Being productive at work is one of the most crucial parts of being an effective employee or manager, but it is one that eludes many people. Years ago, we just had to worry about a nosy neighbor poking his head over our cubicle or into our office. Today, we have to deal with the constant bombardment of the online world, from personal gadgets (like smart phones), emails, and the even more abrasive instant messages.
Here are 5 ways to improve your time management--even in a 24/7, "now now now" world.
1. Show Up Early.
There is really no downside to getting to work 30 minutes early. Who wouldn’t give up 30 minutes of sleep for a 100 percent less stressful 8+ hours at the office? The traffic will probably be better, the train or bus less crowded. Many of us catch the subway to work and what a difference even ten minutes, let alone 30 minutes, can make for avoiding the obligatory Tokyo crowded train "canned sardine" experience. In those 30 minutes, you can scope out the plan for the day, schedule your priorities and attack your inbox without other distractions. You’ll have time to thoughtfully respond to messages that came in overnight--and clear your inbox before the morning onslaught of new ones arrives. Bonus: you’ll be able to savor your morning cup of coffee with a side of peace and quiet.
2. Maintain a Daily Planner.
Time management may be threatened by digital tools, but that same technology can keep you to your schedule. Think beyond your digital calendar. Do you have a To Do list 20 items long? Plan out how long each should take, enter it into your online scheduler, and set it to "ping" when you need to move on--or it’s time for a 5 minute water/coffee/bathroom/co-worker chatting break. You’ll be more likely to power through until the alarm "tells" you it’s time to stop. Working in 40-50 minute bursts is more efficient that just grinding it out and getting up out of our chairs and walking around is much appreciated by our backs!
3. Be Present.
No matter how much you want to focus, meetings can seem made for web-surfing. The problem? You’ll spend more time after the meeting catching up on the content than if you had just focused in the first place. If at all possible, turn your phone off when you’re in a meeting and tell your assistant or a colleague where you are and how to reach you. If you really need to be directly accessible, put your phone on vibrate and put in your pocket, where you won’t be tempted to check game scores or the upcoming weekend weather. If you are a habitual escapee in meetings because they are so boring, you might show some leadership and suggest ways in which the meetings can be improved. Standing meetings are good too, because people can’t whip out their phones and surreptitiously read under the desk, pretending to be listening.
4. Avoid Procrastination.
No activity is more efficient at helping you procrastinate than the internet, particularly social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. But according to a new book, "The Power of Habit" by New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg, we can thwart their pull on our productivity. The key is recognizing why you’re web-surfing. If you just need time to clear your head, scheduling it in (see Maintain a Daily Planner) will help you stick to 5 to 10 minute favourite website or social media breaks--not hour long ones. Even better, go for a walk outside and come straight back, to get into the tasks awaiting you.
5. Protect Your Private Time.
Too often, workers that are on smartphones can feel like they're on a digital leash to the office. Sure, you may not be able to turn off your work device immediately when you leave the office. But it’s probably reasonable for most busy employees to turn it off for dinner or to get children ready for bed. Decide what your necessary "unplugged" time of day is--and protect it fiercely by being efficient while at work.
Our French friends tell us their work culture is to work very hard but not long and late. In this way, they are forced to be efficient, so they strenuously avoid wasting time. When they leave the workplace, they leave it all there – this sounds like a pretty good habit to adopt. Knowing you have that time set aside for you and your family or friends will make your work to be more productive all day long. Recent research says that the blue light emitted by our screens is not helping us get a good night’s sleep. Divest yourself of any screen based technology at least an hour before bedtime for a better and fuller respite.