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Time management skills are critical to effectively manage a busy work schedule. Productivity requires focus and a thoughtful plan to ensure you’re effectively working against your most important tasks.
We’ve all felt the stress that comes from rushing to meet a deadline, feeling behind or overwhelmed. Here’s a list of productivity-enhancing techniques that you can weave into both your work life.
1. Clarify and record your priorities.
If you don’t know what’s important, then everything on your to-do list feels equally pressing. Rank your current projects — most important to least important — and then ensure you have a due date for each of them. Review this with your boss to ensure you’re both on the same page with her and then use it to guide how you spend your time.
2. Don’t confuse urgent and important.
Urgent tasks that have to be completed on a fast deadline aren’t always the most important things on your list. That said, it is inevitable that unexpected items requiring your immediate will occasionally hit your desk. Create space in your calendar to manage these rapid-response tasks so they don’t put you behind on longer-term (potentially more important) deadlines.
3. Use your calendar to reinforce your priorities.
Set your work calendar to support your most important tasks. If you have a report due to your team lead next month, block the time to conduct research, develop the outline, create the first draft and collect (and incorporate) peer feedback. Your final work product won’t appear out of thin air, so use your calendar to ensure your most important efforts get the time they deserve.
4. Stop multitasking.
Humans cannot multitask — trying to do so only reduces your productivity. It takes time (approximately 15 minutes) to reorient yourself to your original task after a distraction, such as an email or text. Your overall efficiency can drop by as much as 40 percent when you try to do many things at once. When you’re researching, research, and when you’re in a meeting - stay focused on the meeting.'
5. Schedule shorter meetings.
Most calendar programs default to 30- or 60-minute meetings. If you get in the habit of scheduling meetings that are shorter than that default, you’ll create space in your day. You can use the “spare” time between meetings to get a start on next steps or send a summary email to those that weren’t in attendance, but need to be informed.
6. Reduce meeting attendees.
Large meetings are an expensive use of time. Further, when trying to come to a decision, meetings should include no more than eight attendees. Where possible, work to reduce meeting attendees to include only those that need to be involved in the discussion. Provide notice (and follow-up summary) to those that need to be informed, and share your intention to make the best use of everyone’s time to avoid causing frustration with colleagues.
7. Improve the meetings you participate in.
If you’re invited to a meeting without a clear agenda or objective, ask for specifics from the organizer. Understand the goal of the meeting: Is it for making a specific decision? If so, what decision? Ask if there’s anything to review beforehand to be more productive, or any other work that needs to be completed before the session. In the meeting itself, stay focused and contribute to keeping the meeting on track.
8. Align thoughtful work to your most productive time of day.
There is a tremendous amount of research on the relationship between time of day and productivity. Generally, humans are more productive in the morning — though there are individual variations — and people tend to experience a peak, trough and rebound in productivity (usually in that order) throughout the day. Align your most taxing work with your personal productivity high where possible to make the most out of your brain’s energy.
9. Get comfortable saying no.
Being productive requires priorities, and prioritization requires saying no. Many women are wired to “people please” — which can make saying no to requests challenging. Balance being a good team player and managing your own productivity by saying yes, generously, when you have the time to support a colleague in an important endeavor — and saying no, firmly and appropriately, when you don’t have the time or the request falls far outside your priorities and development goals.
10. Own your email — and don’t let your email own you.
Responding to emails immediately can make you feel responsive, but end up distracting you from more important tasks. One study found that fewer than 25 percents of emails merited a response within four hours (or faster). Yet, our email systems often alert us to every email by default. Set dedicated time aside to manage your email (on a timetable that fits with your company’s culture) as opposed to constantly checking every message that hits your inbox.
11. Create lists to ensure you don’t forget the small things.
Even those of us with the best memory can forget details. Using lists — handwritten, in apps like Wunderlist, on your phone, or in cloud-based Google Drive documents — will ensure that you don’t create a scramble by forgetting a tiny task or follow-up item.
12. Use collaboration tools (like Slack) effectively.
Collaboration platforms are a powerful place to connect with teammates, but can drain your productivity if you’re not careful. Use status messages (like “do not disturb” or “heads down in editing my project”) to help your coworkers understand when you’re not immediately available. Take the time to understand the shortcuts and features of your company’s system to use it even more effectively — and share your favorite hacks with your colleagues.
13. Pick up the phone.
Speaking or video conferencing with a client or colleague in a different location can help you get information and make decisions faster than email. Save time, avoid misinterpretation and ensure your concern, idea or question is fully addressed by having a quick discussion. Sometimes, phone is just better than email.
14. Limit push notifications.
Push notifications are specifically designed to draw your attention to your phone — and away from what you might be working on. Sure, some push notifications — like text messages — may be important. But each notification pushes you into an app and can disrupt your focus. Severely limit push notifications to those few things that you truly need to be aware of immediately in order to limit your distractions.
15. Confirm your projects with a brief written summary.
A small misunderstanding when you receive a project can result in a tremendous amount of wasted effort. When you’re given a project, take the time to summarize your understanding back to your supervisor. For small projects, you might choose to reiterate what you heard verbally, “I’m excited to work on this for you — let me summarize what I heard to ensure I have all the details…” For larger, more significant projects it may be worthwhile to develop a project summary memo for your boss, so she can confirm you’ve appropriately captured the goals, key dates, stakeholders and other details.
16. Take intentional breaks.
Ensure you get time to recharge throughout the day and across the year by taking time off from your tasks. A short coffee break with a colleague can rejuvenate you in the middle of a workday, and using all of your paid time off (PTO) throughout the year helps avoid burnout and widens your perspective. Productivity isn’t about working more hours — but using the hours you have most effectively. Your career will benefit from the rejuvenation that time away provides.
17. Ask for feedback.
Your colleagues and friends can serve as a great source of insight about your own habits. Ask those trusted peers if they have any productivity tips that serve them well, and inquire if they’ve noticed any time-wasters that you fall prey to. You might be surprised at what you learn.
Good time management is an acquired skill because it can be very easy to fall into procrastination. Job deadlines create stress and, if you've already got poor time management, you can easily fall into a rut. But it's important to be a planner and prioritize your time wisely so that you have extra time for a health work-life balance and can still achieve career success.
Many of the most successful, effective leaders I’ve had the opportunity to work with are relentlessly productive at work. This professional productivity creates space in their personal life to pursue their other interests and spend time with friends and family. I expect these time management techniques will help you spend your time in the most efficient manner, in support of your career goals and personal ambitions!
The Feminist Financier is on a mission to help women build wealth and own their financial independence, by improving financial literacy and taking the mystery out of money. Ms. Financier is also a shoe addict, travel fanatic, and wine enthusiast.
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