You look up from your work computer, startled to see the time. Where did the day go?
As you head for the door, you suddenly remember you have a deadline tomorrow for something you have yet to finish.
You wonder how that could have slipped your mind as you hastily scribble a reminder to yourself on a sticky note.
It can be easy to get caught up at work and feel like you are getting things done.
But being busy isn't the same as being productive. I consider myself a pretty organized person, but I've had those days when an hour goes by and I realize I've only sorted emails!
1. Choose the Tools That Work For You
It can help to start with some self-reflection. I've learned that having all of your to-do lists and notes in one place will help you stay organized.
Do you prefer to write notes and checklists with pen and paper?
Do you like having a physical calendar to look at or even write on?
Do you prefer to write notes digitally? If so, do you tend to work on your laptop, cell phone, or both?
Do you use a digital calendar, like the Outlook calendar or Google calendar?
Do you use both pen-and-paper methods and digital methods?
2. Early Bird or Night Owl?
Whenever you have the most energy, tackle challenging tasks.
If you’re an early bird, work on a difficult task first thing in the morning. For the rest of the day, work on easier tasks.
If you're a night owl, start the day with something simple. Later when you have more energy, work on a difficult task. End the day by listing simple things you can do the next morning!
I find the Pomodoro Techniqueespecially helpful for these challenging tasks.It can help you use your time intentionally by alternating between focusing on a task and taking breaks:
Work for 25 minutes.
Take a 5-minute break.
Repeat steps 1 and 2 four times. Take a 15-30 minute break.
I've been surprised at what I could accomplish when I ignored my phone and other distractions!
Cassandra struggles to focus in the mornings and relies on her cup of coffee to wake her up. What task should she start with?
3. Reflect on What Motivates You
Choose little rewards for yourself that you can work towards. In my experience, going for a walk outside and drinking water or tea gives me another wave of energy when I start to feel tired.
It's a great way to break up the day. It's important to take breaks even if you're busy!
Go for a walk.
Do some stretches.
Catch up with a coworker.
Have a cup of tea or coffee to help you stay focused.
Keep your favorite snacks at your desk or visit the staff lounge.
4. List Your Tasks
You've done some reflection about yourself. Now it’s time to reflect on your work.
Think about a project you're currently working on.
List every step needed to complete that project, no matter how small, in the order they should be completed. Sometimes I get excited and want to start completing tasks, but I find that writing it all down before starting prevents me from forgetting something.
Write your list in a place that makes sense for you. Grab a notebook and pen, or jot things down in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or a notes app.
5. Set Goals
Now that you've listed all of the tasks for the project, set goals for each task.
Assign yourself the tasks you will do each day. (Ex: "On Monday, I will do A, B, and C. On Tuesday, I will do D, E, and F.")
Add deadlines for big tasks to your Google or Outlook calendar.
6. What is Working?
Take time to reflect on your time management strategy
Did you finish everything that you had hoped to get done?
Did you meet your goals?
If there are any unfinished tasks, move them to the next day’s checklist before you end your work day. Sometimes I overestimate how much I can finish in one day, and that's okay! Just think of it as getting a head start on the next day's to-do list.
Quiz: Managing Life as a New Employee
Jared recently started a new job, and he's finding it hard to manage everything he has to do. He has training sessions to complete, meetings to attend, and emails to answer. What can he do to keep track of his responsibilities and manage his time?
A. Write down his tasks on the back of a café receipt.
B. Download the Asana app and list his tasks.
C. Add important events to his Google calendar app.
D. Ask his coworker anytime he's not sure what to do.
What can Jared do to help him better manage his time? Select all that apply:
Choose time management strategies that work for you.