Ever since the early days of television, cooking shows have been a popular daytime phenomenon. Where guides to making the perfect at-home desserts have given way to shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Masterchef, they still dominate the airwaves and our favorite streaming apps.
The way contestants have to battle against the clock to prepare a winning dish bares a striking similarity to how many of us have to battle to get all our work done in any given week. If it’s not an endless stream of emails, it’s people scheduling meetings or constant requests for project updates and deliveries.
So how can you manage your time in a better way to not feel quite so overwhelmed? Let’s find out.
Know your priorities and have a plan
We’ve all had those days when it feels like you are fruitlessly paddling against the tide. No matter how quickly you try to do things more and more keeps coming in. In a busy workplace, time management is crucial to success.
The first step, before you do anything else, is to identify your priorities. If you don’t know what’s important both for that day and the longer term, how can you know where to put your attention? Start by making a list of everything you need to do. This isn’t necessarily what you’re going to do today (we’ll come to that later) this is about looking at the different projects you have a stake in or things that fall under your scope in any given quarter.
With your list in hand, categorize everything into three groups: urgent, important and nice to have/do. Anything in the first/urgent group are those tasks that require immediate attention. Important tasks are those that contribute to the long-term success of your business, but you have some time to get to them. The nice-to-haves are exactly that and if you’re too busy should be delegated or eliminated.
Now that you have your priorities sorted, it’s time to plan your day. A daily plan is going to help you stay on track and avoid distractions. Take the items from your urgent column and look at what needs to be done that day. Put that at the top of your plan. If you have multiple things, weigh up things like impact to decide what order to do them. After you’ve done that, add the other tasks following a similar process. Make sure you’re scheduling enough time for important tasks first, before moving on to less important ones.
Try not to spend too much time creating your plan. Over time, you’ll find a rhythm that works for you. Having a plan in place will help you feel more in control, which can reduce stress and increase productivity. Remember to keep your plan flexible. Emergencies may arise and it's important to be able to adjust your plan accordingly.
Tech is your friend
It can often feel like there are more and more apps out there for everything we do in our lives. From scheduling a meeting with friends to your favorite supermarket, how do you even start to work out what ones you need and which ones you don’t?
The key takeaway you should look to ask yourself is - does this make my life easier? If it doesn’t then why are you using it? In a busy workplace, there are a few that we think can help:
A ticketing system. Look for something that helps you break down projects into manageable chunks that you can assign to members of your team. You can manage your workload more effectively, make sure things are delivered on time and have regular check-ins with the team to make sure things stay on track.
A scheduling tool. A scheduling app for business like Doodle is key to taking back control of your day. For instance Booking Page lets you set your availability and share it with a single link. This means if anyone has to book time with you all you do is send the link and they pick a slot that works for them. Simple. Removing the email back and forth lets you focus on more important tasks.
A time-wasting app. This is something that runs in the background of your computer and tracks how you spend your time. On a weekly or daily basis, it can produce a report to let you know what websites/activities you spend the most time on. You can then adjust your habits accordingly to increase productivity.
Say no and resist the urge to multitask
It’s not always easy, especially when your office is busy, but multitasking can be the biggest barrier to productivity. Research by the American Psychological Association shows that multitasking can reduce your productivity by up to 40 percent. When you try to do multiple tasks at once, you’re not able to give each task your full attention. This leads to errors and likely you having to spend more time to get things done than if you just focused on one at a time.
Avoid multitasking by focusing on your daily plan. You’ve prioritized for a reason, so focus on starting at the top of your list and working through each task in turn. Not only will you increase productivity, but everything you do should be of a higher quality too.
Think about scheduling some ‘focus time’ to eliminate distractions. This should involve muting your email notifications and avoiding social media.
Something that goes hand in hand with multitasking is finding the ability to say no. We all want to take on new challenges, but know your limits and set boundaries. You need to be realistic about how much we can do. As much as we don’t want to disappoint clients and colleagues, taking on too much will affect your mental health and could eventually lead to burnout.
Believe it or not, there is an “effective” way to say no. You must be clear and direct in your response. Give an explanation of why you can’t take on more responsibilities and offer an alternative solution. That could be suggesting someone else who has more availability or offering to add it to your planning for the next quarter. It’s not a weakness to say no and you shouldn’t feel guilty for saying so.
Delegate. That’s what your team is for
As a leader, learning to delegate is so important to succeeding. Trusting the team you built to complete tasks is how you’re going to ensure you don’t overload yourself and they can develop skills and grow in their capabilities. Delegating effectively is how you can get more done in less time.
As we discussed earlier, start by working out what things you can delegate. This will definitely be most things in your ‘nice to have’ list but could also be some business-critical tasks too. For instance, if you have someone on your team who has a particular skillset it might make sense for them to take something on.
Once you’ve decided who should take on a task, be sure you’re scheduling some time with them to talk it through. Clearly explain what they need to do, the due date and where they can find support if that’s not from you. It can also be helpful to give them an idea of how this fits into the wider business goals.
When they get going, be sure to have regular check-ins to make sure everything is on track and there are no problems. Allow them to come to you and encourage an open discussion to avoid any unexpected challenges or delays.
Don’t forget to recognize success and encourage them to provide feedback on your management style.