1. Have clear direction – before we start to be effective with managing our time, we first need to know where best to focus our time and effort. Sometimes that direction can become unclear or miscommunicated in times of change, so it is essential to gain clarity before we begin. If you work for yourself then make sure you have clear objectives & outcomes set. If not ensure you have elicited them from your manager, so you are clear on the direction and objectives that your department or organisation is working towards. Bear in mind that direction may be changing rapidly as we continue to deal with the impact of the Coronavirus on our health & mental well-being, global economy, and ways of working.
2. Use to do lists – if you are not yet a lover of to do lists then now is the time to convert. Not only do they help in organising all the mental tasks we often have whirling around our heads they also provide a mechanism to clearly prioritise, reduce overwhelm and increase productivity. A great strategy for this is the to do list rule of 3: 1) have a master to do list that has everything on it that needs to be achieved, including longer term projects 2) from that master, at the same time every week (as its habit forming) create your weekly to do list – ensure this ONLY has items on it that need to be achieved or worked on in some capacity that week, 3) yep you’ve guessed it, a final and daily to do list – this is the single best way to prevent overwhelm and focus your time & effort – you should ONLY have items on your daily list (for me it’s on a white board, it could just as easily be on a post-it note) that have to be started or completed THAT day. Last tip, make sure you cross off the tasks you complete as it gives the brain a little rush of endorphins and encourages greater productivity.
Focus your efforts – avoid the tendency to multi-task – instead, assign appropriate time & focus. Turn off email notifications, put your phone on silent – be realistic with how long tasks will take allowing for interruptions. Prioritise what to do when, use the ABC, 123 technique to ensure you are working on tasks at the right time to conserve effort & have the greatest impact on productivity.
3. Plan for your energy levels – we all have peaks & troughs throughout any given day and so we need to plot our tasks accordingly. For example, I am at my best first thing in the morning through to lunch time. So, I plan the tasks that require the most brain power and focus for these times. The easier, less crucial tasks like replying to emails, I can then do in the lower energy slots like after lunch. For those of you that are managers, remember when you are high energy may not be when your direct reports are.
4. Use procrastination to your benefit – for inspiration watch the TED talk, ‘The Surprising Habit of Original Thinkers’ by Adam Grant to see how a little bit of constructive procrastination can allow for additional unconscious creativity. If you find yourself banging you head against a wall – park it – do something else, have a break and then come back to it afresh – our minds tend to work out solutions in that downtime – especially if it’s guilt free.
5. Eat that frog – In Brian Tracy’s book on time management he highlights how too much procrastination can lead to low productivity – so ask yourself what are you really putting off? Is it because the task is too high level or overwhelming – if so, break it down into manageable chunks – what’s the very first thing you could do towards achieving it? Is it because you are overwhelmed or feeling out of your league – if so – what could you do to overcome that; who else might be able to help or advise you? Once you’ve identified the big task that’s been hanging over you (Tracy calls them Frogs) make sure you tackle it full on when you are at your highest energy level (Eat that Frog)– the rush of endorphins you get from clearing it off your to do list will make you even more productive after.
6. Manage your distractions – taking the occasional break to make a cuppa, text a friend or do a spot of exercise can help us to become more productive after. Too many distractions, like 3 loads of laundry, making a batch of banana bread and doing Joe Wicks then Yoga with Adriene and an hour on Facebook are just signs we are procrastinating and not wanting to face our tasks. Plan each day either the evening before or the start of the day with the tasks you will do today – not tomorrow but today – focus on clearing those tasks and then you can do additional ones if you finish. Manage other people’s expectations – to avoid the constant influx of IMs, virtual meetings or interruptions from the kids or your other half – make sure you set clear boundaries about when you are or aren’t free.
7. Take breaks – the tendency when working from home is to work solidly without the built in breaks, we may take for granted in an office environment, like making a coffee whilst chatting to a colleague or talking at someone’s desk. We can build in intentional breaks – mid-morning, mid-afternoon and at lunch if you’re working more traditional hours or spaced accordingly if you’re working more flexible hours so you can spend time with the kids or deal with other responsibilities at home.
8. 9-5 doesn’t always cut it – a massive change in working from home for some is the hours you might now work. If you are working globally and dealing with different time zones, have a family or other responsibilities you may wish to change your working hours. Some prefer to work 6am-lunchtime or others want to do a split shift. And managers, just because your team aren’t logging on at 8.50am and logging off at 5.30pm doesn’t mean they aren’t working, A high level of trust is required and as long as clear outcomes have been set and are achieved we need to accept that we all have very different ways of working.
9. Create your office – by now you probably have your home office workspace all set up, but are you treating it like your office – somewhere where you can metaphorically shut the door at the end of your workday so that your work life doesn’t bleed into your home life & vice versa? Start each workday as you would at work – make your cup of coffee, dress for the day and know when to switch off and leave it behind.
10. Ditch or delegate – periodically evaluate if any of your tasks should be reassigned. Perhaps you’ve had a task on your to do list for the last month and nothing has happened – why not? Is it no longer relevant or does it need to be reconfigured or streamlined to be more achievable? Also, particularly those of you who are managers – are you delegating as effectively as you could be? Avoid the tendency to hold onto tasks that you shouldn’t be doing because you are anxious about delegating them when you can’t be as hands on in seeing their execution. Learn to delegate effectively and trust your team.