t was not without merit that writer Pandora Poikilos said “procrastination is the foundation of all disasters”. Although our working days have now stretched well-beyond the eight-hour mark, this is not to say that we are automatically better at managing our time, with the closeted reality being the more time we have, the more time we waste. “If you don't have clear goals and well-defined objectives, odds are that your work lacks direction and purpose” says development coach and Lead from Within CEO Lolly Daskal. “When you just go from day to day doing whatever comes your way, you end up with poor results (or no results at all).”
Interestingly, ways in which we try to manage our time better have recently been linked to identifying good leadership skills. It’s easy to try and stick to a daily routine but the reality of the changing day-to-day structure of the office means that very few days have a routine to stick to; flexibility is the answer. In the same way that we want corporations to embrace a flexible working schedule, we need to learn to adapt to a flexible working day, creating checkpoints of efficiency to manage our time and monitor ourselves. “The way you manage time is the way you manage your leadership” says Daskal, arguing that in the same way we identify strengths in inspiring and motivating people, we translate into a flexible approach to handling our time. We should spend time spotting the poor performance areas in our time management; verbalising the internal to improve the external and putting them into action in the office in order to be more adaptable in dealing with multiple deadlines and daily interruptions. Get more out of your day and manage your time better using these five steps to get started.
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Carve Out a Daily Email-Window
One of work’s secret time-wasters is getting your inbox sorted. Although the feeling of satisfaction is like no-other, the brutal reality is that email takes up huge, intermittent portions of our day; especially with the fluctuating nature of our working week. Instead of getting swallowed up in the vortex, Lisa Quast advocates a daily-dedicated window of time, in which tools are downed and we spend 30-45 minutes sorting through our inbox as part of a daily routine. “Avoid checking emails except during these times” she says, “as it can become a huge sinkhole and distract you from your high-priority work.” In setting up brackets throughout your day, checking emails can be dealt with efficiently, in time-brackets that give you a break from prolonged periods of concentration.
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Turn Key Tasks into Habits
Just like revision is the equivalent of making ‘new’ knowledge, common knowledge, your key tasks at work shouldn’t that require extra effort; they should become daily habits. It only takes 21 days to create a new habit but integrating something new into a daily routine can make your day more efficient and easy to manage as you are juggling the extra ball; the more you have to do, the more you thrive. Writer Jordan Bates has integrated the lengthy periods of his day spent on writing by tackling the first thing by default, in order to train his mind to be ready every day. “The amount of writing I do may seem like a lot to most people, but it’s very manageable for me because it’s habitual. I’ve made it a point to write something every day for a long time.” Indeed, anything we do regularly, we learn how to do more efficiently because we have perfected it by repetition. This is also true of the mantra ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person’. “I think it’s because people with full lives have a good sense of exactly how long things take” said Laura Vanderkam, author of ‘How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time’, “If they take something on, it’s because they’ve thought about how long it will take, they’ve looked at the amount of available time, and have calculated if it will work.”
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Practise ignoring people. Abrupt as it sounds, we all have the do-not-disturb button for a reason. “Practice not answering...e-mails just because they show up” advises the editorial team at Entrepreneur.com. “Don't instantly give people your attention unless it's absolutely crucial in your business to offer an immediate human response.” Working in an open-office environment is part of creating the magic of collaborations and team work but occasionally there comes a time where one need to learn to say no and step away from group conversations or spontaneous collaborations. Yaro Starak makes an excellent point in advocating his 80/20 rule with time management at work; in that 80% of your outcome comes from 20% of your input, and that only small periods of complete concentration are required to product great results, linking back to the age-old idea of quality over quantity. Practise the art of disconnecting and see how far you can get by zoning out and channelling more into that 20%.
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Attacking the jobs or the content you enjoy the most first thing of every working day ensures that the job is done quicker and to a better standard. Why? Because your passion for this position shines through; romanticized as that sounds, it’s an easy theory to follow. It’s tempting to fall into the busywork trap when kick-starting our day but the end goal should be to arrange your priorities in a way that you’re happy living out the details of your daily life and do the tasks you enjoy first. We’re all familiar with how easy it is to occupy ourselves with work that has little value, first thing, in order to ease ourselves into the working day; but addressing the things that we enjoy the most about our – often the most substantial tasks – is a way to emotionally engage our brand with productivity and in turn, complete a task quickly. “Emotions are just responses to actions” says writer Katie Simpson, “Long ago, I learned a way of prioritising that’s so simple, so logical, so useful, so obvious, it makes me wonder why everyone doesn’t just get off the whole…personal-productivity and time-management bandwagon and just get back to work.” In prioritising the actions we enjoy the most on a daily basis, we become better and more efficient through pure enthusiasm, completing them to a better standard in half the time.
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Value Pockets of Time
The 20-30 minute gaps spent mulling over tasks or organising ourselves between jobs is something everyone is guilty of. In re-mastering your time management at work, reallocate these gaps – currently downplayed as ‘breaks’ – as ‘pockets of time for the inevitable busywork-elements of our day. Productivity expert Frances Booth said a tendency to disregard these brackets of time as “not enough” to do anything productive is one of the key ways we waste time in the office. “We often talk about not having enough time” she says, “Rather than focusing on that…think about what you do have enough time for. Considering that her research has flagged up the point that the average task takes less 20 minutes to complete, there is little excuse to not shift our focus to what we actually have time for. Physical reminders of our mental habits help here so make a commitment to improve. Record ongoing periods of procrastination throughout the day and compare it to unfinished business at the end of the day and create a link on how one could plug the gap with the other and attack the lulling periods with full force the following day.