How much time do you waste in a typical workday? Minutes, hours or more? Whatever your industry or role, time management matters.
If you've recently started working from home without a daily commute, perhaps you're suddenly feeling time-rich. Or maybe the distractions or the lack of structure/organisation in the office might be weighing down on your productivity. Maybe you find yourself unable to shut off. Whatever the case, it's more important than ever that you use that time wisely.
For companies, effective time management leads to efficiency savings, thereby increasing revenue. People with good time management skills tend to be more productive, more motivated, and more likely to meet deadlines. But, it's not always easy to get this right.
'Unlocking the UK’s ‘Daily Savings Time’, a report from US software company Workfront delivered alarming statistics about the amount of time wasted at work.
Key time management statistics
- Workers waste 11.4 hours a week, costing £11,225 per employee per year.
- Less than 60% of our working day is spent productively - with impromptu meetings and email being the most significant time wasters.
- Workers waste 2 hours every day because of interruptions and distractions, even though 80% of these are trivial.
- Workers spend up to 4 hours a day checking and managing email, receiving 300 + emails per week, although only 14% are crucial to their work.
- Over half of workers spend an hour a day finding things, with 57% of workers spending up to an hour a day looking for missing documents.
- Many attend up to 60 meetings per month if they are in professional roles.
Top tips to improve your time management skills
1. Produce a time log for a week
A weekly log will show you how you currently spend your time and how much you spend on non-productive tasks.
2. Use the important/urgent matrix to prioritise tasks
That ensures that you only spend time on important and urgent tasks (i.e. your top priorities). Anything else can wait!
3. Focus on important/urgent tasks when you're most alert
This allows optimum concentration. But, remember to flip between high and low-attention tasks or take a micro-break (see below) to let your brain recover from mentally demanding activities.
4. Compile a 'To-do' list every day
A to-do list tracks all your priorities in one place and your progress. It structures what you have to get done, and you'll get a sense of achievement as you'll see you're making progress. It is particularly useful when working from home as you'll need to be more self-disciplined. Some choose to do this at the end of each day, others first thing in the morning.
5. Take micro-breaks between tasks
If you're working at home, making a coffee and walking around for a short time reinvigorates you and is beneficial to your posture. It ensures optimum concentration when you return to your desk. What's more, if people around you (colleagues or family members) know you'll be available later, this can limit their interruptions.
6. Look for signs of procrastination and take action
We procrastinate for many reasons (everything from a task being unpleasant to a fear of failure, perfectionism, feeling overwhelmed or a lack of organisation). Homeworkers beware: Daytime TV, long lunches, and social media can all lure you away from your primary focus. Don't let them take over. If you procrastinate, figure out why and take action before you end up swamped. If you don't, you'll be working late into the night to catch up!
7. Manage meetings
Avoid all unnecessary meetings. If there's no agenda or the right people (i.e. decision-makers) cannot attend, reschedule it.
8. Manage email
Switch off email notifications and check emails just two or three times a day; keep emails succinct and avoid 'Replying to All'. Don't look at your emails first thing. Instead, complete important/urgent tasks. Set aside short bursts of time (15-20 mins max) for responding to emails unless it's core to your job; use folders to organise emails.
9. Learn to say no
What can you do to deal with a chatty colleague, a demanding boss who's heaping more work on you, a customer who's in no hurry to let you get on, or - at home - an unexpected visitor or curious family member? Rehearse strategies for dealing with interruptions and learn to say no without offending.
10. Reduce your exposure
For tasks that require intense focus, don't be afraid to turn off your emails or instant message notifications, put your smartphone on silent, even go and work in another office to minimise distractions. If you're home working, headphones help limit interruptions. Plus, they are a visual reminder to others that you are busy. Finally, remember to respect others' time by keeping your interruptions of others to a minimum too! By making every second of work time count, you'll have even more time to spend on the other things you love.
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