Time Management Best Practices
On a regular busy day of making a difference, we often find ourselves juggling many different activities. It’s easy in that situation to fall into a “put out the hottest fire” trap–becoming the proverbial dog chasing every squirrel that shoots into your field of view (or in this case, every email that hits your inbox, or every Slack notification that disrupts your mojo). You may find that by 5pm, you haven’t even scratched the surface on what you planned to accomplish. Before you know it, you’re putting in time finishing up your workday in the evening when you should be streaming that new show you like.
If you let your impulse to answer every ping immediately as it happens guide your day, it can multiply the time it takes to get things done. There are, of course, some situations where there’s something time critical that needs your immediate attention to meet deadlines — so fair warning, everything I’m about to say isn’t for those situations! Do that when you need to, but don’t make it your constant MO. Under normal everyday circumstances, here are some ways I’ve found that can help you stay focused throughout the day, manage your time effectively, and give yourself the beautiful gift of structure and accomplishment:
- Block time on your calendar for certain tasks or projects, uninterrupted thinking, or even just ‘answering emails time’. Making dedicated spaces for these things is just as important as blocking off time for meetings! It’s important to make room in your day to get the ‘work work’ done, and putting hard holds on your calendars lets your coworkers know not to grab that time for something else.
Turn notifications off
- Most of the communication tools we use with our teams and clients (email, Slack, messenger) have ways for you to turn off notifications (maybe they knew we’d all get overwhelmed!). That tantalizing ding and little message preview are great at pulling your attention off of something else you’re doing, even before you consciously realize what you’re doing. Pause or turn off notifications at certain times in your day to keep your zen focus and get to those emails on your own terms.
Bundle tasks together
- Try to do everything pertaining to a certain project in one time block rather than chopping them up intermittently throughout the day. Most of the time, you’ll get more done in less time that way, since you’re not mentally having to switch back and forth between different ideas, challenges, or information streams. This process extends to things like answering emails (clean you inbox 3 times a day instead of 18), addressing a bunch of similar tasks (look at all analytics at once!), or any similar tasks that can be grouped together so that you’re tackling bigger to-dos vs. a series of one-offs.
Evaluate those wonderful and pesky meetings
- Take a look at meetings on your calendar for the last two weeks, and the next two weeks, and ask yourself if each of them is good use of your time. If the goal of the meeting isn’t clear or the expectations of what you’re supposed to do in it (or take away from it) are murky, connect with the owner of the meeting (even if that’s YOU) and think about whether there’s an alternative that makes more sense, like cancelling it altogether, changing attendees, or clarifying goals and expectations. Agenda setting is great for helping with this.
Finding the right tactics for managing your precious work time is also a matter of figuring out what works best for you. And from experience, it’s hard to do consistently! Even though I know these methods help me work most efficiently, days can be random and full of the unexpected — things that can throw you back into not-so-great habits like watching a team Slack channel incessantly for an update instead of just focusing on other things you need to do, and that’s OK!
Those are the times when reminding yourself what it’s all about—doing good work for a good cause—can help refocus your mindset all of the work needs to get done, and inspire you to get back into good discipline with your time management.
It’s all about owning your workday instead of letting the workday own you.