With work-from-home the new normal, many of us are living in a make-it-work moment during the pandemic. Now more than ever, mastering time management is critical to your success. Follow these tips to hone your time management skills in the new year:
Working from home comes with a bevy of new challenges. From kids having meltdowns in the middle of a Zoom call, to college students returning home to tackle online courses, and pets demanding far more attention than ever. Eliminating distractions will help you focus and increase your productivity. If possible, find a location in your home that minimizes distractions, whether that means creating an office space in a spare bedroom, your basement or even a small closet. If a quiet space is hard to find, consider investing in noise canceling earphones to decrease ambient noise.
Cut Down on Clutter
While a Marie Kondo organization system may seem dreamy, the reality for many of us is that clutter is an ever-present part of life these days. Although a full overhaul may not be possible, you can take small steps today to cut back on your clutter. Buy a file box or accordion file to add some organization to your work documents. Magazine holders can provide storage for notebooks and binders. And don’t forget to clean up your email inbox and create folders so that you can easily access important documents.
Create To-Do Lists
There are few things more satisfying than crossing items off a to-do list. Keeping a running list will help ensure that all projects are accounted for so that nothing falls through the cracks. I tell my clients to create both a daily list as well as a monthly calendar of deadlines. The daily list will help you focus on what needs to be handled immediately. Prepare your daily list just before you conclude the prior workday while action items are fresh on your mind. This will allow you to maximize your productivity the following morning. The monthly list will help map out your workflow and identify key deadlines so that you can anticipate and prepare accordingly.
These days it seems like all of us have a never-ending to-do list. It’s enticing to select those quick and easy-to-tackle items on your list, like responding to emails. However, since your time is at a premium, it is critical that you assess and prioritize your workflow for maximum efficiency. It can be as simple as reviewing your to-do list and adding a star to the most critical and/or time sensitive projects. If you maintain your list in a spreadsheet, you can simply add a column to rank action items on a scale of one to three and then sort according to priority. These priorities should dictate how you spend your time.
There are a variety of free programs that can help you in this regard, and you might find one that suits your preferences. For instance, Microsoft To-Do allows you to plan your activities by due date, add recurring tasks, star the most important items, and add things to “My Day” to help you focus on what you need to accomplish first. You can access the program from any web browser, and it can sync across your Apple and Android devices so you can access your To Do list from anywhere.
If you have several competing deadlines and aren’t sure which to tackle first, check with your supervisor for guidance. This will help you stay organized and will allow you to manage expectations.
Stop the Spiral
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, hit pause and take a breather. I often tell my clients to take a five-minute walk to clear their head. This will allow your brain to reset and refocus on how best to proceed. If you can’t get out for a walk, a quick breathing exercise or mindfulness session can also do wonders.
Avoid Rabbit Holes
With big projects – whether rewriting an employment handbook, working on an SEC filing, or handling year-end taxes – new problems, questions or quandaries may arise along the way. Your desire to provide a thorough work product may send you down a time-consuming path. In these instances, it is critical to avoid going down a rabbit hole. When this happens, I urge my clients to take a moment to pause and ask: Is this topic truly relevant to the task at hand? If the answer is maybe, put the topic in a “parking lot.” The “parking lot” is a simple list that serves as a holding zone for extraneous thoughts or ideas. After you finish a draft of your project, revisit the “parking lot” when you have a clear head and assess whether to include or exclude these topics in your final work product.
Why Time Management is Important
Time is a precious commodity. No matter how you use them, there are only 24 hours in a day. Effective time management provides the following benefits:
- Get more accomplished in less time.
- Improve the quality of your work by giving each task the time it deserves.
- Improve your focus and drive to get things done, making you more efficient.
- Lower your stress, especially the stresses that are related to deadlines and procrastination.
- Free up more of your time to focus on the big-picture or building your practice.
- You will be ready to capitalize on new opportunities, contributing to your career success.
How will you hone your time management skills this year? I’d love to hear from you about what is working or not working for you.