Work smarter! Not harder.
I was chatting with a friend a while back about some difficulties she’s been having at work. She started a challenging new job as a Finance Manager of a large department a few months ago and she’s having a hard time managing her immense workload.
“I just can’t seem to get on top of everything. I leave work every day feeling like I hardly made a dent; I wake up at 3 am remembering things I forgot to do, and somehow I always find myself spending most of my time working on stuff that isn’t even a priority.”
I’m not shy about dishing out advice to friends and family when it comes to their job search or hiring for their team, but I really didn’t feel I’d have much to offer my friend on this front. She’s a very successful chartered accountant and I work in....recruitment. While it's a great job, it's not exactly rocket science is it?
I tried to get away with the nodding-and-sympathetic-murmuring routine, but she wasn’t having it. Being a pragmatic, problem-solving type, she wanted a solution. Specifically, she wanted some ideas to help her better manage her time.
So I told her what I do in my job (actually, what all of us at Consult do), thinking none of it would be revolutionary to her. But it turns out it was – she couldn’t believe this is what we really do every single day.
It got me thinking: You might not need a PHD to be a recruiter, but it’s not for the faint-hearted, either. Certainly, anyone who can’t manage their time isn’t going to last long in the job.
Maybe some of our time management practices that are so ingrained they seem absolutely obvious, are actually anything but.
So I thought I would share with you what I did with her.
My 7 top time management tips:
1. Plan…and then plan some more
I spend at least fifteen minutes at the end of every day planning what I’m going to do the following day, and about an hour on a Friday afternoon planning for the following week. I know it sounds like a complete drag, but being disciplined about this practice means I’m less likely to forget anything (so fewer 3 am wake-ups); plus I feel really motivated heading into work in the morning knowing I can leap straight into work without thinking about what needs to be done.
Word to the wise, though: make sure you get your plan done before you start pouring the wines on Friday arvo. I speak from sorry experience.
2. Love your to-do lists
This is the first part of the planning process.
I have three lists on the go at any one time. The first is a list of my top priorities (a maximum of three) I need to achieve that day. These priorities are both urgent and important and WILL get crossed off by the end of the day come hell or high water. The second is a longer list of things that are important but less urgent; they can get recycled on to the next day’s plan if necessary. The last list consists of what I call ‘pipeline’ work; longer-term projects that I need to keep chipping away at every week.
Studies show that people tend to overestimate what they can achieve in the short term and underestimate what they can achieve in the long term. So: make your first list short, and your last list longer and more ambitious.
3. Block out your time
This is the second part of the planning process.
Take your lists and slot them into dedicated hour-long blocks on your calendar. You can use shorter blocks for lunch, meetings and travel to and from any off-site appointments. Put in an ‘odds and sods’ block towards the end of the day – this is for keeping on top of anything that gets thrown at you during the day that isn’t super-urgent. Make sure that no matter what you’ve got on, you leave at least one block for progress towards your longer-term goals. Don’t forget to block in some planning time at the end of the day, too.
When you’re done, your whole calendar should be solidly booked.
4. Don’t be a slave to the email
Check your emails at the beginning of the day when you first come in. If an email can be read and replied to in under two minutes, then do it right away. If it needs further investigation, flag it or file it and incorporate it into your existing plan – think critically about how urgent it actually is and don’t get sucked into thinking you need to deal with it right away.
Next (get ready for this 'cause it’s a big one): Turn Your Email Off. Close your browser too, if you don’t actively need the internet for whatever you’re doing. I know, scary. Don’t worry; you can turn it on again in a couple of hours and those Miley Cyrus videos will wait. But email and the internet are such massive distractions – most studies suggest people waste around two hours of time every day on them. That’s two hours you could spend at home with your kids.
Another great tip I read somewhere to help get on top of your emails: send less to receive less. Think carefully before writing an email – would it be quicker and more effective to pick up the phone? Could you jot down a few points throughout the day and compose one email rather than several?
5. Don’t multitask
Studies show it’s not an effective way to work. Instead, focus intensely on what you’re doing for that block – you’ll get into the flow of it and get through much more good quality work.
6. Schedule downtime
The hour-long blocks I mentioned are actually 50-minute blocks. At the end of the 50 minutes of focused work, get up and get some time away from the computer screen - even if it’s just staring at the jug while it boils. This is often when you’ll have those ‘a-ha’ flashes of creative inspiration or solutions to problems you’re working on, and it’ll help to keep your energy levels up, too.
7. Protect your time
Yes, you need to be flexible, and some days your plan is going to go up in flames. But you’ll be a much more effective and valuable employee if you can learn to say no on occasion. Do you really need to be at that meeting? Would it actually be more efficient for your colleague to complete the project they’ve started on, rather than passing it on to you?
A benefit to being well-planned is a much clearer understanding of your priorities and workload, so you can communicate that to your colleagues and push back on demands on your time if necessary.
Do you have super abilities when it comes to controlling the time you get daily? Share them with in the comments below! Or if you're looking for a new challenge in your career to show off your impressive skills, check out our latest jobs today.