How to work smarter and increase your productivity
Time management is the process of organising and planning how to divide your time between tasks. It’s a buzz word often thrown around workplaces, schools and unis, usually in reference to efficiency and productivity.
When we don’t manage our time properly, our productivity drops and our stress increases. Poor time management can leave you feeling busier than you actually are – and being busy is not the same as being productive.
A lot of people believe they manage their time reasonably well. But we can always find ways to improve. And sometimes these things are just a good reminder to get you back on track for the start of a new year or time in your life (e.g school, university, new job).
1. Make a record of how you spend your day.
To begin you time management overhaul, make a list of everything you do in a day and how long it takes you to do each task.
Try doing it over the course of a week, to accurately reflect how you spend your time at work day-to-day. Be as honest and accurate as possible. No one else is going to see it, and it will ultimately help you improve.
Now that you’ve established an accurate record of how you currently spend your time, you can work to make it better.
2. Create a to-do list.
This is a very common time management tip. And may seem like a no-brainer to a lot of people. If you don’t have a record of what you need to do, things fall through the cracks – no matter how good your memory is!
Go through and break down major projects into smaller tasks. Even if you mentally know what those smaller steps are, it’s best to it visually break it down into separate smaller steps so it doesn’t seem as daunting. Ticking off things on a to do list is so satisfying too!
Not sure if you’ve missed anything? Check your calendar (past, present and future), previous meeting notes, email inbox, uni page and phone notes app for things that may have slipped your mind.
3. Prioritise your daily tasks.
Take a look at your to-do list each day to identify what you need to get done. Remove things that are unimportant, or delegate where possible/appropriate. If you have difficulty deciding what is most important: ask yourself what is absolutely necessary to do today? Or, what is necessary to fulfil your needs to get on with other tasks?
While you check your to-do list for items to complete today, don’t neglect the things coming up. Don’t forget to “zoom out”, look at your calendar and see what’s coming up in the pipeline in the next couple of days/weeks/next month. That way nothing jumps out at you unexpectedly, and smaller, manageable chunks of time can be dedicated here and there to work towards upcoming goals, projects or assignments.
Also – don’t try and squeeze more in by multitasking! Multitasking (even when done “well”) isn’t actually more productive than tackling things one at a time.
4. Pick two key goals for one day.
Focus on those key goals first, which will stimulate productivity because you are motivated by your wins.
Pick something that is “high value” – that is, it will have the most positive impact on you, your team or your client. If you did nothing else that day but make a bit of progress on that “one goal” you would still feel accomplished or like you made important progress – what would it be? (Hint: it’s normally the thing you want to put off the most).
If you try and fit lots of little things in first, your “most important thing” will end up happening at the end of the day when you’re tired (or doesn’t happen at all).
5. Schedule all of your time, including breaks.
Time-block each part of your day (and be realistic). Make sure to allow plenty of time for each task. It’s better to run ahead of schedule than behind.
Treat each time block as a deadline you have to meet. Keep everything in your calendar, schedule everything in your day, and refer to your calendar when making your to do lists (and prioritising them).
Choose a style of calendar that you will actually use, one that is easy for you personally to maintain and check on a regular basis.
6. Take breaks to refresh your mind.
You should have scheduled regular breaks into your day in your time-blocking calendar – now make sure you actually take them!
It may seem counter-intuitive to take more breaks to get more done, but it works. When you return you’ll be more refreshed, be able to focus on the task at hand, and produce better quality work.
Make sure you do something unrelated in your break. For example, if you’re looking at lots of numbers most of the day, do something image-related. If you’ve been looking at a screen all day, go outside and look at nature (and avoid looking at your phone).
7. Make plans at the end of the day, so you have something to look forward to.
Time management isn’t just about what you do while you’re working. Having a reward once you finish your daily tasks can be a big incentive. It doesn’t have to be flashy or big, just something you’ll genuinely look forward to. It could be a favourite snack or meal, a walk in the park, or catching up with a friend for dinner.
This means you’ll want to be more efficient with your time, so you can finish on time and enjoy that reward.
8. Turn off notifications and distractions.
We are constantly bombarded by distractions, and it can be difficult to tune everything else out. Schedule time blocks in your day to check and deal with emails or your phone, so you don’t constantly get distracted by them throughout. Open windows fullscreen on your computer and switch off notification. Turn off your phone, or put it in a drawer.
This should also help you avoid multitasking and stay focus on one task at a time.
9. Small changes can make a big difference.
- Improve your work environment so it’s less distracting (e.g. close your office door, rearrange your desk).
- Find a calendar system that you actually like and works for you.
- Try getting up half an hour, or an hour earlier, so you’re in a better mindset once you start your day.
- Eliminate multitasking – make an intentional effort to do only one task at a time.
These little things will add up, and will allow you more time in your day to achieve what you want.
10. Document processes (for employees).
It wouldn’t be true Aintree Group advice unless we touched on the importance of documenting policies and procedures. All your processes should be official, standardised and somewhere the whole team can access it (i.e. NOT in your head)! This way productivity is scalable. Having proper processes eases delegation, saves time, manages expectations, which all helps you and others be more efficient.
11. Review at the end of the day.
A very quick once-over of your to-do list at the end of the day can be really helpful. You can identify what you did well, and also pinpoint tasks that may have slipped through the cracks to put on the priority list for the tomorrow.
12. As a team, give each other deadlines and time-frames (for employees).
If you ask someone else in the team to do something for you, don’t just leave it open-ended. Help each other out by indicating when you need it. That way, the other person can work it in with their other tasks more effectively, and you know exactly when to expect the work to come to you and you can plan accordingly.
Be realistic and appropriate, don’t give unreasonable deadlines, and don’t exaggerate the urgency of something that you don’t need straight away.