Did you know that microbusinesses (one to nine employees) spend 15 hours every week on administrative work? That’s according to Starling Bank’s “2020 Make Business Simple” report. Solopreneurs fare even worse, spending 31% of their weekly time sorting finances. If you’re a business owner or manager, you know that admin and financial housekeeping is just one of many important tasks that have to be done, which underscores how critical it is to manage your time.
How to better manage your time at work
Time management is planning how to efficiently use and deliberately control the time you spend to maximize productivity. In short, get more done in less time. Other upsides include:
- Better work quality
- Less stress
- More time to work on strategic or creative projects
- Less procrastination
- More self-confidence
Here’s how to get started:
1. Know how you’re spending your time
If your productivity is measured by output over a certain period, lost time can mean dollars out the window. Just like creating a budget, you have to track what you’re actually spending your time on to reveal any areas or habits that are blocking you from reaching your goals.
Start with a time check. Time-tracking tools like RescueTime can tell you, based on the categories you set up, how many hours you’re productive in a day versus how much time you’re spending on non-work-related activities, such as browsing social media or shopping.
2. Stick to a daily schedule
Go beyond “I have eight hours to do XYZ.” Create a daily schedule with allotted time blocks for different tasks. Sticking to it is the key to success.
- Create realistic timelines. People overestimate their capacity to get things done, a phenomenon scientists call “planning fallacy,” which usually results in overly optimistic delivery estimates. Add time buffers between tasks so that even if one goes over the time limit, the overall schedule stays intact.
- Give your undivided attention. Avoid sneaking to non-work-related sites (or whatever it is you’re not supposed to be doing) during work hours. Close all those “for later” browser tabs. Turn off your phone or stow it out of reach until it’s time for a scheduled break. Again, self-discipline is your best friend here.
To-do lists can be productivity lifesavers. But if you’re not careful, they can get so big and overwhelming that you don’t know where to start. A tool known as the Eisenhower Matrix can help you decide what to prioritize according to importance and urgency. Using this decision matrix, you can break down your list by:
- Do immediately: Important tasks with defined deadlines, or ones you’ve put off for so long they’re now overdue
- Schedule for later: Important tasks with no defined deadlines
- Delegate: Tasks that someone else can do
- Delete: Tasks you can eliminate because they’re not critical to your goals or mission
4. Tackle the most difficult task first
Distractions happen to all of us, whether it’s a phone call, a favor from a colleague or that pile of dirty dishes. Next thing you know, the day is gone. It’s time to “eat that frog.”
The Eat That Frog productivity method devised by leadership expert Brian Tracy works well for people who tend to procrastinate or have trouble avoiding distractions. It recommends tackling the biggest, most difficult and most important task first—the one you’re likely to put off for later. Only move on to other things once you’ve “eaten that frog.”
5. Batch-process similar tasks
Batching, or batch processing, means grouping similar tasks so you can work on them together. Group them by objective or function.
- Client meetings on Wednesdays and Thursdays
- Respond to emails from 10 to 11 a.m. only
- Generate reports first thing in the morning, and distribute
6. Set reasonable time limits
Parkinson’s law states that, “Work expands to fill the time allotted to complete it.”
If you have a full day to complete two tasks that should take only three hours, you’ll probably still spend the whole day on those two tasks. If you give yourself a smaller window, chances are you’ll still meet the earlier deadline.
7. Learn when to say no
We have only so much energy in a day, and it wanes with the hours. To avoid half-baked work, know your limits and be willing to say no. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Focus on what you’re good at and, if possible, delegate what can be done better and faster by other people.
8. Avoid multitasking
The science is clear on multitasking: It cuts efficiency and can even be dangerous. According to the American Psychological Association, mental juggling involves “switching costs” that slash productivity. Although task switching might cost only a few seconds per switch, it adds up if you multitask frequently. Your risk for error also soars.
9. Keep things organized
You might need an organization makeover if any of these have happened to you:
- Late to a meeting you’re leading
- Forgot to print out a report your boss needed for a presentation
- Had to ask IT for your username or password more than once
The good news is that organization is a skill that can be learned. Start with the basics.
- Maintain a clean work desk. National Geographic reports that psychologists and neuroscientists link the effects of clutter on cognition, mental health and behavior. Visual clutter can increase stress levels and anxiety, triggering a fight-or-flight response. For better decision-making, toss any papers that can be shredded or recycled. Clear out nonessentials and put daily tools within easy reach.
- Coordinate your computer files and shared drives. File naming is key to organizing digital files. Create a system that allows you and your colleagues to locate items quickly and easily.
- Use a calendar. Organize your calendar by life buckets, such as “personal,” “professional” and “commitment.” Try color-coding to quickly differentiate categories or by urgent versus non-urgent.
10. Use time management tools
Leverage these productivity and automation tools designed to boost productivity:
- Slack for keeping team communications in one central space organized by channel. No more slogging through endless email threads for project details.
- Dropbox or OneDrive for storing, sharing and backing up files. Authorized team members can access cloud-based files 24/7.
- Google Calendar and Outlook Calendar for staying on top of daily, weekly and monthly schedules. Integrate them with Slack to get automatic alerts and reminders directly in related channels.
- Canva and Lucidchart for designs and diagrams. They help even the design-challenged create professional-looking templates.
Master time management to boost productivity
Most high-performing teams have figured out how to maximize their time. Take back your workday with these time management best practices, and get your productivity up and stress levels down.