I hope you identified a few tools in our first post on time management that might work for you. Read on for even more inspiration, plus a list of resources for further reading and learning.
Listmaker, Listmaker, Make Me a List
Are you a list maker? I’m a list maker. I prefer to create lists on (pretty-colored) paper because it helps me to see my goals spelled out, and I derive satisfaction from crossing off completed items. I have also started using Evernote to collect ideas for projects and blog posts, as well as articles I want to read later. GMN member Myriam Fizazi-Hawkins, director of the Grantmaking Resource Center at the National Endowment for Democracy, gets her work week started on the right foot by creating her master list on Friday, after meeting with her VP. Unaddressed items from the current week are added, the list is prioritized, and then she revisits it on Monday morning to confirm the week’s agenda. She also finds it helpful to print her calendar and post it nearby so she can see the week’s commitments at a glance.
Another note about lists. They need to be constructed effectively in order to work, whatever that might look like for you. A big-picture list may summarize what you need to accomplish, but if it helps to break the bigger items down into smaller, actionable, measurable goals, then do that. You may even use multiple lists, one for each project.
Your Inbox and Social Media
You may have heard about inbox zero but have never seen it (me either). Keeping up with an ever-growing inbox can be soul-crushing, but one way to manage the flow of messages is to move lower-priority messages to a different folder for later consideration, like member Mary Giraulo from United Arts of Central Florida. Mary says this practice helps her focus on what she “absolutely must deal with” and finds it “calming to look at the shorter list” remaining in her inbox, while not-so-important messages are relegated to the “After” folder and dealt with later (if they don’t resolve themselves in the meantime, as many often do).
You can also automate filtering of low-priority messages, like digests and newsletters, into folders and read them when you can make the time. Keeping personal messages, like 2-for-1 deals from your favorite restaurants and daily blasts from Groupon and every other seller you’ve bought something from EVER, in a separate account from your work e-mail is another strategy for focusing on what’s most important during the workday.
Using your inbox as a to-do list is a no-no because there’s actually an app for that, so prevent e-mail from derailing your productivity by setting aside blocks of time to read and respond to messages, perhaps three times during the day. Myriam from NED uses this time blocking strategy, taking care of easy e-mails before she even gets to the office, then later spending time at her desk on messages that require research and/or an in-depth response. You, too, can adopt this practice by turning off alerts–the dings, pop-ups, and magically-appearing mini envelopes–and instead setting reminders to check your inbox at designated times.
Speaking of blocks of time, social media is the Oscar-winner of time suck (Freedom app, anyone?), so setting aside time for that type of “work” (unless it’s really your work) will also help keep you on track, as will scheduling social media updates and coordinating them between services. Do not let the siren song of Twitter lead you astray.
Meetings and “Meetings”
A friend who is the global events director at a tech company in the non-profit sector says she is careful to block out time on her calendar for project work. This practice reinforces the notion of designing your schedule in order to meet your goals. Pairing that philosophy with one in which you agree to attend only meetings that are truly relevant to you (declining politely, of course) and those originating in the C-suite keeps the ball of schedule control in your court. Some may prefer to schedule meetings on a particular day or days each week to keep the whiplash of switching back-and-forth between meetings and work-work throughout the day and week to a minimum to avoid the substantial focus recovery time.
Other Productivity Strategies
Nobody talks much about delegating anymore, as staff sizes have declined and many of us are working in multiple areas of responsibility, but delegate if you can. Do you need to be doing that task, or is it best-suited time-wise and skill-wise for someone else on your team or in your department? This also means being receptive to work that others may bring to you if you’re the best person for the job. And to go along with that, learning how to say “no” is also an important skill to have.
Many people find that working from home boosts productivity. At home, we have more control over our environment, from the lighting to the temperature to the chair we sit in, and creating the setting that best suits our needs helps both employee and employer. Prefer to work with Guns N’ Roses blasting? (No judgment intended.) It’s easy to do that at home, or to sit in complete silence, no earphones required. Interruptions can be kept at a minimum, and very often there’s easy access to fresh air and no need to add time onto your day for the commute, time which can now be spent focusing on work projects or gardening or playing air guitar.
Using a standing desk lends importance and a sense of urgency to your work. Your entire body is focused on the task. If that doesn’t quite work for you, taking a break by moving around the office periodically, or even taking a walk outside, can renew your motivation. On the other hand, a power nap might be the key to reviving fading energy, workplace circumstances permitting.
It’s not too late to be the master of your domain. Pick a strategy or two, and just start. Through trial and error, you will figure out what works for you. Failure is okay. Learn from it, and you’ll be on the road to better time management. Remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And you can reward yourself by growing a few trees in the process.
- Lifehacker has numerous posts on productivity and time management, including the “How I Work” series, as well as tech tips and information on apps.
- If you’re interested in a more in-depth treatment of productivity and motivation, take a look at Getting Things Done, as well as Lifehacker’s primer on the system.
- Subscribe to Peter Bregman’s newsletter, which features posts on leadership and effective work practices.
- Brigid Schulte’s terrific bestseller Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time explores societal norms in the U.S. and in other countries, leisure time, competing responsibilities, and progressive workplace practices.