Time Management Tips and Hacks to Help the Modern Busy Professional Get More Done in Less Time
Whether you work remotely 100% of the time, have a hybrid work system in place, or are a daily commuter, you no doubt experience times when you feel overwhelmed by your workload and need help to understand how to divide and conquer it. We all struggle with looking at our to-do list on a Monday morning and having no clue where to start. Grinding back into work mode is never easy, but there are things you can do to smooth the process and get stuck into your tasks faster. That's where we come in.
We've compiled our top tips and hacks to make your time go further and increase your productivity without adding stress to your already full plate. To coin a popular phrase by Billy Shakespeare - some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them, but no one is born naturally great at time management. If you long to be one of those over-achieving, unflappable professionals who always appear to effortlessly demolish their heavy workload with time to spare then we're here to tell you that it's perfectly possible. It takes determination, commitment to change, and a frank evaluation of your current habits but it absolutely can be done and the rewards are exceptional.
What Is Time Management?
Essentially, it’s the process of organising and dividing your time to ensure that all tasks are completed within a deadline. It’s about working smarter, not harder and getting things done rather than being busy.
We've heard it said that we all have the same 24 hours in the day but those with effective time management skills can get more done in less time, even when the pressure is on. With the right help, you too can soon be irritating everyone in the office when you’re chilling and everyone else is still sweating over that deadline.
Good time management skills have many benefits, including:
- Increasing productivity
- Reducing stress
- Boosting confidence
- Improving career opportunities
- Preventing procrastination
How to Improve Time Management
Whether you're in an executive, senior, or junior position it can be difficult to manage every task you're given. No matter where you work or what you do, we’ve all experienced times at work when it just doesn't seem possible to clear your workload. You wake up feeling hopeful, fantasising about all the oh-so-productive things you'll do today. You think about hitting your step count and preparing a nutritious meal for dinner. Then life happens. You hit snooze, then traffic, and walk into a day of back-to-back meetings and those good intentions fly right out of the window. With our time management tips, you can start organising your workflows and learn to get things done in the right order, and in a manageable way. Zero stress added.
When your manager is breathing down your neck, it can feel like every task is urgent and your mental to-do list never seems to actually get shorter. However, taking a sec to take stock of what's really on your plate and organising your tasks by importance and urgency will help you to complete more work, without extra effort or stress.
If you're old school you can do this with a pen and paper, or if you're a thoroughly modern Millie (or Matthew) you might have some kind of digital app for personal or collaborative use. Our VC Cloud task management feature, for example. If not, then a word processing document will serve your purposes just fine.
- First, write down all the tasks you can think of that you need to do for the week. You could stick to just work-related or go the whole nine yards and put your trip to the supermarket and your reminder to call your mum on there too. It's your list.
- Now take a deep breath, because the hard part is actually over. Realising and recording absolutely every task you're responsible for is no easy thing, but it's worth doing.
- What you need to do now is prioritise the tasks and reorder them accordingly. Put any tasks that are not time-sensitive to today into a separate list for your attention tomorrow or for if you get the urgent tasks finished today.
- It may help you to associate colour with the priority of the task. For example, you could have the urgent tasks in red, the medium priority tasks in amber/yellow, and the less important tasks in green.
- Top tip: Anything in amber or red that takes two minutes or less, do it now and tick it off. It'll make you feel more accomplished and like you're speeding through them. Momentum is the aim of the game when it comes to productivity so feeling like you're powering through your task list will motivate you to keep going on to the next one.
Are Your Targets SMART?
Make sure you are clear in your task description, especially if you are assigning tasks to a colleague. Adding "talk to client" to your co-worker's to-do list is not going to help maintain office harmony. Speak to which client, about what, and by when?
Setting SMART targets will ensure that all tasks are achievable and measurable. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. So rather than ‘talk to client’, a SMART task would be ‘Remind client Tuesday AM about signing their contract’. This gives you an idea of what you’re talking to the client about, what you need to prepare beforehand, and an all-important timeframe in which to complete it.
Create a Schedule and Stick to it
Not everyone likes a rigid schedule and this is fine, but for those that find knowing what is going to be coming up in the future comforting, calendars are a must. Some people find they can't function without a clear daily schedule while others find it restricting. The trick is to experiment and find a solution for tracking tasks that works for you and also gives your manager visibility of your work. Here are some scheduling ideas and tips to try out.
Some of us love routine and despise any unexpected changes, while others are the opposite. Whichever camp you're in, having a schedule for the day or the week can help you prioritise things both now and in the longer term. If you're a goal-driven worker then estimating the amount of time a task will reasonably take can help you to stay motivated to complete it in the given time.
This will help you time block, so you know exactly when you should be completing tasks. Blocking out time doesn’t just have to be for tasks and meetings, it can be for ideation or collaboration sessions. This can help make your team collaborate and function more efficiently because you're carving out time to effectively communicate with one another. If you choose to time block then our advice is not to underestimate how long tasks will take you. Rushing through tasks because you're behind schedule will raise your adrenaline and cortisol levels which leads to stress and can cause dips in energy levels. That's not ideal for your mental state or your efficiency.
Keep it Flexible
We know that in a hybrid world, virtual meetings pop up all the time. In terms of practical guidance, we suggest you allow yourself wiggle room with your schedule to accommodate these but also learn how to say no. Don't be afraid to decline the meetings that aren't so relevant to your role within the team to crack on with your actual job. 90% of the time, your manager would prefer you use your time efficiently for your work than sit quietly through a meeting you could have simply read the minutes of in a quarter of the time. Don't be afraid to ask for the time you need and speak up when you see an opportunity for yourself to do better.
Tick the Tech Box ✅
Your time management will also improve by leaps and bounds with the right software that can save you time. That chunk of time you scheduled on Tuesday afternoon to file your clients’ documents can be easily taken back and repurposed with a smart Document Management System that features automatic filing and email capture. Need to chase another department for a specific document? There’s no need when you have effective document storage that keeps all your collective data in one central location and can be accessed from home, work, or wherever. You can strike out the bi-weekly trip to the post office too, with our powerful client portal and instant, binding e-signatures. No need to wait for customer contracts stuck in the snail mail.
Try Time Tracking
There are many productivity apps out there that can help you track how you're spending your work time and there are many benefits to this. One of Virtual Cabinet's core beliefs is that data should always drive decisions. In order to know how to improve how you're working and spending your time, you first need to know how you are doing these things now. Understanding your work pattern will help you know how long is feasible to allow for each task based on historic data and also when is a good time in your day or weeks to assign creative or focus-demanding projects. You might be shocked to see how much of your day is taken up with one particular task that could be automated. Using apps such as Clockify or Toggl will give you an invaluable insight into how you're working and what times of day you are most productive. You don't have to use it every day, but tracking your work habits for a full week will give you some data to use to optimise your time efficiency.
Don't Be Afraid to Go Dark
While some technology is great for collaboration, productivity, and keeping visibility of your tasks, it's not always helpful when you need to get stuck into a demanding task. If you find that you're spending a lot of your day replying to messages, emails, and other communications then you might want to consider having set times when you don't answer your messages. It's tempting to respond instantly when an email notification pops up on your laptop or your phone dings, but each time you do, it takes your attention away from the task at hand. Consider only checking your messages at the start and end of the day and perhaps after lunch too. Alternatively, you can get apps that reward you for time spent offline or not checking your phone. This is a difficult habit to get into especially if you're used to working across multiple devices at once, but limiting distractions during focused work time has a huge knock-on effect for your efficiency.
Freedom is an application that blocks apps, websites and notifications that you find distracting until you turn it off, or you can set a timer and lock it if you really struggle to control yourself. Forest is an app that rewards you for keeping off your phone during your focus time. When you start the app, you plant a virtual tree and if you touch your phone before the timer is up then your tree will die. When used often, you can grow a virtual forest which is a visual representation of your hard work and focus.
Give Yourself Breaks
Burnout is no fun, and more and more professionals are struggling with it off the back of the pandemic including monumental changes to work culture and workforce struggles with the great resignation in many professional services. The way we work has fundamentally changed in recent years and with home and remote working here to stay, it's easy to find the lines between your personal and professional life have blurred. You might find your work is starting to encroach on and consume your home life and mental resources in your off hours. It's even more important than ever for you to give yourself breaks so you can approach each task with creativity and positive energy.
There's more to life than work, and while our practical advice will help you improve your productivity, getting more done should never blur the line between work and life. So, don't hesitate to get away from your desk for a bit, smell the roses and replete your inner resources.
Keep the Balance
Maintaining a work-life balance is one of the best ways to maintain optimum efficiency during work hours. People who work in their off hours or who don't take their allowed holiday are proven to be less productive when they are at work. That could be because work is being prioritised over basic self-care like exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep.
An imbalance in self-care vs work goals can result in emotional, mental, or physical burnout. Not to mention that one study found that on days when workers added exercise to their workday routines their mood and tolerance improved dramatically and indicated an increase in work completion. So, if you're thinking about sacrificing sleep for increased productivity, you might want to reconsider. Sleepy professionals get distracted easily, procrastinate more, and tend to be more irritable than their well-rested colleagues, so don't ditch the sleep.
To combat an imbalance in your work and home life, we advise that every time you set a professional goal or begin a work project, you set a personal goal too. This forces you to recognise that your well-being is at least as important as your work. You are worth putting energy into as much as your job. As an example, personal goals could be things like getting your five a day or drinking more water. You could aim to read more, snack less, or take up a new hobby, but whatever you choose, make sure it focuses on your personal wellbeing.
Honing your time management skills will help those struggling to break down their workload to prioritise effectively. Good time management will also help you become more efficient at work and go home feeling more accomplished and less stressed. Who wouldn't like the sound of that?
Upgrading your software will also drastically improve your productivity since you can let the computer do the heavy lifting and automate your high-effort, low-yield tasks while you crack on with higher-value projects. Why not try our cloud-based application with task management functionality or our intelligent Document Management Software to help you work smarter, not harder across your business? Book a demo today.
What Is VC Cloud?
Virtual Cabinet Cloud is our next-generation cloud product. Users can communicate with colleagues, access and share documents, assign tasks and much more. Even better, it can be used to extend the power of Virtual Cabinet as part of our hybrid cloud productivity suite. Our pure SaaS solution is so much more than Document Management, it's Document Management re-imagined - where documents, communication, and workflow interchange seamlessly in one place, with equal focus on internal and external collaboration.
What Is the Eisenhower Matrix?
The Eisenhower Matrix or Method is a way of assigning priority levels to a set of tasks or projects. It was created by President Eisenhower to help him delegate and assign authority to projects in the Whitehouse. It encourages you to split tasks into four sections which helps you to work out which are the most important and urgent.
- Do - Tasks that are both important and urgent. These tasks will make up your to-do list for now.
- Defer - Important tasks that are not urgent or time-sensitive. These will likely shape your task list for the rest of the week.
- Delegate - Urgent tasks that are not considered important. Many tasks have deadlines attached but not all will be high-value tasks for your business. If these could be delegated to other team members then you can get on with tasks that will support your goals.
- Delete - Tasks that are neither important nor urgent go in this box. These tend to be the types of things you planned to do "when you have a minute" or ongoing research tasks without a deadline. You don't necessarily have to actually delete them, but you should spend much less of your resources on them than on the other sections.