Time management skills are becoming increasingly valuable in almost all aspects of our daily lives. As the pace of life speeds up, we work longer hours and become increasingly dependent on technology, which makes it difficult to separate our work lives from our personal lives. Implementing effective time management strategies can make a huge difference in helping us to remain productive, but also to protect our free time and achieve a greater work-life balance.
Whether you are working full-time, studying or job hunting, the following time management tips and tricks can help you maximize your productivity and help you stay on track.
- Set your goals
In order to effectively manage your time, you need to have an idea of what exactly you need to accomplish within the time frame you have. Scientific research has shown that there are several goal characteristics that make them more likely become achieved. According to the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching, the goals we set need to be clear and specific in order to help reduce the potential feelings of anxiety and frustration while working towards them. If you are working in a team, research has shown that focusing on your contribution to the group effort rather than on your own success as an individual will help you become more successful in reaching your goals. In addition, setting your goals can also help you think of potential roadblocks and how to get around them.
2: Get in the zone
Remember: working more hours does not necessarily mean being more productive. Figure out a time during the day when you are most alert, and schedule the work that requires the most concentration and productivity during that time. Since multitasking can often be a productivity killer, set this time aside to focus on one task at a time, until they are completed. Make sure you cut out distractors, such as email and social media alerts during this time: it’s too easy to lose track of time and spend hours responding to emails. Be protective of your “in the zone” time, and set up some boundaries to be undisturbed during this period. This includes turning off your social media notifications and eliminating other predictable and unnecessary distractors.
- Keep your meetings short and sweet
Time is a precious resource, yet we often end up unintentionally wasting it at work meetings. Most of us spend many hours in work meetings each week, which can be unproductive and interrupt work flow. Scheduling meetings first thing in the mornings can be a very effective time management strategy, since the time leading up to a meeting often ends up being wasted, and meetings scheduled in the middle of the afternoon can result in wasting the whole afternoon, since the chunks of time leading up to and after the meeting may be too small to accomplish anything significant. In order to make meetings more productive and time-effective, experts suggest limiting the action items of each meeting to no more than three items, stating the desired outcomes of the beginning of each meeting, and always ending the meeting on time, even if the agenda is not finished.
- Use the “Pomodoro Technique”
According to scientific research studies, we tend to be more productive when we work in shorter, intense bursts. The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management method developed by the author and entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo, who named this technique after the tomato-shaped “pomodoro” kitchen timer. The idea is simple: set an alarm for 25-40 minute intervals and do your best to stay focused and productive during this period of time. When the alarm goes off, you can take a short break of 5-10 minutes and then, set your timer again for another interval of work. Research shows that this is the optimal time frame to maximally focus our attention on the task at hand, and the breaks help to keep you focused, motivated and consistently productive.
- Avoid perfectionism
Often, striving for perfection can slow us down and become a serious hindrance to our productivity. Trying to achieve perfection in our work can sometimes mean setting up unrealistic expectations and is often associated with increased anxiety levels and even depression, and typically leads to wasted time as we procrastinate or stress out about completing the task. Perfectionism, therefore, can become a serious roadblock to productivity. Instead of focusing on creating something perfect, try focusing on achieving a reasonable amount of work for the time frame that you have.
- Track your time
At the end of each day, take a close look at how you had spent the time during which you had intended to be productive. Sometimes, it can be a shocking experience to realize just how much time we had wasted on non-essential tasks. In order to get an upper hand on time management, try tracking how you spend each half an hour during your work day for one or two weeks. This can be helpful in helping you uncover non-essential tasks that have evolved into becoming time suckers. The next step is cutting down the amount of time you dedicate to them or finding a way to make them more efficient.
Eugenia Petoukhov is a Canadian-based researcher and scientific writer. She is particularly interested in the inner workings of the brain, as well as in molecular and experimental medicine.
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