take any breaks and just keep going.
After contemplating on this I think it all comes down to motivation. When you’re at work, external factors keep you motivated to get the work done. The main external factor being that you don’t really have a choice. Your work needs to be done or there might be some consequences. Another motivational factor is of course the compensation you get for doing the work. At the end of the month you receive your paycheck, making it all worth doing.
When you’re trying to work on a certain personal project on the other hand, these external motivators are not there. Motivation needs to come from within. You need to find reasons for yourself on why you should focus on your work and get things done. Make sure that not making it happen is simply not an option. If you’re interested in more tips about finding your motivation, be sure to read my blogpost about this topic!
Now, to end this – by now – very lengthy post, there is one tip that I would really like share before you should start applying all the above principles:
Start with getting your priorities straight!
Think about what or who is most important to you and divide you time based on this. It is important to work on your goals, and to work extremely hard on them. However, this should not go at the expense of love and friendships. Build in some quality time with the people you love, because in the end, success is nothing when you have no one left to share it with.
Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important – Stephen R. Covey