The 3 Most Effective Workplace Time Management Strategies
Time management and productivity are inextricably connected. How well your employees manage or waste time affects the bottom line. How productive you are in your role as an employee affects your bottom line. The procrastination experienced when faced with completing not-so-favored tasks is a huge part of the problem. Likewise, being overwhelmed by the enormity of the “to do items” is another important factor. In other words, it’s all in your head.
How well you manage your time is largely based upon your thinking surrounding what you aim to accomplish. We all know that a change in perception makes a world of difference in how we feel and therefore how we act and perform. This is true in every aspect of our lives. However, at work someone is paying us, depending on us and rooting for us to do our best work daily.
We could address mindfulness, visualization, neuro-linguistic programming and other “programming” or “reprogramming” techniques herein, but I’d rather you make a study of those items on your own. Instead, let’s address some practical tips to do immediately that will aid in having a different experience of managing your time and thereby reprogram your thinking. There will always be difficult, not-favored, lengthy, and ongoing, and/or pain in the posterior tasks, projects, and the like. Let’s meet them head-on with a “I’ve got this well in hand” smirk!
Strategy # 1 – Know the Priority
This looks a lot like “to do list” management, calendaring and record keeping, but it also looks like serious prioritizing, acknowledging the true priorities and not what we like to do best, being done first.
As human resource consultants we are invited into organizations to assess their proficiencies, training programs, productivity measurements, key performance indicators, and knowledge transfer systems, etc. In doing so, we have discovered that many leaders and managers do not make a habit of effectively prioritizing their work. This is true across industries and organizations who do not subscribe to McGregor’s Theory X management model. Theory X environments are very controlled with micro-managing as the rule of thumb; hence prioritizing and productivity happen under the watchful eye of management.
Tip 1: Assess the Value
Knowing the priority requires that you assess the value. The completion of certain tasks will offer more benefit than others. For example, if there is client, customer or consumer-related work, this must take priority over items that are internal or unrelated operational work. More often than not, work related to the end-user has more significant ramifications when not done than internal work.
Tip 2: Make a Flexible List
Take a moment at the start of each day to assess the priorities and make a list separating the items into urgent versus non-urgent to determine your priorities for the day. Use numbering and do not be afraid to rearrange the list as the day’s events unfold subsequently changing your priorities. Sticking to a list that is no longer accurate will only make you crazy as the new items that have taken priority play like undisciplined children in traffic, running around in the back of your mind. How ugly and anxiety producing—yikes! Also, be sure to check your email and voice mail each day before creating your priority list.
Tip 3: Be Honest
When creating your priority list; be realistic about what is possible and what is probable. Possible and probable are two altogether different things. When we set unattainable goals we set ourselves up for disappointment and habituate ourselves to minor failures instead of grand successes. We all know the S.M.A.R.T acronym used for goal setting, but how many of us actually use it in our planning? We might consider doing so to habituate ourselves to more honest, prioritized “to do lists” that get done in a timely manner.
Strategy # 2 – Use your Attention Span Wisely
How long can you concentrate without becoming distracted? Many psychologists agree that sustained focused attention on a task is critical for attainment of one’s goals. What educators and psychologists do not agree on is the highly variable nature of attention spans according to how we are defining “attention,” as there are two distinct definitions to explore:
Transient attention is a response to stimuli that is fleeting and temporary; it attracts or distracts attention and can be as short of a span as 8 dedicated seconds.
Selective attention is focused sustained attention that is known to produce results with consistency over time. Some experts in this field of study suggest that the adult attention span is 10 minutes, others claim 20 or 25 minutes, while yet another group states 40 minutes. These time spans differ largely due to how we are conceptualizing the sustained attention – does it mean continued uninterrupted focus, or can it mean choosing to repeatedly refocus on the same thing? We have the awesome ability to renew our attention and refocus on a thing that lasts for several minutes, even hours; e.g., a long movie or an interesting book.
Our attention span can and will increase for tasks that we perform with fluidity or relative ease versus tasks that we find to be more difficult or challenging, or if novel to us.
Tip 4: Use the Pomodoro Technique®
After we have lost our attention for a particular task, we can restore it by taking a short rest, doing a different type of activity to change our mental focus or by being very deliberate in choosing to refocus on the initial task.
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My typical work day consists of 25 minutes of “doing”; I focus on a (just one) task (or type of task, e.g., checking and responding to email) for 25 minutes without interruption of any kind. I do not go to get a drink of water, refill my coffee mug, visit the lavatory or chat with colleagues, at all. When I have completed 25 minutes of “doing,” I then take a 5 minute break. Yippee! I am now free to remove my seat-belt and move about the cabin. If you do not have tasks that allow physical mobility for most of the day, your 5 minute breaks may be a great time to stand and stretch a bit. At the end of my 5 minute break, I resume the original task if not completed or I choose another task if feeling “brain-fried” and in need of mixing it up.
I repeat the 25/5 sequence for a total of 2 hours and then I take a whopping 30 minute break and have a dance party, eat lunch, watch a sitcom on Netflix®, braid my hair into pigtails – you get the idea. What I do not do is visit, disturb or disrupt the concentration of my colleagues. I will; however, visit those who have synchronized their Pomodoro Technique® clocks with mine. If you are not the boss, you may want to run additional break times by your employer. Of course your use of the Pomodoro Technique® can be modified to fit your specific tasks, attention span, and needs.
Tip 5: Limit Common Distractions
Fatigue, hunger, noise, and emotional stress are common distractions that reduce your time spent on task. Sleep well, eat well, place a “do not disturb” sign on your office door or back of your office chair if a cubicle dweller, and be calm; it’s all doable. It’s all doable because you are following all these great tips.
To quell emotional stress surrounding time management and deadlines, I repeat the affirmation “time expands to meet my needs.” Create an affirmation that works for you and over time has the effect of tricking your mind (and body – a good one also lowers blood pressure) into believing its mystical powers. For me to wholeheartedly believe that time is indeed expanding to meet my needs there cannot be any clock watching. Observe the Pomodoro Technique® time parameters, and your calendar of events, meetings, conference calls and the like, but do not obsess about “real time.” Focus on the task at hand!
Many of us suffer from a compulsion called Facebook. Limit or remove your or your employees’ ability to access social media and gaming web sites.
Tip 6: Adjust your Thermostat to Consensus
There have been several productivity studies over the years that tell us that when employees are too cold they expend their energy trying to get warm; arranging personal space heaters, taking on and off sweaters and scarves, and typing with gloves on. Sounds nutty, right? Well, we have all likely experienced it or witnessed coworkers trying to get and stay warm for the duration of their workday. Staying warm becomes a very focused and epic task because it is a basic need. So basic that its fits the definition of homeostasis found on the bottom tier of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” triangle.
Also, employees tend to isolate themselves and not seek out others when cold. That might be fine for some work environments, but what about the ones that require collaboration amongst employees.
In a recent study conducted by Cornell University concerning the impact of temperature in workplaces, it is suggested that raising the temperature from 68 degrees to 77 degrees cuts down on typing errors by 44 percent and it increased productivity by 150 percent.* Wowsers!
The same holds true for behaviors that impede productivity for those trying to get cool when the work environment is overly warm in winter months. It may be impossible to reach consensus amongst your staff; however, employers can use the results of Cornell’s study to adjust their thermostats. Employees can use their Pomodoro Technique® breaks to go outside to warm up in the sunshine during the summer months when thermostats are set low.
Strategy # 3 – Know and Address your Psychological Quirks
Consider those with perfectionist syndrome and the effects “getting it perfect” have on their ability to meet deadlines and move onto other tasks.
What about the insanely unrealistic boss? They may not be evil after all. This could be a psychological quirk that can be easily addressed once there is awareness. Research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley shows that executives perceive that they have more time and therefore over-commit their schedules. They experience less stress because of the perception that they have more time, but are not getting as much done as they could due to over-scheduling. The lower stress rates are a result of being in charge and not having to directly report to another on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. In some cases an annual report and conference is the level of reporting for some CXOs and other professionals. Less stress unfortunately does not correlate to increased productivity.
The overly-optimistic perception of time can also cause executives and others in power positions to overburden their employees by underestimating the time it takes to complete tasks and projects.
Tip 7: Stay Away from the Rabbit Hole
If you suffer in delight and glee or anguish and angst with perfectionist syndrome you will want to pay careful attention and take heed to this paragraph. All of the work you do is important, but you have learned how to assess the value and are diligently planning and prioritizing your “to do” items. It is very easy to get caught up in the details (including the ones that do not matter much or at all), spending way too much time on one task, while neglecting others. Acknowledge when you are doing these behaviors and hold yourself accountable for meeting strict deadlines to prevent yourself from falling down the rabbit hole.
Others of you who are not perfectionist have different quirks that lead to rabbit holes. Be sure to identify them and set up checks and balances to ensure you stay on solid ground!
We can help you devise time management strategies that work for your specific organization and workforce; creation of project management models and tools; time management training for staffs, management teams and executives; and career coaching for individuals. Call us today!
*Cornell Chronicle, Susan S. Lang