As the way we work continues to evolve, time management has become a hot topic for those in the workforce. An ever-increasing number of us now work partially or fully remotely. The lines between our personal and professional lives are more blurred than ever, and how we view time management and productivity is changing too.
For many of us, gone are the days of believing that long hours equate to greater productivity. Nowadays, we crave work-life balance, flexible working schedules, and the ability to work smarter, not harder. One of the best ways we can achieve this is through developing our time management skills to optimize our productivity and free up more time for self-care, our loved ones, and the things in our life that bring us joy.
Whether you’re reading this article to boost your own time management skills, or you’ve been tasked with creating eLearning training on the subject of time management, this article offers some real-life hacks to get the most out of your working hours and wave goodbye to overtime for good.
1.Time Block Creative And Logical Tasks
For most of us in the L&D field and especially for instructional designers, our job is made up of a mix of creative (right side of the brain) and logical (left side of the brain) tasks. It might be that you’re juggling several projects at once, or maybe most of your day is being taken up in “reactive mode” where you’re replying to emails, or perhaps your schedule is full of meetings and doesn’t leave you with a big enough chunk of time to get anywhere with your “focus tasks.” If this is you, then time blocking might just be the answer.
Time blocking involves going through your schedule and dividing your day into chunks (or blocks) of time. You’ll then dedicate each of these blocks to a specific task or group of tasks. This is especially effective for those whose job requires both creative tasks and logical ones. An example of this would be creating an eLearning course. This requires a mix of creativity and high organization. Time blocking your day so that the mornings are for more logical tasks, such as planning, stakeholder meetings, course settings, LMS admin tasks, etc., and your afternoons are for creative work like writing, video scripts, voiceovers, creating graphics, etc., allows you to get into a flow.
Rather than having a never-ending to-do list, you have a structure to your day that allows you to really focus. You can take this even further with task batching (e.g., schedule all meetings between 9 am and 11 am), day theming (dedicating a day of the week for specific tasks such as video editing or research), or time boxing (giving yourself a specific time period to achieve a goal like creating six new icons before 6 pm tomorrow).
For most of us, the biggest pain point we face is that we are constantly interrupted during our workday, making it impossible to find the time and quiet to think about the big picture. Time blocking in this way can help make time for those bigger, creative-thinking tasks.
2. Write A To-Do List That Works For You
To-do lists are your best friend. If you’re not a list-maker, consider this your conversion. Most of us know and love the feeling of satisfaction when we tick that last task off our to-do list. It gives us a sense of achievement and motivation. However, it’s key that we plan our list out well so that it serves us and doesn’t overwhelm us.
Many people will have several to-do lists: a daily one, a weekly one, and a monthly one. This is especially handy for prioritizing urgent tasks and not overlooking less urgent but equally important ones.
Try planning out your daily to-do list like this:
- Divide it into creative and logical tasks
- Put a (realistic) time estimate beside each task
- Assign the task to a day or block, based on its length, type (left or right side brain), and urgency
- Add the tasks to your calendar or schedule
Your daily to-do list should only focus on the tasks for that day. Have your extra tasks that need to be done, but don’t have a time limit to your monthly list, and consult this list if and when you complete your daily to-do list.
A long list can stress us out and actually make us less productive. Go through each task or batch of tasks methodically and only tackle one thing at a time. The majority of us can’t multitask. In fact, according to the New Yorker, “only around 2.5% of people can actually multitask effectively.” If you aren’t lucky enough to be part of that 2.5% of supertaskers, don’t worry. A well-organized to-do list will keep you on track.
3. Create A Realistic Schedule
When you’re planning out your schedule, be realistic. If you don’t allocate time to your schedule for important things such as meal times, breaks, workouts and stretches, household tasks, and water-cooler chats (virtual or in-person), then you will find yourself always playing catch up or going over your schedule. You may feel guilty or cheeky for scheduling in a 10-minute window to put in your laundry or to do a school run, but these are inevitable parts of your day, and not putting them in your schedule just means that your schedule is going to be overloaded.
One way to be more realistic with your schedule is to leave five-minute breaks between meetings. Instead of setting a one-hour meeting, make it fifty-five minutes so that you have time to make notes, set up follow-up meetings, send on the deck used in the presentation, or simply have a bathroom break or a stretch. Five minutes isn’t likely to make much difference to the meeting, but it just might make a difference to you in the long run.
Creating a realistic schedule is an act of self-care. Have you ever felt like you’ve worked non-stop all day but when you finish the day you feel like you’ve barely achieved anything? Maybe your to-do list is only half-completed or you have only clocked up one thousand steps on your fit bit. This could be a sign that your to-do list and schedule aren’t reflecting your actual day and that they need to be more realistic.
By not setting aside a specific time in your day for important things like workouts, you’ll end up skipping them and then beating yourself up about it. An example of this is not blocking off a specific time for lunch. More often than not, this will lead to you working through lunch and reaching for the cookie jar or some junk food instead. Put simply, an incomplete or unrealistic schedule leads to bad habits such as skipping lunch and filling up on junk food or forgetting to stretch and move your body during the day and then having to pay a chiropractor to fix the damage. These bad habits in turn have an emotional impact on your day and overall well-being.
4. Dedicate Time For Self-Care; It’s An Investment
Despite the majority of us knowing just how important self-care is, unfortunately, it’s often the first thing that goes out the window when our schedules are full. Self-care isn’t a luxury, it plays a vital role in maintaining our physical, mental, emotional, and purposeful well-being. As human beings, we need to feel like we have a purpose and that we’re achieving something every day. Have you ever completed all of the tasks on your to-do list but still felt a bit empty or unfulfilled? This is probably because you’ve neglected your purposeful well-being.
Make self-care a priority and a habit in your day. Understand that it’s an investment in yourself that will give you the stamina to focus better, to be more productive, to be a happier and a more joyful colleague, and prevent yourself from burning out. If you want to build this habit but don’t know where to start, ask yourself what one small task you can do today that will make your day feel like a success. What can you do today that will give you a sense of achievement? It could be something for the soul, mind, body, or even your social life. It’s up to you. Perhaps it’s taking a walk with a friend, meditating for fifteen minutes, reading a chapter of your favorite book, doing a micro-course, or giving yourself a quick facial.
Once you identify your task, pop it in your schedule and remind yourself that it holds as much importance as that weekly meeting or replying to that email. Self-care also means taking measures to ensure you get good sleep, adequate exercise, and time to switch off. If you are constantly working over your schedule, you’re going to start to neglect these areas and it will begin to show. For example, if you work late two nights in a row to catch up on a project, by the third day you’ll be tired and will lack focus. Not taking this time to look after yourself has a knock-on effect on performance, focus, motivation, and stamina, leading to burnout.
What should you prioritize? The urgent task or the most important one? Take time to think this through and prioritize accordingly. Having a to-do list as long as your arm that isn’t realistic or that has a lot of tasks that don’t have to be done today can be overwhelming and counterproductive. Make sure that your daily to-do list only contains what’s relevant for today. If you have a daily or monthly list, add them there or maybe even have a separate list of tasks that aren’t a priority but would be great to do if some free time pops up.
In his book, Steven Covey offers a handy guide to help you prioritize your tasks:
- Urgent and important
Complete these tasks first.
- Important, not urgent
Time block these activities so you can get them done with minimal distractions.
- Urgent, not important<