Regardless of what priorities and responsibilities dominate our schedules on a daily basis, time is a resource that all of us must learn to manage. How we make the most of each 24-hour cycle determines how much we will accomplish and how productive we can be.
Like any other resource, time is limited. Such limitation, perceived by our brain as scarcity, makes us desire to have more. And this is how time slowly becomes an enemy we must fight against, day-in, day-out. Which of course leads us to a vicious circle.
Instead, when we start to view time as our ally, we can then work to harness each minute to our advantage. Suddenly, it does no longer matter to have enough. It’s about prioritizing and maintaining perspective on what we want to get done each day.
In this month’s pursuit out of The Productivity Box, we find yet another (un)usual suspect 🙂 Let’s unwrap the benefits of time management so you can make time work for you, not against you.
The power of efficient time management
Time management may seem like a boring concept, but you have to master it if you want to make time work for you. A recent Gallup survey found that 50 percent of business managers feel they have too many tasks on their schedule. What’s more, 67 percent admit to numerous disruptions at work and 42 percent deal with conflicting priorities.
However, the data continues, staying away from nonessential tasks or distractions results in higher quality work performance. It also brings more clarity around role expectations and goal achievement, and an increase in personal growth.
This is a key element of time management: knowing what is essential and what is not!
When done well, time management reinforces structure and self-direction, enhances psychological wellness and job satisfaction, regulates stress or anxiety levels, and decreases procrastination, according to the Academy of Management Perspectives. This leads to more uninterrupted workflow and, therefore, a boost in productivity.
Skills to practice successful time management
There are a few skills you need to have in your arsenal if you want to manage your time better. Erich Dierdorff, professor of management and entrepreneurship at DePaul University, outlines them in Harvard Business Review. It seems that these three particular skills make all the difference in the world:
- Awareness: Think realistically about time by understanding it is a limited resource.
- Arrangement: Design and organize schedules, plans, and goals to use time effectively.
- Adaptation: Monitor the use of time while performing activities and make adjustments based on interruptions or priority shifts.
These skills can help you determine where to focus your time, what structures you need to create, and how to pivot along the way for higher efficiency.
How to make the best use of your time
If you want to make time work for you, you have to get intentional about how you spend, plan and use your time. Whether you’re back at the office or still working from home, these action steps will help you create better time management.
1. Be proactive about your calendar
It might surprise you to learn that many successful people never use a to-do list. As productivity researcher Kevin Kruse found, such lists are inefficient because they don’t account for how much time it actually takes to finish each line item, Fast Company reports.
So how do high-performers manage time instead? They block out their calendars in 15-minute increments. This way, you can fit more tasks into each day. Which can work, of course, only if the tasks can be done in that time frame. Another way to look at this is to break bigger tasks into smaller actionable items, doable in 15 minutes.
At the same time, input everything that you need to accomplish and when it has to be done by using only 15-minute intervals. For example:
- Schedule 15 minutes in the morning to check emails.
- Allocate 15 minutes in the afternoon to return phone calls or make appointments.
- Add 15 minutes every couple of hours for stretching.
- Make room for a flexible 15-minute buffer zone in case something unexpected arises.
Build these 15-minute intervals into the filler space between team meetings or project deadlines, so each moment of your day is used intentionally.
With such a methodical structure, you’ll have less fragmented time that translates into unproductive pockets between scheduled tasks. And what’s more, you’ll craft a more focused game plan to spend your work hours.
2. Find your energy windows
We all have certain periods in the day when we feel most energetic. If you learn to recognize when those peak times occur, you can harness those bursts of energy into maximum productivity.
This requires hacking the science of circadian rhythms. The biological clock in the body controls both the ebb and flow of energy and alertness on a daily basis. Everyone is somewhat different in their circadian rhythms based on sleep habits and other lifestyle factors. Yet, there is a basic framework to start with, according to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine:
- 7 – 10 AM: Attention is low due to the gradual transition from sleep to wakefulness.
- 10 AM – 2 PM: Attention span and executive brain function steadily increase.
- 2 – 4 PM: Attention, focus, and energy levels decline from post-lunch fatigue.
- 4 – 10 PM: Attention span, energy levels, and cognitive performance re-escalate.
- 10 PM: Attention is low once again due to the body’s release of sleep hormones.
You might do your best work in the earlier time frame of 10 AM to 2 PM or you could be an evening person who accomplishes more between 4 PM and 10 PM. The best approach is to find your energy windows and use that time to do your work.
3. Set boundaries around work hours
If you’re in an office, unplanned meetings or spontaneous coworker interactions can throw your schedule off-balance. When at home, non-work phone calls, household chores, and family member disruptions can steal focus as well. This is why it’s vital to create and enforce boundaries for your time on the clock.
For example, if possible, determine when you’ll be available versus when you need to work alone and communicate that to your colleagues. If you’re remote, establish the same ground rules for the people in your house.
During focused work hours, use a physical barrier to send the message that you require space. Close the door, set your phone and email notifications to Do not disturb, or put on headphones. In Hubgets, you can also use the smart status called Let Hubgets manage my interruptions, which relies on an Artificial Intelligence layer to protect you. This way, you can work without being disturbed when focusing and, at the very same time, not miss any important message. Just let it do its magic 😉
Likewise, when you’re done working for the day, reinforce boundaries for your off time. Elizabeth Grace Saunders, time management coach, explains:
“Even if you can’t always dictate how people communicate with you, many times, you can set expectations around when you respond. For example, you may get a work-related text message at 10 PM at night, but you can reply to it the next morning. Or you may be able to wait to respond to messages from the weekend until Monday.”
In other words, you can teach people to respect your time just by responding to them within the boundaries that you set for yourself. You can also reinforce those boundaries explicitly if the situation calls for it.
Let time work for you
Time is a valuable resource, and it matters a lot how we choose to spend it on a daily basis. That decision is ours to make. Will we use it intentionally and productively? Or will we procrastinate and mismanage it?
Hopefully, in this month’s edition of The Productivity Box, we’ve built a strong case for choosing to get intentional with our time, once and for all. Because time, like other unusual suspects, can have a huge impact on work performance.