It often feels like there just aren’t enough hours in a day. Although you’re able to finish everything on time every once in a while, most days at the office are a minefield of distractions—phone calls, emails, errands, questions—that push your other work to the back burner. It’s hard to overstate the importance of time management for an effective workplace, and there’s always room to improve, even for the most seasoned of managers. But with these nine tips, you’ll be able to make the most of every day, no matter how hectic.
The first building block of office time management is planning ahead. Develop a detailed plan with all of your tasks, no matter how trivial, and stick to it as best you can. Include the big picture stuff like projects and meetings, but don’t neglect the other parts of your daily routine: Getting ready for work, eating lunch, short breaks. There’s a bit of a learning curve if you’re new to the calendar game, but after a week or two it’ll be second nature.
We all fall victim to one time-waster or another, whether it’s texting, taking online quizzes, or poking around on social media. You probably have an idea of what your particular weakness is, but start by timing your non-work activities during a typical day to see which ones you need to curb. After that, schedule a little piece of time during the day for you to enjoy your time-waster as an incentive for completing your other work, now entirely free of guilt.
The work you must complete won’t have a uniform level of urgency; some tasks are just more important or pressing than others. Naturally, one of the most important aspects of office time management is prioritization. Use the labels high, mid, and low to rank each item in your workload, thinking critically about how each of your many responsibilities will impact the office’s day-to-day operations. Adopt a no-nonsense mindset and assess the amount of time you’ll need for each task. Now you can work down the list accordingly, knowing you’ll have the big stuff out of the way first.
So far, each of these tips involve maintaining a dedicated schedule. The next step, then, should be investing in something that will make this planning much easier and more appealing. Time management software comes in all shapes and sizes, so do a bit of research into which one is best for you. Organization services like Evernote allow you to take notes, make lists, and develop plans, while other tools like Toggl and RescueTime keep you away from sites that might distract you. If you prefer an analogue method, try the buzzy and highly effective bullet journaling method, which allows you to visualize your workflow in the pages of a notebook.
As study after study proves, our brains are bad at multitasking, no matter how productive you might feel at the moment. It’s simple: When you do two or more things at once, you can’t fully apply yourself to any of them, so you end up actually taking more time together than you would one by one. Set aside ample time to complete each responsibility individually—your brain will thank you and your output will increase.
In an office environment, you often find yourself sitting on your hands while waiting for a meeting to start or listening to hold music. During these idle moments, harness the power of technology to get a little bit done wherever you can, like drafting an email, catching up on messages, or checking a spreadsheet, all from the palm of your hand. Five minutes here and there might not sound like much, but these moments add up quickly and can greatly improve productivity when you might otherwise do nothing.
We’ve all, at some point or another, fallen victim to the annoyance of an untidy desk. You might be looking for a report that’s gone missing under a pile of paper or searching high and low for your trusty stapler. Just like idle time, these unproductive moments add up and can impact your overall productivity. On your next slow day, take a few minutes and clean up your workspace, establishing homes for office supplies, papers, technology, and desk accessories. It’s easier on the eyes and makes your day more productive.
There’s a reason you hired the people in your office or on your team: They’re great at what they do. If you find that you simply have too much work, consider delegating it to those around you. Your duty is to look ahead and plan for the future of the business, not to become ensnared in day-to-day tasks that someone else could be handling in your place. It’s not a sign of weakness—it’s a sign of a good managerial judgment. As long as your employees aren’t too busy either, you’ll find yourself with more time to get the important things off your desk.
You will always be able to make yourself more efficient at work in some way or another. But the last tip to keep in mind, as counterintuitive as it sounds, is that time management strategies in the workplace can only go so far. You’re not a robot, and you shouldn’t chastise yourself too much if you deviate from your daily time management plan. Learning takes time and messing up after taking steps in the right direction is a sign of progress, not of failure. If you stick to these strategies and give yourself the benefit of the doubt, you’ll be a time management master in no time.