From your iPhone to your laptop, the same technology that helps you be more productive can also lure you away from your work. Whether you work from home or at the office, social media, blogs, and other online distractions can eat away at your workday.
As the line between work time and personal time becomes less defined, it is more important now than ever before to learn how to manage the time you spend on and off the clock.
Here are 10 time management hacks to help you make the most of every hour of your day.
1. Use Apps to Limit Distractions
Technology is the ultimate double-edged sword. It gives you unbridled access to real-time information, enables you to connect with collaborators and provides a platform for the limitless exchange of ideas. It’s also a constant distraction.
Consider using programs like Focus Writer to strip down your computer and turn it into a distraction-free word processor that can do little more than type, save and print. Use stopwatches like Countdown Timer to measure out chunks of time to dedicate to specific tasks, and use apps like Anti-Social to block distracting sites and limit your access to social media while you’re working.
2. Take Microbreaks
The National Center for Biotechnology in Information (USA) reported that short, frequent breaks boosted productivity and replenished physical and mental energy. Operators who participated in a 1997 study showed improvement in mood, focus, physical comfort and productivity when they broke up chunks of work with breaks that lasted either 30 seconds or three minutes. Those who stretched during their breaks benefited even more.
By 2012, the New York Times reported that microbreaks had an unquestionably positive effect on employees of the digital age, with short, frequent breaks making them happier, healthier and better workers.
Sprinkle microbreaks throughout your workday, aiming to turn away from your computer for a few moments to rest your eyes. Standing up, stretching and grabbing a cup of water to revitalise yourself before jumping to a new task is a healthy habit.
3. Plan Your Day the Night Before
Many workers start their mornings off in the office trying to figure out their agendas. They sift through emails that came in late the day before and map out checklists. While a to-do list is a useful way to get through the day, mapping out your schedule the night before can help you get a mental head start the next day.
When you take a moment at the end of each workday to visualise and consider your tasks for the next day, you can mentally prioritise tasks and plan ahead for potential roadblocks, allowing you to hit the ground running the moment you get out of bed the next morning. Knowing what work will be waiting for you will also help you decompress the night before, as you won’t need to worry about having forgotten about a project deadline or meeting.
4. Shrink To-Do Lists
To-do lists can help you prioritise daily tasks. Unfortunately, they can also overwhelm and demoralise you.
Rather than listing out every mundane task, put no more than three tasks on any given day’s to-do list. By keeping your list down to three items or less, you maximise focus and prioritisation, identifying and tackling the handful of accomplishments that will provide you with the best return on time invested.
Also, remember not to measure success by the number of tasks you’ve completed. Instead, create short, high-priority to-do lists filled with manageable tasks that — when complete — help you reach milestones.
5. Follow the Two-Minute Rule
Writer, teacher and photographer James Clear uses the two-minute rule to help him overcome procrastination.
This rule is designed to promote good habits while reducing the natural desire to put off non-essential items on your to-do list. The two-minute rule follows two basic principles:
- If a task takes less than two minutes to complete, do it now.
- Every new good habit should take less than two minutes to complete at first.
From taking out the garbage to firing off a work-related email, the two-minute rule should help you avoid procrastinating on tasks. Knocking out small tasks throughout your day helps you build momentum without eating much time out of your day.
You can also use the two-minute rule to help you get started on bigger projects. Say, for instance, you want to get back into the gym. Use your two minutes to get dressed and out the door. Once outside, you’ll be more inclined to work out than if you had stayed in bed or hopped online.
6. Follow the Pickle Jar Theory
The pickle jar theory asks you to imagine time as an empty pickle jar. Your daily tasks are comprised of rocks, pebbles, sand, and water. Big, difficult tasks are rocks that require immediate action. Complete them first to ensure you don’t run out of time, or room in the pickle jar.
Next, complete secondary tasks, or pebbles. Then, if you still have room in your jar, tackle small tasks — your sand. If there is any room left, fill in the gaps with water, which should be the tasks that occupy idle time.
7. Learn to Say No
Warren Buffett is the master of saying no. The billionaire knows that technology is not the only form of distraction. Agreeing to help others with small tasks and tackling projects that don’t contribute to long-term goals can eat up your day.
When someone asks for your help on a project or wants to give you a meaningless task, consider whether that project or task will help you meet goals. If it doesn’t, don’t agree to do it.
8. Think in Weeks Instead of Days
Many successful people, including several six-figure working mums in the Mosaic Project, don’t think in 24-hour periods. Instead, they think in 168-hour, week-long blocks of time, according to Forbes.
By planning for a week of work you can better budget out your time, not only by helping you prioritise and set time aside for big tasks but for things you want to accomplish.
9. Use Visual Aids for Big Projects
Productive people are learning what content marketers have known all along: Visual aids work. Nearly half of your brain is devoted to processing visual images, and your eyes contain more than 70 per cent of your body’s sensory receptors.
Meanwhile, people are 323 per cent better at following instructions when those instructions contain images, according to NeoMam Studios.
When mapping out major projects and the tasks you’ll need to complete, use visual aids to help you see what needs to be done, what has been completed and what ideas haven’t yet been turned into actual processes. Beth Comstock, the CEO of GM, uses Venn diagrams to help her tackle and prioritise tasks.
10. Don’t Multitask
The ability to multitask has long been held up as a valuable attribute in the business world.
In reality, the process of doing two things at once is a productivity killer. Multitasking makes it harder for you to focus on important tasks throughout the day. In fact, a 2009 Stanford study found that people who multitask are more easily distracted and don’t have as good of memory control as individuals who work on one thing at a time.