This week I’m going to talk a little bit about managing your most precious resource – your time. Nothing can be as de-motivating than looking at the clock at 4:25pm and not being able to recall anything of true value that you did that day. While the opposite is very likely true – we don’t just sit on our hands all day long – if you find yourself not being able complete tasks because of another higher priority interruption, then you can benefit from practicing more active time management. In this article, I’ll go through some tips that help me stay focused.
Create a To-Do List... and Get it Done!
I know, you’ve heard this one before. Create a to-do list of things that you have to get done. I’ve read countless articles stating the importance of having lists to help keep your tasks visible. However that’s only the first step (and unfortunately the easiest). The real value in having a list of things to do is actually doing those items on your list. How many days per week will you look at your to-do list and it’s the same items as yesterday, or the day before? As individuals, we need to be disciplined enough to push ourselves to complete those items. If you find that you’re constantly letting tasks slip to tomorrow’s to-do list, you are likely doing one (or both) of two things: 1) Underestimating what it takes to complete each task or; 2) Allowing interruptions to sidetrack your attention and put your tasks on the shelf. You need to be truly committed to setting daily goals for yourself and completing them. Planning is great, but discipline to execute is even better.
Minimize your Email
Email is the #1 distraction for many of us when trying to get heads-down on something. Those wonderful little popup alerts seem to always be able divert our attention, regardless of the priority. While this is a fairly simple productivity hack, what I have begun doing is minimizing (or dare I say it…closing) Outlook for brief periods of time (30 minutes, 60 minutes) to allow me to focus on what I feel is important for me to focus on. Nothing can derail a healthy train of thought than seeing a red exclamation mark email come in that may or may not need immediate attention. I’ve been in this industry a long time and I’ve yet to see an issue come in that couldn’t wait 30 minutes to be addressed. This isn’t a license to ignore your email – we all have jobs to do and if you think you need to monitor it, go ahead however the less distractions you have, the more focused you can be and the more throughput you’ll have.
Drown the Interruptions
I have the luxury of working from a home office where I can control my physical environment. Many of us don’t have that ability so I’m going to offer some low-tech tips to help drown out the interruptions to help keep you focused. Techniques such as noise-cancelling headphones work great – even if you’re not playing sound through them – they provide a sound-reduced environment that can hopefully help you focus while also sending a visual cue to your co-workers that you’re getting heads down on a task. Booking a small meeting room to get away from an open office cubicle is another great technique that I’ve used in the past that has worked wonders for my productivity. Having a quiet space where you can focus and have minimal interruptions is very conducive to productive work.
Your time is a valuable commodity – it’s what our employers pay us for. By making more efficient use of your time you are adding value to every minute you spend at work. For some this means that you can do more in a day and for others it means that less of your day needs to be focused on work (I think it’s you should observe should value both perspectives).
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