“I usually think I have enough time to get things done, but something always comes up and then I’m behind schedule on projects,” she said.“My boss spoke to me about this, and I’m worried that if it happens again she’ll include it as a negative comment in my next performance appraisal. Any ideas on how I can better manage my time at work?”
I explained to her that the key to becoming good at time management is to understand where your time actually goes. I had my friend document what she did every hour of each day at work for a week, so she could visualize it. When we sat down to chat afterwards, she was surprised.
“I can’t believe how much time I spend checking my email every day!” she said, shaking her head. “I also didn’t think I spent much time chatting with co-workers. It doesn’t seem like a lot of time when I look at it on a daily basis, but when you add up the total time for the week, I’m shocked.”
Sound familiar? You’d be surprised how many people I coach realize the same thing happens to them when tracking where their time actually goes. Here are my tips for taking back control of your time and increasing your productivity:
Find out where your time goes. Track your time for one week and then analyze the results.
Plan ahead. At the end of each week, sit down in a quiet location for 15-20 minutes and plan out your week ahead. Write down all of the key projects and tasks you need to accomplish.
Prioritize. Prioritize your list from most important to least important activities and projects, and then block out uninterrupted time to accomplish your most important items. Don’t let others schedule meetings on top of the time you’ve blocked for your key projects.
Eliminate the non-essential. Use any remaining time on your calendar to schedule lesser important activities. Ask yourself, “Is this activity actually important or is it unnecessary?” then, cut out non-essential activities.
Set goals. When you get up each morning, set goals for yourself as to what you plan to accomplish that day.
Carve out email time. Set aside specific times for checking your email, such as at the beginning of your workday, right before or after lunch and at the end of the day. Refrain from checking email except during these allocated times.
Avoid multi-tasking. It took me a long time to learn to focus on one activity or project at a time and then when that one is complete, move on the next (instead of trying to multi-task). I found that if I use laser-like focus in everything I do, I can dramatically increase my overall productivity.
Act like a consultant. Pretend you’re a consultant who must track and account for every hour of every day as if you were billing someone for your services – this will force you to think carefully on how you allocate your time during the day. Are you spending the majority of your time on activities that would be considered “billable” or “non-billable”?
Just say, “No.” Learn to say, “No” more. If you understand what you need to accomplish every day of each week then you’ll be in a better position to say, “I’m sorry. I can’t help you with that this week because I have four very important projects I need to finish first.” This will keep you from over-committing your time.
As my friend found out, the more she got into the habit of managing her time, the more disciplined she became and the easier it was to accomplish her professional goals. By taking back control of your time, the same can happen for you.
Summer is upon us and over the next few weeks schools will be closing, the sun will be shining, and you’ll be daydreaming that you’re at the beach or on a boat or anywhere but your desk. There’s a good chance that all excitement and distractions of summer will curb your productivity—but there are a few things you can do to avoid this. Here are tips from career experts on how to boost your productivity at work in the summer.
Every employee needs a break, says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. Find out in advance a mutually agreeable time for vacation from your boss so you're not stressed while away from the office. Some bosses prefer that you're away when they're away. Others prefer that you cover for them or manage in their stead. Open communication counts for a lot when it comes to summer vacation time. It's important to delineate your time off and establish ground rules.
"Also take time to schedule other summer events and activities that are important to you so that you can plan your work around them," adds Al Coleman, Jr., author of Secrets to Success: The Definitive Career Development Guide for New and First Generation Professionals. If you plan to leave work a few hours early one day, then stay later the day before. If you want to take a longer lunch to meet a friend who is in town--arrive earlier to work that morning.
Once you have your schedule set, share it with your supervisor to ensure that you’re both on the same page about how and when you’ll get your work done in the summer months, Coleman says.
If you have a needy or micromanaging boss, then over-communicate your impending summer vacation, Taylor adds. “Give your bosses a countdown so they don’t feel deserted. Make arrangements with other employees to cover for you. You may have to put in more hours before you leave or orchestrate your vacation to occur after critical projects will be completed. That isn’t always as easy as it sounds, so have a back-up plan. If you’ve prepaid for an non-refundable getaway, you’ll be glad you did.”
While the primary purpose of your vacation time should be to relax and recharge (so that you can be more productive when you return), you might want to consider tying business to a trip if it’s convenient, Lynn says. “You may be able to meet with a client, vendor, or other company branch if you’re vacationing in the same city. That can be a win-win for you and your boss or company, if the client or meeting is of high enough priority. You could make a deal happen, and perhaps save on some travel costs.”
If you’re a parent, it’s easy to be distracted by your children in the summer. They are off from school and may require more time and attention from you. Find a good balance between work and family time—and make arrangement for your kids, like daycare or summer camp. Try to avoid bringing them to the office and discourage them from calling you frequently throughout the day.
When you can’t get approvals on projects because your boss or co-worker is on vacation, move on to those that require in-depth thinking, Taylor says. “This may be a time of fewer distractions because of people being out. Capitalize on that by focusing on projects that require strategic thought and planning so you’ll be ready to precede with your fall proposals at a time when the pressure cooker environment returns. You’ll be glad you took advantage of any lulls.”
While the summer offers wonderful opportunities for rest and relaxation, you may have a project or two that requires you to adjust your plans to meet a deadline, Coleman says. “While you certainly don’t want to pass up on vacations or miss key events in the lives of your friends and family, you may need to use technology to briefly work remotely; or you may need to ask for the assistance of a co-worker or use a few of the scheduling tricks previously mentioned to ensure that you meet the demands of your job while taking time for yourself.” If all else fails you may need to postpone your plans for a later date when you’re less busy, just make sure that you don’t give up on those plans – the summer is the best time to recharge and distress, so take full advantage of it.
If you’re not productive simply because things around the office are slow, use the time to get a jump start on upcoming projects, or to catch up on many lose ends that have accumulated, says Anita Attridge, a Five O’Clock Club career and executive coach.
It’s rare that a manager accepts poor performance because it’s a slower time of year, Taylor says. As long as you’re getting a paycheck, it’s assumed that you’re working to your best ability, regardless if others are taking time off at the beach. “When it’s your turn, that’s another story,” she adds. “If your boss is overly hard driving and you haven’t taken vacation in too long a time, you’ll have to diplomatically explain that you can only do your best work if you have a break. Think in terms of ‘what’s in it for the boss.’ Make it clear that your projects will be handled, and give specifics.”
Just keep in mind that achievements trump hours spent. Just because you’re in the office for the required eight hours, doesn’t mean you’ve done your job. The summer is not a ticket for slacking off, Taylor says, so don’t do it!