Time Management: Put Time on Your Side
How many hours do you work each week? 40? 50? 60? How often have you said “There are never enough hours in the day,” as you’re eating a “sad desk lunch,” or working late while frantically trying to get the leads you promised for your sales team, or meet a critical campaign deadline. (In which case you’re probably in for a sad desk dinner.)
You’re not alone, research shows: In an August 2015 survey, Workfront asked marketers what makes them dread their job the most, and 51% said “juggling all of my work to get it done in a 40-hour work week.”
Many (maybe most) marketers simply work longer hours to beat the clock. But doing so can come at a cost to your health and well-being, and could sap overall productivity. Workers who put in longer hours often are more distracted, have higher medical bills and are more likely to leave their jobs, according to Harvard Business Review (HBR). All those outcomes lower the quality of your work, as well as your productivity. As Sara Robinson notes on AlterNet, “Every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul.”
Several time management apps, such as Focus Booster, Rescue Time and Toggl, have launched to help people find a better work-life balance. But nothing beats finding behaviors that works for you even when you’re away from your phone.
Here are nine time management techniques that will help you put time on your side.
- Instead of managing time, focus instead on managing energy. This might sound unrelated, but it’s proven: In 2007, HBR enlisted Wachovia Bank’s employees in an energy management program, wherein they adopted certain habits. Sixty-eight percent of participants reported better relationships with clients and customers, and 71% said it had a noticeable positive impact on their productivity and performance. The habits the bank employees tried included leaving their desks for lunch and taking short walks in the morning and afternoon. Outside of the office, they looked to such changes as setting earlier bedtimes and working out regularly.
- Fight procrastination. Overcoming procrastination is another way to master time management. Some tips for battling procrastination, per Agil8, include:
- Set realistic sub-goals to match your larger goals
- Make each task as specific as possible (thereby reducing uncertainty about what you actually need to accomplish),
- Establish fixed daily routines, such as checking your email at a certain time, or setting a daily brainstorming meeting with your co-workers.
- Segment tasks into smaller assignments. For example, if you’re writing an eBook, you might have each chapter be a smaller assignment (and perhaps each of those chapters could be a stand-alone blog post)
- Multi-tasking can be an impediment. Taking on multiple tasks increases the likelihood for errors, according to Stanford researcher Clifford Nass, Time reports. Instead, set a two-task limit, dedicating a 20-minute chunk to each task before moving on to the next one. Similarly, set fewer “must-dos,” because the more priorities you have at work, the less you will accomplish, according to Forbes.
- Diminish distractions with the 25-minute rule. Dedicating a certain amount of time to a task can help you increase your focus, and, ultimately, finish it. Similarly to Nass’ 20-minute task rule, consider the Pomodoro Technique, which is used by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) coaches to help clients plow through tasks. Commit 25 minutes of your time to one task, allowing for no distractions. If you’re in a noisy open office, consider buying noise-cancelling headphones or (politely) telling your chatty coworkers in neighboring cubicles not to disturb you for those 25 minutes. If there’s an empty conference room available, take your work there for an hour or so.
- Don’t let email dominate your work day. Speaking of distractions, as tempting as it might be (because our inboxes are always overflowing), don’t check your email every few minutes if you’re up against a deadline. Ignoring your email when in the final stages of a project (and cutting yourself off from other distractions), will help you reach the finish line faster. In one study, researchers at University of California-Irvine cut employees off from email (gasp!), and found that those employees were less stressed, and focused on one task for longer periods of time, according to Time.
- Don’t over-schedule your team. Project hiccups will happen. Save some time in your calendar for unexpected opportunities or unexpected delays. Giving yourself some breathing room will help you manage your time better and hit more deadlines, which helps keep overall morale on your team up.
- Beware of the deadline extension. Your company’s executives pushed back your deadline. Hooray, the pressure is off, right? Not necessarily. Deadline extensions actually can cause you to lose motivation and procrastinate, according to Psychology Today. However, you can make the most of your extra time by imposing interim milestones, and constructing a new plan. Consider how long it took to complete similar projects in the past, identify ways in which they might not go as planned, and divide the project into steps, spelling out the time it should take to complete each one, Psychology Today advises.
- Be realistic. Know your (and your team’s) limitations, while still being thorough. According to Forbes, workers who believe they have to finish everything are more frustrated and ineffective. If you set fewer “must-dos” (see tip No. 3), the pressure will be lighter and you’ll be more likely to get them done. And your team’s morale will be higher.
- Take care of yourself. Speaking of keeping up morale, remember to take care of yourself and your co-workers. And, as your grandmother might say, “eat something!” Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon on the late, great NBC Show 30 Rock often claimed she was “hangry” (hungry plus angry), which compounded her workplace frustrations. If you’re anything like Liz (or me), you know it’s nearly impossible to do great work or be productive when you’re “hangry,” or tired. In fact, an entire cottage industry and Tumblr tag has sprung up around “self care,” the concept of paying attention to your basic needs to improve your health and clear your mind.
Remember how we talked about managing energy in the first tip? It’s simple advice, but taking care of your basic needs (eating, sleeping, resting for a moment) is a good way to recharge your battery. So check in with yourself when you’re frantically trying to meet that campaign deadline. Unless you’re employed at one of the companies that boast office nap pods, you likely won’t be able to nap at work, but, ask yourself: Are you hungry, or hangry? Do you feel like you’re running out of energy? Eat something, drink water, take a quick break, or take a walk around the office.
You’ll feel recharged, happier and more creative when you return to that spreadsheet or campaign brief. You can apply that refreshed energy to make better, faster decisions and execute with more precision – and when the clock hits 5, go home with your conscience clear and your good work done.
For more information about tips for increasing your productivity check out Act-On’s guide – The High-Performance Marketing Department to learn the traits of high-performing marketing teams so you can work smarter, not harder.
“Magic Pasty” photo by Olga Pavlovsky, used under Creative Commons Generic License 2.0