My finances, my projects, my life
June 18, 2024

How can you manage your time at work better?

  Compiled by myLIFE team me&myFAMILY April 3, 2023 1102

Ongoing projects, new tasks piling up, regular interruptions from your work colleagues… the days fly by at breakneck pace but aren’t always as productive as required. How can you organise yourself to be more efficient in the workplace? myLIFE explains a few techniques to help improve your time management.

There are many methods to help you define your objectives, prioritise tasks and perform better on a day-to-day basis – and they will also lower your stress levels. Firstly, let’s take a look at the habits you should adopt to optimise your time, before reviewing the various time management techniques.

Five habits to help manage your time

No.1 Set your objectives

Start by clearly defining your objectives. How will you be able to assess whether you are productive enough otherwise? Define the desired results and deadlines for your various tasks – this will give you an overview of how your projects are progressing and ensure that you remain focused and avoid distractions.

The SMART method can help with this. This means ensuring that your objectives meet certain criteria and are: Specific (precisely defined); Measurable (progress can be quantified); Attainable (you must have the means to attain them); Realistic (the circumstances must enable you to achieve them); and Time-bound (you must set a deadline for achieving them).

No. 2 Define your priorities

Rank your tasks in a list based on their priority. This will make it easier to adapt your schedule and to manage unforeseen events. You can use the Eisenhower matrix to define your priorities, based on how urgent and important the tasks are:

You can also use the MOSCOW method which helps you assess the impact of each action in a project to make decision-making easier:

    • M = Must have: tasks that are essential to the project;
    • S = Should have: important, but could be delayed;
    • C = Could have: nice to have but not essential;
    • W = Won’t have but would like: can be postponed until later.

Learn to say no and to delegate: when everything is important, nothing is important. Set boundaries and learn to say no in order to stick to your objectives. If certain requests do not align with your current priorities, put them off until later or delegate them to others. This will stop you becoming overwhelmed with secondary tasks that are often time consuming.

No. 3 Plan your tasks

Separate your tasks so that you can organise your day, week and/or month. We all work at a different rhythm, so try to identify the times of day when you work best. Schedule the tasks that require more concentration when you are most productive and postpone other tasks to times when you are less efficient. Use the end of your working day to prepare for the following day by drawing up the schedule. This will save you precious time!

Plan for breaks: you may think that they are superfluous but breaks are essential! You cannot concentrate for long periods without a break. You need to recharge your batteries or you risk falling victim to burnout! Taking a break, getting some fresh air and relaxing helps refresh your mind and will boost your efficiency when you go back to work.

Focus on one task at a time and group together similar jobs or those linked to the same project.

No. 4 Focus on one task at a time

Switching between one job and another is counter-productive and tiring. Each time you switch jobs you have to re-concentrate and remind yourself of the context. Focus on one task at a time and group together similar jobs or those linked to the same project. This will save you time, help avoid mistakes and reduce your stress levels!

Turn off notifications: don’t lose track of your train of thought – avoid interruptions from emails, messages and other notifications (news, social media, etc.). Wherever possible, turn off notifications and set your phone to silent or “do not disturb” mode in order to avoid distractions for a certain period of time.

No. 5 Organise your workstation

Working in an organised environment that allows you to think clearly  will save you time on a day-to-day basis. Organise your workstation and files. This will improve your efficiency and allow you to focus fully on your objectives. Check that your equipment is top-quality and functions properly: your office chair, IT equipment, internet connection, etc. This will avoid wasting a few precious minutes looking for a lost document or doing battle with your printer!

Six time management techniques

So now that you have established the overall framework, here’s a small selection of the many methods developed to help you manage your time at work better.

Timeboxing

Timeboxing suggests dividing your tasks into several sub-tasks and allocating a precise amount time (a timebox) to achieve each of them, which must not be exceeded. This method helps you concentrate on one task at once and to restrict the amount of time spent on each individual task. It also makes tackling major tasks less stressful by dividing them up into several more manageable components.

The Pomodoro technique that is derived from timeboxing consists of dividing your time into work and break periods.

The Pomodoro technique

This method is derived from timeboxing and consists of dividing your time into work and break periods:

    • work on a task for 25 minutes (without checking emails, looking at your phone, etc.);
    • take a 5-minute break;
    • repeat this four times;
    • after the fourth cycle, take a break of 15-30 minutes.

This technique helps you visualise your day’s workload and improve your concentration by ensuring that you take regular breaks. You focus your efforts and improve your efficiency.

Time blocking

Time blocking is close to timeboxing and consists of breaking down your working time into blocks, with each one dedicated to one task. You don’t allocate a time to these blocks but instead allocate a specific activity to each block. Example:

Structuring your day in this way helps you clearly visualise your day’s schedule and carry out one task at a time, which helps you remain focused.

Getting Things Done (GTD) method

This is a time management and planning method. It involves systematically noting down the various tasks (professional and personal) as you go along. You then analyse them to determine how they should be handled. Lastly, you should adjust your schedule before undertaking the tasks. These are the five (simplified) steps in this technique:

    • capture and note down all tasks in a single place;
    • analyse the tasks one by one, based on their priority and how much time they will take;
    • organise the action required: postpone non-urgent work, delegate tasks or put them on hold if you are waiting for external feedback to continue, schedule work into sub-tasks where appropriate, etc.;
    • review and adjust any action on a regular basis where necessary;
    • act by carrying out the various tasks based on the schedule you have established.

The advantage of this approach is that it reduces any mental overload and provides a framework and structure for your work.

Eat the frog strategy

The aim of this technique is to help you avoid procrastinating by encouraging you to start with the most complex tasks before working on any others.

“Eat the frog” is derived from a Mark Twain phrase that states that if you eat a living frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse can happen to you over the rest of the day. In other words, identify your hardest task and do that first thing in the morning. This means you will have the satisfaction of having dealt with the most demanding tasks (which are often the most important) each day.

The Pareto principle, or the 80-20 rule

The Pareto principle is different from the Eat the frog strategy in that it encourages you to start with the tasks that will have most impact rather than with the most complex tasks. The economist who gave his name to this principle observed that 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. In other words, 80% of results are obtained with just 20% of the work carried out.

This means identifying the tasks which will produce the highest results relative to the time taken and thus increase your productivity. This technique thus allows you to rank the tasks to be carried out during the day based on the work required relative to their importance and impact.

How effective these methods are will depend on how you perceive work, your personality and your job. You can test them to find out which method best suits your situation.

This all makes it clear that time management is a job in its own right and one that requires some organisation. How effective these methods are will depend on how you perceive work, your personality and your job. You can test them to find out which method best suits your situation and take back control of your time! Over to you!