Time management techniques to improve productivity and reduce burnout

Good time management is one of the most important skills that you can develop in your life and career. It can help employees and business owners improve their own productivity and better work towards long-term goals. Many people struggle with procrastination and it can add a lot of stress to your work day. Getting things done at the last minute often produces lower quality work and creates anxiety. Effective time management allows people to get more done more effectively and in less time.

If you are looking to improve your productivity and optimize your workflow, try these time management techniques.

Set priorities

One of the best ways to improve your time management is to spend more time prioritizing tasks and creating an action plan for your day. Keep a physical or digital list of everything that is currently on your plate and identify which are the most important tasks. There are a number of time management strategies that you can use to do this.

Eisenhower Matrix

A popular prioritization technique is the Eisenhower Matrix. It is also known as the urgent-important-matrix. It was designed by President Eisenhower while he was serving as an Army Commander. It was initially meant to aid decision-making, but can also help prioritize your daily tasks. The key is to separate your tasks into four quadrants based on the urgency and importance of the task;

  • Do: If the task is both urgent and important, place it at the top of your priority list and work on it promptly.

  • Decide: If a task is important but not urgent, schedule the task for a later date. Consider blocking out time on your calendar later in the week to focus on the task.

  • Delegate: Tasks that are urgent but not important can be delegated if you have the ability to or placed on your to-do list to be completed after more important tasks are handled.

  • Delete: If it’s not urgent or important, you can eliminate it. This includes tasks like checking social media during the work day if it is not part of your job. It can also apply to emails that don’t require a response or that you may have been cc’ed on but don’t need to take action on. Often we use these irrelevant activities to kill time, but clearing out your inbox can help your focus.

Pareto Method

The Pareto method asserts that 80% of results will come from 20% of your effort. As such, it is necessary to identify which tasks fall into that 20% that will yield the most meaningful results.

To use the Pareto method for time management, start by listing out your tasks. Then once you’ve listed them out, rank them from 1-10 based on the time and effort required to complete the task. Tasks that are low effort and take less time would be a 1. Then go back down the list and rank the tasks on a scale of 1-10 based on their likelihood of yielding results. For example, making phone calls to hot leads might rank higher on the scale than making cold calls as they are more likely to result in a sale.

Then, you can create your final to-do list by dividing the potential results by the effort required to find the best way to use your time. You can knock out quicker high-value tasks first, then spend the rest of the day on higher effort high-value tasks or mid-range tasks. The activities that will be high effort or time-consuming but are unlikely to generate results can be postponed as needed.

This is a good time management tip for employees that work in very results-oriented fields. It is especially relevant to those that work on commission such as salespeople, as they will want to spend the majority of their time performing tasks that will lead to sales or commissioned outcomes.

Schedule your tasks logically

A common mistake that people make when it comes to time management is adjusting their schedule and activity plan to meet their own personalized work habits. It’s best to plan your daily tasks around your energy levels. Most people’s energy levels fluctuate throughout the day in different ways.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing your schedule. One person may be most productive if they start out with the most important tasks first and progress to low priority, simple tasks. This is a logical plan as it allows you to get the most urgent tasks out of the way first. However, some people may find that they need to ease into the day with a short, easy task in the morning before diving into bigger or more complex tasks. If you’re not a morning person, putting a high-level task first on your agenda may lead to procrastination.

Break up bigger projects into smaller tasks

Breaking up large projects into smaller pieces is a great way to reduce procrastination. It can make tasks feel less intimidating and easier to get started on. It can also help you set deadlines for yourself over the course of multiple days or weeks rather than trying to do everything last minute before the final deadline. If you are someone that waits until the last minute, this is a great time management technique to try.

List out the different steps that must be completed and set goals for completing each step. Mark these due dates on your calendar or in your scheduling or project management app.

Reduce multitasking

Multi-tasking can be great, but sometimes it is better to focus on a single task. A great way to do this is to set aside time to focus solely on one item from your to-do list. One way to do this is with the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique is a popular time management technique that has been used for decades. The technique is designed to reduce distractions and multi-tasking by designating a short amount of time to one specific task and allocating time for short breaks.

To use the Pomodoro Technique, set a 25-minute timer and make as much progress on a specific task as you can before the timer goes off. Then, take a 5-minute break. Be sure to set a timer for this break so you don’t go overboard. Then start the timer again for another 25-minute Pomodoro. After four 25-minute time blocks, take a longer 15-30 minute break. Work on one task at a time. Consider setting yourself to away on Slack and shutting off notifications from your email, social media, and any other apps. Since you’re only focusing for 25 minutes at a time, you won’t have to disconnect for too long or keep anyone waiting for a response.

Time blocking

Time blocking is another approach to task management and scheduling. Like the Pomodoro method, it separates your day into time blocks. However, the time blocks are usually larger with time blocking.

The approach is quite simple. You divide your day into time blocks dedicated to specific tasks. You may set aside two hours for one project and 30 minutes for another. Set aside enough time for each task and leave some buffer room in your daily schedule in case priorities change or something comes up. You should always expect to have a few emails, customer requests, or last-minute tasks arise.

With time blocking, you can also batch similar tasks together in a single time block or in consecutive time blocks. Getting things done all at once rather than jumping around usually helps people see these tasks to completion more effectively. It’s also more efficient to block similar tasks together as they often require the same tools. For example, if you have multiple tasks that need to get done in the CRM system, batch all of them together so that you can get them done while you’re already focused and working in the CRM.

One thing to keep in mind when starting out is that you may not know exactly how much time to block off for each task. It can help to use a time tracker to get an idea of a realistic timeframe for different types of projects or tasks. Use a digital time tracking tool and then at the end of the day you can reconcile your actual workday with the time blocked schedule you had planned. This can also be helpful in identifying where you may be wasting time on tasks that could be automated with the right tools.

Set boundaries and say no

Sometimes the problem isn’t necessarily procrastination or time management. Often, when employees or business owners become overwhelmed with their work and unable to meet deadlines, it is because they have taken on too much. It can be hard to tell a manager, coworker, or client that you can’t accommodate their request. However, saying no is an important skill to build in order to protect your time and your work-life balance.

If you do not have time in your schedule to accommodate a request from your manager and don’t want to say no, there are a couple of other techniques that you can use.

One is to offer an alternate timeframe. For example, let them know that you don’t have time to handle the task today but could fit it into your schedule for tomorrow.

Another approach is to offer to swap out one of your current tasks for this new high-priority task. Tell your manager that you’d be happy to help with the task, but will need to remove or delay something from your current task list in order to accommodate that change.

Set realistic goals

All of the tools on this list can help you better manage your time at work. However, it is also important to ensure that you are setting reasonable goals for yourself. Most people use time management techniques to boost productivity, but you need to be aware that burnout contributes to decreased productivity. Avoid burning yourself out by setting achievable goals and expectations for what you will get done each day.

Some tools like the Pomodoro technique build in breaks, but if you are using another approach be sure to take adequate breaks and lunch. It can help to block off time on your calendar or set a reminder for yourself if you’re someone that tends to work through their breaks and burn themselves out.

If you find yourself having to work through lunch to achieve your daily productivity goals, adjust your personal expectations and reach out to your manager for help with prioritizing tasks and managing your workload. Sometimes even with exemplary time management practices, employees still need help when faced with high workloads or unrealistic expectations. It’s better for both the employees and managers to have honest conversations about workloads on a regular basis rather than waiting until a deadline is missed.

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