I believe it’s safe to say that we’ve all experienced the woes of getting to the end of the day and asking ourselves, where did the time go? Everybody gets the same 24 hours each day, but too often, we feel like we must be missing hours. As professionals in a fast-paced, high-pressure industry, it’s critical that we maximize our time and end the day feeling productive and accomplished. Managing your time effectively is an important skill to develop. In this blog, I’ll cover some of the most effective strategies I’ve found to help you get the most out of every minute, streamline your workday, and optimize your time.
Perform a time-audit:
Try diligently tracking where you are investing your time by logging your activities every day for one week to get a good overview. I tracked my time and activities by creating a Daily Momentum Log in Excel. You’ll want to create five worksheets, one for each day of the week. The first column was the time of day, and the second was the task or project I was working on. I suggest making an entry every 30 minutes to identify what you are working on. If you wait until the end of the day, you may not remember all your task movements and how much time you devoted to completing them. It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re head down working, so I set a timer on my phone to alert me every thirty minutes as a reminder. The interruptions were painful, but the juice was worth the squeeze.
What you’ll glean from this is:
- Identifying where your time is being spent.
- Discovering tasks that can be delegated.
- Honing in on skills you want to grow and develop.
An exercise such as this may seem like something for professional rookies. It’s not! It benefits all people – rookies and veterans alike. It’s an eye-opening exercise that I perform every December.
Use a daily agenda:
At the end of every day, try to prepare your next day’s agenda. Doing so may keep you from tossing and turning at night, thinking about what you want to accomplish the next day. If you can’t do it the day before, prepare it as soon as you arrive at the office. Creating a written schedule creates some personal accountability. You’ll also find that a plan helps jumpstart your day and keeps you from toggling between tasks…or, worse, wasting time or energy trying to decide what to start working on first.
Try to assemble your high-priority activities when you are most productive. Some people are most energized and efficient in the morning, while others focus more effectively in the afternoon. There are online resources that can help you identify your “peak times” of the day.
Using online resources and self-reflection, I learned that I was my most creative self in the morning. Therefore, my mornings are primarily dedicated to working on to-dos such as writing or creating project content and visuals. I then use the afternoon for other tasks and scheduled calls. When are you your most creative self? Does your agenda reflect that?
As part of your planning, use time blocking to provide additional structure. Time blocking divides your day into smaller blocks. Each task will have a dedicated amount of time and help keep you task-focused.
Let’s face it: our days often contain surprises, obstacles, and crisis-level situations. Add contingency time on your schedule for the “unexpected.” As new tasks emerge, jot them down on a sticky note. Writing it down helps keep you grounded on the task at hand and ensures nothing falls through the cracks. Work on those new to-dos during the buffer time on your schedule. Doing so will help you stay on track and complete work timely.
Playing the email game:
The average professional receives one hundred and twenty-one emails per day. Whenever you stop what you’re working on to check your email, it can take up to 20 minutes to reorientate yourself and get back on track. That’s some staggering data that proves emails can be a huge time suck and can limit your productivity! They have the capacity to wreak havoc on your daily workflow.
If you review and respond to emails as they come in, consider time blocking to help combat the disruption. I work from my email three times a day for 30 minutes. I’ve also silenced my new email notifications.
Communication with your team is critical to time blocking. Let them know that this is your email workflow. If something comes up that needs your immediate attention, ask them to call or text you instead of sending you an email that will leave them waiting for you to reply.
Celebrate your wins:
Whether it’s a small task or an enormous task, completing a to-do feels good! I try to celebrate wins, and for me, the reward for success comes in various shapes and sizes. I feel a sufficient amount of happiness when striking out a completed task (call me old-fashioned, but I use a paper agenda.) For a task that consumes a lot of brain power, I might take a break and go outside to get fresh air in my lungs to recharge my energy level. I work from home, so for tasks completed with teammates, I like sending (and receiving) air high-fives by email.
“Either you run the day or the day runs you.” – Jim Rohn
Words have power. And these 10 words strung together inspired change within me. It started with being honest with myself and acknowledging that the day was running me (which was a bitter taste!) My day was primarily managed by outside influences, which meant I was reacting to incoming requests and allowing those needs to take priority over advancing my daily goals. While I recognize that from time to time, there will be days where we play defense rather than offense, I believe that should be the exception, not the rule.
I made a commitment to myself to regain control of my time and energy. I said goodbye to the familiar and old mindsets that were creating inefficiencies in my workflow and curated a more efficient daily work plan that was wholesome for me, my clients, and my team. Noteworthy: there are moments when I find myself slipping back into old habits. I speak to myself with kindness and give myself grace…after all, old habits die hard. I recognize it for what it is, a moment to slow down and refocus myself. My best advice? Take baby steps. Start with one new habit in your daily workflow. Once it becomes routine, congratulate yourself and incorporate another. Getting organized is a marathon, not a sprint – pace yourself to avoid fatigue. Now go take back control of your day!