Robert Half's Heard in the Lunchroom® blog series offers real-world advice on navigating tricky topics that can impact your professional happiness and career prospects.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough information about time management. Life is busy, busy, busy and it’s great to learn new ways to gain more time to the day. From how you set up your workflow to how you utilize desk space, bringing all aspects of your workday up to optimum efficiency can save you time and stress and, most importantly, prevent a pileup of work that builds up and makes you a bottleneck in the bigger picture.
If you have time management issues, read on for some tricks that can give you more control over your workday.
Master the fundamentals of time management
So overwhelmed you don’t know where to begin? Shoring up your time management can be daunting, but tackling it one minute at a time makes it feel more achievable. Start with some of the basics:
- Restrict multi-tasking. We all know how easy it is to respond to emails while on a conference call, but missing important information could limit your ability to complete the required tasks and ultimately hinder your performance.
- Keep a record of your activities. You may notice that some duties are best suited to a certain time of day or week. You may also realize that you can batch tasks together and tackle them once a week.
- Organize your own way. Outlook isn’t the only tool out there for managing your tasks — and others can be simpler and more intuitive to use. For taking notes and creating to-do lists, there's OneNote and Evernote. All of these tools are streamlined and efficient. But be sure to choose the one that is easiest and most useful for you.
- Plan ahead. Setting aside time at the end of the day to plan for the next one may sound obvious. But it's one of the best time management tips out there. Few things can help you stay on track better than planning ahead, and it should take only 10-15 minutes.
Are you using a tickler file? If not, it’s worth adding to your time management arsenal. What is a tickler file, you ask? It’s a filing system with folders for each day of the month.
To put a tickler file into action, place tasks that need to be done by particular days into the subset daily folders for the current month. For example, if you process invoices on the 15th of the month, place all invoices that come across your desk into folder number 15. If the due date for a task is more than 31 days out, place it in the corresponding monthly folder.
You can place any type of task into your file. The system is especially useful for time-sensitive documents or anything with a hard deadline. You can also use it to remind yourself of recurring tasks, like filling printer paper every two days. Just write yourself a note on an index card and place it in the correct folder.
Make your desk work for you
Knowing how to organize your desk can save your sanity — let alone time. Here are some suggestions:
- Customize your method. Experiment with different organizational systems to see what works best for you. Try out various containers, baskets or drawer organizers.
- Nix the paper. If you have notes taped all over your computer monitor and desk, convert them to electronic documents or slip them in a binder. See if you can streamline the layers of paper on your bulletin board.
- Stash it — or trash it. Put items you don’t use on a daily basis, like a tape dispenser or stapler, into a drawer or container. Getting rid of things you don’t need anymore can clear up even more space. Shred or recycle unnecessary paperwork. Toss out old catalogs and publications. If you need to keep paper records, a file cabinet can bolster the organization of your files while clearing space from your desk.
- Keep it up. When you have organization under control, don’t let it slip back into disorder. Take a few minutes at the end of each week to straighten things up. You’ll save yourself time and future headaches on an ongoing basis.
- Don’t forget your computer. The benefits of organization apply to your virtual desktop as well. There are a number of apps that can help you reduce computer clutter. Organize email and sort items into folders. Cleaning out or deleting unnecessary emails once a week makes it faster to find emails you need later. Remove unused files — especially larger ones, such as outdated photos and videos — to free up space.