Time Management at Work

September 25, 2019

A female employee is holding an hourglass
Heather Parker

Since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, employees across the world have been trying to develop the most efficient time management skills.

In today’s modern workplace, hours are longer, more is expected from employees, and many workers are burning the midnight oil with family obligations or possibly attaining advanced degrees.

Since we can’t get more hours in the day, we have to try to get the most out of the hours we have. Here’s how.

Time Management Tips

  1. Figure out how you spend your time. Before you can optimize your time at work, you need to do a time audit. To find out exactly how your time is spent, try logging your time every day for a week. This will help you see where you are wasting time, as well as helping you figure out how much work you can actually accomplish in a day. You’ll probably be surprised when you see how much time responding to email takes, for example. To help you log your time, try apps like RescueTime or Toggl. Once you have accurate data, you can make adjustments.
  2. Create a to-do list. While this advice is not new, it is vital to help you prioritize your time at work. In the morning before you leave for work, make your list of the most important tasks of the day that must be done. That way you get to work prepared and ready to jump into your day, instead of spending an hour at your desk trying to figure out where to start.
  3. Set a timer. After completing your time log from step #1, you will be better able to tell how long a task will take. Set your timer for a reasonable time to complete your task. Setting a timer will help keep you focused, as well as help remind you to take necessary breaks (we all need to take a stretch and enjoy some movement at least once every hour). Apps like Forest allow you to set timers that make it a game, as you can plant virtual trees and create entire forests for all the productive minutes you have. If you leave the app to check social media, for instance, your tree will wilt and die. It is very motivating to check your “forest” at the end of the day to see how much it has grown!
  4. Group similar tasks. Keep your energy focused by grouping like tasks together, such as answering emails, making phone calls, filing, research, writing, etc. Keep each task relegated to its own time slot--answering emails and messages as they come in can be a huge distraction.
  5. Don’t multitask. While this is another age-old tip for time management, it is one of the most simple tips yet one of the most difficult to follow. Switching from one task to another decreases productivity, increases anxiety, and wastes a huge amount of time. Use your to-do list and stick to one task at a time for maximum efficiency. Multitasking is also cited as the number one way people misplace items--and waste time looking for them.
  6. Follow the 80-20 rule. The Pareto Principle, or the 80-20 rule, states that 80% of results come from 20% of the effort put in. The same principle applies to time management. For example, look at your to-do list for the day and cut it back to the five most important tasks. Then you’re putting in maximum effort on the most important jobs for maximum results, instead of giving a little effort to a lot of tasks and getting no results.

Tips for those who struggle with time management

Despite the myriad of time management tips available, there is no one magic fix. Some experts argue that time management is not for everyone. If it doesn’t seem to work for you, try these tips instead:

  1. Manage your energy instead of your time. One reason why we as employees try to manage our time at work is to have more time off work to spend with family, friends, or for many people--catching up on their rest and relaxing. Instead of spending all of your time trying to manage your time, manage your energy instead. Figure out when you’re most productive, and do your most difficult work then. More alert and creative in the morning? Complete your most difficult tasks then, and the rest of the day work on tasks that take less brainpower, like checking emails and returning phone calls.
  2. Try attention management. Instead of managing your time, manage your attention. The key here is prioritization. Prioritize the most important projects and tasks that matter, so you can focus on getting things done for the right reasons and the right time.
  3. Just say no.  An effective way to manage your time without managing your time? Just say no. Many of us take on extra duties and responsibilities to help out a colleague because you hate saying no. However, taking on someone’s else work only pushes yours to the backburner--meaning more time at work later to catch up. 

The most important aspect of time management at work is finding what works for you. For you, online calendars, to-do lists, timers, and reminders might work great, while others balk at the idea of strict structure. The point is to be efficient with the time you have at work, so you can spend more time off work.

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