Raise your hand if this statement feels relatable: Just because you’re on the clock does not always mean that you’re being productive.
Yeah… same. I can relate as well. Between the constant emails, social media notifications, tedious Zoom meetings and other disruptions, it’s no small feat to remain on-task and manage time effectively. In fact, the average worker experiences about 56 interruptions each day on the job, and it takes as long as two hours to recover from those distractions.
It’s frustrating when your plans for the workday swerve off-course for reasons that often seem outside your control. (Those emails are not about to quit sending themselves, am I right?) However, according to research from Harvard Business Review, there are a few basic skills you can cultivate to reinforce time management and increase productivity:
- Awareness: Understand time as a limited resource that must be used both realistically and strategically.
- Adaptation: Monitor how efficient you are when performing a task, shifting priorities or adjusting to interruptions.
- Arrangement: Structure the organization and execution of workflow into a schedule that maximizes your time.
While all of these are important, it’s the third skill I want to focus on particularly right now. If you allocate just 10–12 minutes each morning to plan out your work schedule, this can save you two hours of time that might otherwise be wasted. This means you’ll recoup the hours lost from notification pings or nonessential distractions.
The four techniques below can help to organize your schedule in a way that prioritizes the most urgent tasks, optimizes time management and elevates your performance as a whole. Each of the following methods is useful, and there’s no one-size-fits-all schema for everyone, so choose your own adventure here—it mainly comes down to preference.
With this method, you’ll carve out specific hours in the workday to accomplish certain tasks. For example, 9–10 AM is for answering emails or phone calls. 10–11 AM is for the team video conference. 11–12 PM is for researching data, writing out key points and fine-tuning your communication for the client presentation due next week. And so forth…you get the idea. If you use this method, be sure to create both proactive and reactive time blocks. A proactive block is for all the assignments you must complete by EOD, while a reactive block is for unplanned meetings, projects, conversations and other disruptions.
Most Important Task
With this method, you’ll earmark 1–3 assignments which require immediate attention, then harness all your time into finishing them. Until these are done, you will not move on to anything else—all the secondary projects or unanswered messages can wait. This helps you determine where to mobilize your efforts and how to redirect your concentration from lower priority tasks. That does not mean the entire workday must be limited to just those 1–3 assignments, but they do come first. You can sort through that inbox and review comments in the Slack channel (or if we’re being honest, doomscroll on Instagram) later on.
With this method, you’ll tap into a series of 90-minute intervals in which your brain is sharp, alert and energetic. The human body functions in a continual state of ultradian rhythms which fluctuate between “peaks” of stamina and “troughs” of exhaustion. Once you begin to notice when these rhythms occur, it’s easier to structure workflow around them. The most effective way is to schedule 90-minute focus sessions of intense productivity, then allow 20–30-minute rests between each session to refuel the lost energy. If mid-afternoon crashes and numerous trips to the coffee machine sound familiar, this method is for you.
With this method, you’ll use a similar framework as the previous technique, but in a slightly more compressed, accelerated timeline. Choose the highest priority task on the calendar, set a timer on your smartphone for 25 minutes, then work steadily without interruption until the alarm signals you to pause. After a short break of about five minutes, repeat this sequence for another 25 minutes, either resuming the same project or starting a new one if you finished. Since this quick, strenuous pace can be mentally draining, be sure to allow yourself a longer break around 15–30 minutes after four consecutive Pomodoro sessions.
Have you tried one or more of these scheduling techniques to help manage time and maximize productivity on the job? Which method has been the most effective and successful for you? Got another scheduling hack to share with our community? We want to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below!