Unless you’re Jim Halpert and enjoy spending most of your time pranking Dwight, most of us want to become more efficient at work. Not only is this beneficial for your career, but it can also help maintain a healthy work-life balance, writes John Rampton.
But how can you become more adept at work? Well, here are 25-time management strategies that you should implement.
1. Stop letting to-do lists ruin your life.
To-do lists aren’t just useful. They’re essential to our success, since the brain can only focus on three or four things at a time. So, we need lists for any work-related tasks that we have to get to later.
But, creating too many lists can stress us out. Lists don’t take into account how long it takes to complete a task, and they don’t help us separate the important from the urgent.
Don’t scrap your to-do-lists. Instead, rethink your approach to your lists. A straightforward approach would be to use 5×3 inch index cards for your to-do lists. You could also try the “1-3-5” method, “3+2” strategy, or six box rules. There’s also Warren Buffet’s technique where you write down 25 tasks, circle your top five, and then ignore the remaining 20. Or, you could try out if-then-planning.
2. Stop multitasking.
We’ve all been guilty of multitasking at one point. Sometimes, it’s pretty harmless, like washing dishes while listening to a podcast. But, when it comes to working, it can be detrimental.
Why? Because the human brain can’t do more than one thing at a time.
When you multitask, you’re splitting your attention between tasks. As a result, the quality of your work declines. It also wastes time. The reason for this is that you spend more time switching between tasks than focusing on one thing at a time.
Stop trying to do more than one thing at a time. Instead, put all your energy into what you’re working on at the moment and then move on to your next item, task, or activity.
3. Scale down your responsibilities.
Go through your to-do-list for work. Outside of your primary responsibilities, what could delegate or automate? Are they even things that could be dropped entirely from your schedule? If so, delete them from your list and calendar ASAP. It’s a simple way to keep your list lean and mean.
4. Cultivate deep work.
In book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport describes deep work as cognitively demanding tasks. Because they’re so important yet difficult, these types of tasks demand 100 percent of your attention.
Schedule deep work for the same time every day. Newport also suggests identifying your work habits and blocking out common distractions.
He also recommends getting comfortable with doing nothing. That may sound counterproductive, but you can use it to your benefit. For example, when standing in line, don’t look at your phone. Just let your mind wander for a couple of minutes.
5. Set deadlines for all of your tasks.
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” That means if there isn’t a deadline for a specific task, you’ll use up as much time as you want. If there is a time restraint, however, you’ll be more motivated to beat the clock.
Setting time limits can also encourage you to get into a flow state of mind.
6. Organize and declutter.
It may not seem like a big deal. But, when your workspace is messy and disorganized, it’s distracting. What’s more, you’ll waste a bunch of time looking for misplaced items when you need them.
Set aside chunks of time to frequently clean and organize your workspace, like right before you go home for the day. Also, assign everything a “home” (or spot you’ll always put the item) and return them to that space when you’re finished using them.
7. Break projects down.
You’re more likely to procrastinate when you feel overwhelmed. Don’t beat yourself over it. It happens to the best of us. To avoid this, whenever you’re facing a monumental project, break it down into smaller tasks that are more manageable to achieve.
8. Keep a distraction list.
Subconsciously, we all know distractions and time management don’t mix well together. But, we may not always be aware of what diverts our attention. That’s why you should keep a list of everything that distracts you. It will help you identify, and eventually, thwart these interruptions.
Your list could be a Google Doc or a piece of paper. Keep it close to you so that whenever you get distracted, you make a note of it. Distraction lists are also handy for whenever random thoughts pop into your head. Writing these down gets them out of your head so that you can get back to work.
9. Emphasize results, not hours.
Research from Behance found that “placing importance on hours and physical presence over action and results leads to a culture of inefficiency (and anxiety).” What’s more, sitting “at your desk until a certain time creates a factory-like culture that ignores a few basic laws of idea generation and human nature:
- When the brain is tired, it doesn’t work well.
- Idea generation happens on its own terms.
- When you feel forced to execute beyond your capacity, you begin to hate what you are doing.”
Instead, think about how much you truly accomplished. One way to do this is to create a done list of everything you did during the day. It will keep you motivated to be productive and not just busy.
10. Stop the meeting madness.
Meetings can be a huge time drain, especially when they’re a waste of time. Even if they’re necessary, they can still pry you away from important work. As such, some people are scrapping meetings altogether and looking for alternatives like email, Slack or project management tools.
11. Complete tasks in batches.
As opposed to jumping all over the place, group similar tasks together. It’s an effective way to reduce the cost of switching, and it can minimize distractions. For example, block out three times a day to check your email and social accounts so you aren’t worried about missing anything important when your phone is off. Another option is to batch your days, like scheduling all of your meetings on Tuesdays.
12. Embrace the 1-minute rule.
Author and happiness expert Gretchen Rubin has her own rule for making your life easier. It’s a simple concept called the 1-minute rule where if something takes you under 60 seconds to complete, do it.
“Because the tasks are so quick, it isn’t too hard to make myself follow the rule—but it has big results,” explains Rubin. “Keeping all those small, nagging tasks under control makes me more serene, less overwhelmed.”
13. Always finish what you start.
Leaving something half-completed is stressful and distracting. Mainly, this is because it lingers on your mind until it’s finished. Even worse, though, is that you’re going to have to schedule a time to circle back to this task. It’s just more practical to touch things once and move on to something else.
14. Think positively.
How can a positive attitude aid you in time management? When you’re in a good mood, people will want to help you out if you’re in a bind. It also prevents you from indulging in time-wasting activities like complaining. It also boosts your confidence and encourages you to solve problems instead of making them any worse.
You can brighten your mood at work by showing your appreciation to your colleagues or customers. You could also organize your desk, listen to music, go for a walk outside, and take the time to get to know others in the workplace. It’s been found that having friends at work makes your job more enjoyable.
15. Improve your decision making.
It’s been said that adults make 35,000 conscious decisions each day. It’s easy to see, then, that if you spend too much on unimportant choices, you’re wasting time and draining your energy. To counter this, automate as many decisions as possible. As an example, if you were thinking about buying a book, go ahead and purchase it instead of overthinking it.
You can try like prepping your meals and outfits for the week. Also, improve your decision-making skills by conducting a cost-benefit analysis, practice being more decisive and setting time limits.
16. Work within ultradian rhythms.
Ultradian rhythms are the 120-minute biological intervals that our bodies go through throughout the day. We’re most productive during the first 90 minutes. After it peaks, your mental energy drops for roughly 30 minutes.
By knowing your body’s rhythms, you can schedule your day more effectively. As opposed to working during an energy lull, you would work when you’re most productive. When your energy dips, focus on less critical tasks or take a break.
I suggest using the Pomodoro technique to work within these 90-minute sprints, meaning you would work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break.
17. Set up your week using the 2-hour solution.
Developed by Roger Seip, author of Train Your Brain for Success, this is where you spend 2 hours weekly to plan for next week. Unlike regular scheduling, however, this method encourages you to focus on your goals and examine what has and has not been working for you. The two-hour solution focuses on your goals by dividing your time into:
- Green time. The work that gets you paid.
- Red time. The time that supports your green time.
- Flex time. Unblocked time to address the unexpected.
- Recreation time. Hobbies, relaxing, exercise, etc.
18. Acknowledge the planning fallacy.
First proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979, the planning fallacy is when we underestimate how long something will take to complete. In turn, this cognitive bias can throw off our entire schedules and even cause us to miss deadlines.
After acknowledging this, you can take steps to avoid it. For instance, you could track your time so that you have a better estimate of how long your daily tasks take you to do. From there, you can plan accordingly.
19. Listen to white noise.
The Journal of Consumer Research notes that when at a moderate volume, ambient noise is ideal for improving creative performance. If you don’t want to bother your co-workers, though, you should invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
Also, white noise can sustain concentration because it’s constant. As a result, it will promote your focus and encourage you to work faster.
20. Dedicate time to improving.
Learning new information, enhancing your skillset, and growing as a person is essential in life. After all, if you’re committed to improving, then you’re better able to adapt to changes and become more efficient in everything that you do.
If you believe that you don’t have time for this? Think again. We all have gaps in our schedules to learn or grow. For instance, on your morning commute, read or listen to a podcast. On the weekend, take a class. And, block out time in your calendar to grab lunch with your mentor.
21. Stand while you work.
Does this mean that you have to stand all day at work, literally? Of course not. The key is to alter between sitting and standing throughout the day. It’s beneficial for your mental and physical health. It also improves your mood and energy levels, which in turn may boost your productivity.
If you have to host a meeting, then consider a standing meeting. It’s been found that standing meetings can cut meeting times by 25 percent.
22. Silence your inner perfectionist.
Perfection is one of time management’s greatest foes. Not only is it unrealistic, but it also holds you back from improving, discovering new opportunities and getting stuff done.
To fight back against perfections, set realistic goals and welcome feedback from others. You could also stop ruminating and comparing yourself to others.
23. Fall in love with consistent routines.
“We are creatures of habit, and so are our brains,” writes Hallie Crawford, a certified career coach, speaker, and author. “When we establish routines, we can carry out tasks faster since we don’t have to ‘think’ about the task — or prepare for it — as much, and can work on autopilot.”
If you haven’t done so yet, establish a morning ritual and your ideal work schedule. After creating these routines, block them out in your calendar. It’s just a safe way to protect your routine from internal and external distractions.
24. Take care of your well-being.
When you’re exhausted, stressed, and don’t feel well, you’re not going to be all that efficient or productive at work. There’s just no way around it. Because of this, you must make your self-care a priority. Make sure that you get enough Zs, eat healthily and block out times to exercise, meditate and do things that bring you joy.
24 Time Management Strategies to Be More Efficient was originally published on Entrepreneur.