How can this be? The answer lies in learning to manage your time better and to ensure that you’re not just busy, but effective.
1. Know yourself
When are you at your best? Mornings or afternoons? Everyone has times during the day when they are sleepy and slow (for most people it’s after lunch), so the best thing to do is to try to plan top-priority tasks for times when you’re feeling more alert, and tackle more routine jobs, like answering emails, when you’re less creative. Another thing to bear in mind is that the heavier the lunch you eat, the sleepier you’re going to be while your body concentrates on digesting the food.
2. Keep a to-do list
Whatever tasks you have to do, write them down: having them there in black and white will give you a better overview. Put an asterisk next to the most important tasks, or highlight them in another way. Differentiate between “urgent” and “important” tasks, and those which you can complete over a longer time period. As you complete tasks, cross them off the list: this is extremely motivating and will give you a real sense of achievement.
3. Fill the time you have
Choose the task which suits the time slot you have available. For example, a spare half hour in the morning, and another in the afternoon, is perfect to check your emails, whereas it wouldn’t be enough to start a long report. You don’t have to answer all your emails: delete the spam and the ones that just say, “Thanks!”, answer the easy ones, and keep the more challenging messages for when you have more time to answer properly.
4. Learn to say no
Effective work practice means knowing when to say no. If you take on too much, you won’t be able to do anything properly. The trick is: “Say yes to the person, no to the task.” In other words, be open and friendly to your colleagues, but if someone is asking you to do something you don’t have time for, say no, you’re sorry, but you won’t be able to do it by the deadline they require. Keep things positive by suggesting a new deadline which you really feel able to meet.
5. One thing at a time
Focusing properly means saying no to multitasking. It’s a fact that it can take up to 40% longer to finish jobs if you do several things at once. Not only will the quality suffer, but you will only do bits of all of them, and therefore never have the satisfaction of being able to cross anything off your to-do list – which is why it won’t get any shorter. Assign yourself a task on your list, according to how much time you have, and then work on it until it’s finished. Cross it off your to-do list and move on to the next. You’ll find you’re much less stressed.
6. Beat procrastination
Some people fail to get larger tasks done because they only start them at the last moment and then miss the deadline every time. If you’re one of these people, ask yourself why it happens. Could it be that the more important the task is, the less able you are to start it? Maybe you’re worried that your work won’t be of a high-enough standard; maybe the job involves a lot of research and preparation, and you just can’t face the hours of hard work. Whatever the reason, one great way to overcome your “procrastination” is to break the task down into smaller chunks, and then to tackle these, one at a time. Alternatively, you could spend half an hour on writing a rough draft or creating an outline for the job; this way, you’ll do a lot of the essential preparatory thinking, so that when you come back to it, the work will be a lot easier.
7. Manage distractions
Distraction is probably the main cause of most employees’ poor time management. And there can be several reasons for this – from messaging chats, emails and private phone calls, to colleagues talking loudly in your room or constantly interrupting the flow of your work with comments and questions. But you can tackle this problem! First of all, make the app you’re working on full screen, so you can’t see any other windows. Then, turn off all notification noises – messaging, email, mobile phone and anything else that may disturb you. Put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to let colleagues know you’re busy. Check the time and decide how long you want to work for before your next break. Now start working. Allow yourself to check email and phone messages only when you’ve finished what you planned to do.
8. Take a break
Finally, it’s important that you take regular breaks in the day, particularly if you’re tackling a demanding task. Your work will definitely be better and you’ll reduce your stress levels. Don’t start chatting with a colleague or checking your emails during this short break – it will only distract you. Just go to get a cup of coffee or something similar, and then get back to work.
Take these simple steps to start managing your time better and you won’t just be busy at work, but really effective. Your email inbox and your desk will be tidier, your to-do list shorter, your stress levels down and your family happier. Not only that, but as you learn to work with more focus and discipline, meeting deadlines and arriving at meetings on time, the quality of your work will noticeably improve – which can only improve your long-term career prospects. Start this afternoon: take a short break, write a to-do list, think about how much time you have – and get to work.