Transitioning back into the office after working from home? Now is a great time to take a hard look at your time management skills. Finding ways to build on them will not only help you get back into the swing of things quickly, it will also level up your focus for greater productivity and less stress.
The goal of time management is to achieve deep focus. The path to this state will look a little bit different for everyone, so having a good understanding of what the biggest threats to your productivity are will help you design routines and habits that steer you away from them and toward intentionally focused, high-quality work.
We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Taking charge of your time is what makes the difference between feeling perpetually behind on tasks and being able to confidently tackle a heavy workload. The first step is tracking your time to see what you spend the most of it on, and then adjusting your “budget” accordingly. Then you can create routines that encourage you to prioritize high-importance responsibilities, stay on task, and avoid distractions.
Check out these six tips for developing a personalized strategy that boosts your focus for more purposeful work and cuts down the amount of time you lose to derailing stressors.
1. Make a list. Who doesn’t love a good list? There’s something so satisfying about checking off boxes and crossing out line items. To-do lists help you identify the essentials and prioritize them. If you make your list the night before a workday, you can start your day with a clear plan and a refreshed mind. Consider using a tool like the Eisenhower matrix while you’re building your list, as it’s a useful way to visualize importance over urgency so that you can schedule your time and delegate tasks accordingly.
2. Block it out. Designate specific times for specific tasks, and don’t let yourself get distracted by notifications when it isn’t email- or message-checking time. Try a timeboxing technique to set limits on the amount of time you spend focused on a given project, and build in breaks to stretch, walk around, say hi to a coworker, or top up your coffee. When you really need to focus intently, change your availability or shut your office door so that your coworkers know not to disturb you.
3. Don’t multitask. Give each single task your full attention, and don’t let a long to-do list stress you out. Just put your blinders on and take it one checkmark at a time. Group similar tasks together and complete them before moving on to another group so that you don’t have to constantly refocus your brain as you switch between different types of projects. Avoid what James Clear calls “half-work,” which prevents you from engaging fully in any one task.
4. Protect your time. Only you know how many tasks you can accomplish in a day, so it’s up to you to decline requests that would pull you away from more essential work. 20% of your input should produce 80% of your output, so make that input count and place a higher value on the tasks that will deliver the greatest returns.
5. Clear your plate. Streamline your workflow and organize your space to minimize clutter and interruptions. The more “noise” you can get rid of, the easier it will be to concentrate on what’s in front of you. Creating systems to keep documents neat and accessible will prevent wild goose chases in the future, and unsubscribing from mailing list emails that don’t contribute to your work will help to keep your inbox tidy and free of distractions. If you need to turn off your phone or mute notifications so that you can immerse yourself in tasks that require your undivided attention, take those steps to deliver better results.
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During this transition time, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. You might feel a lot of pressure to show up at the office ready to jump right back in as if you never left, when the reality is that we’ve all been through the wringer over the past few months and the work landscape has changed significantly. Time management strategies can certainly help you adjust more easily, but taking care of yourself outside of work hours is crucial too. Make sure to eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, spend time outside, and get a good night’s sleep so that you can put your best foot forward in those stylish new shoes you’ve been looking forward to wearing for so long.