Time Management in the Workplace:
How to Run Your Day

Time management in the workplace is a real challenge.

Distractions, disruptions, emails, meetings, deadlines, demands, requests, priorities... the list of things you have to manage can easily become overwhelming.

And you're not alone.

Plenty of people around you will be paddling furiously, desperately trying to keep their heads above the productivity waterline.

For those that don't? Stress, pressure and a sense of overwhelm is the all too familiar outcome.

But there's good news.

Improving your time management at work isn't nearly as hard as you might think. And the gains can be huge. 

The outcomes are worth the time and effort it takes to learn a few basic tips and techniques.

Less stress, more calm and control, greater motivation, enhanced energy and a real sense of satisfaction, not to mention admiration from colleagues (or envy?!) are all possible.

When you work, what are you trying to achieve?

Is it job satisfaction? Promotion? Are you there to make a difference, or is it about the money?

Three crucial yardsticks can be used to define successful time management in the workplace:

  • Productivity – how much you do
  • Performance – how well you do what matters
  • Perception – how you and others feel about what you do

Whatever your reasons for doing what you do, better time management at work means you continually strive to improve your effectiveness (what you do) and your efficiency (how you do it), both of which are important to how you manage your career.

Better time management in the workplace: 10 ways to do more of what matters

1. Know your roles

Are you crystal clear about what is expected of you? This is crucial because it defines what you decide to spend time on. Not quite sure what you’re supposed to be doing?

Your choices are simple:

  • Carry on guessing
  • Clarify it

If you choose the first option, where will you end up? More to the point, how much time could you save if you decide to learn how to delegate work tasks effectively?

This is the cornerstone of better time management in the workplace and crucial if you want to be productive at work.

2. Know your goals

Do you know what you’re aiming for, individually and collectively? Will you be able to even tell when you get there? As with roles, so with goals.

Know what you want to be, do and have, because, as the saying goes, 'if you don’t plant the seeds, you’ll end up with weeds'.

List your major work goals, and you’ll know what to spend your time on when you’re there. Everything else is a waste of your time.

3. Start well

Your day actually starts from the moment you wake up. Plan a realistic ‘pre-work routine’ that ensures you get to work as early as possible. Your routine may (actually, should) start the night before.

Why? Well, that first 30 minutes sets the tone for the hours that follow it. So, get your clothes laid out, know where your keys, phone and other personal items are, and have everything ready to go.

Your pre-work routine can be continually refined. You may even get to the point where, if you drive, you park your car to face the right way!

4. Get organized

If you’re not already, learn how to get organized today. Put it on your to-do list. It doesn’t matter how long you do it for - just do it every day until you get to the point where you know what goes where. Eventually you'll no longer have a messy desk.

Even if you become just slightly more organized, the pay-off in terms of time saved will be significant. Your working day will flow smoothly, and you’ll reduce unnecessary stress.

This is important, whether you're starting out or more experienced.

5. Work to limits

Writing a to-do list is an essential habit if you want to practice good time management in the workplace.

But it's so easy to add tasks to it as and when they crop up, building an ever growing list of things to do.

The result? Things are done based on urgency. Important but not urgent things get put off until they become urgent.

And so the cycle of stress continues.

One way to prevent this is to set a limit on your to-do list. Here's how:

Collect all work for one day (for example, Monday). As the day goes on, put everything that doesn’t have to be done today in a single ‘next day’ tray.

  • At the end of Monday, write down every one-off task you have to do tomorrow (Tuesday). Use an action diary to do this.
  • Transfer the paper, reports, memos etc. from your ‘next day’ tray to a ‘today’ tray.
  • Write in your action diary, the actions stemming from voicemail or email requests.
  • Add your regular actions that you want to do daily to your action diary.

That is the limit of your work for today. You know exactly what the limit of one day’s work is. Leave some ‘buffer time’, because ‘urgent’ tasks will crop up, and you'll be managing interruptions throughout the day. That’s okay though, because you've reduced the random – you planned for it.

At some point, it’s almost certainly worth conducting a more detailed workload analysis to determine the amount of work you are expected to do.

This will provide you with an accurate picture, and enable you to achieve better time management in the workplace.

6. Commit to the high pay off activities

People give themselves more work to do when they unnecessarily volunteer or agree to do something. They say ‘yes’, based on feelings such as enthusiasm for a project or a desire to impress.

It’s vital to ask yourself "Is the pay off worth the price?" Are you prepared to commit your time, energy and reputation to whatever goal, project or task is on the table?

Good time management in the workplace means applying the 80-20 rule wherever possible - focus on the 'vital few'.

7. Think ‘little and often’

Often, a huge pile of paperwork or an inbox full of emails is the signal to cherry pick whatever attracts your interest. What happens to the rest? Unless you have a system, it doesn’t get done. Hello, procrastination!

Instead, think ‘little and often’. If you have an ongoing role, goal or project, act on it every working day, however little.

The initial resistance is defeated, and more gets done.

8. Consider Covey’s Quadrants

One of the best known, but least applied tools to support good time management in the workplace is the time management matrix popularized by the late Stephen R. Covey.

Use it to help you determine the urgency or importance of everything you do at work and away from it, too. 

9. End well

Unless there’s a genuine emergency, go home at a set time.

Whatever it is, if it didn’t get done, add it to your ‘next day’ actions again until it gets completed. Make it one of your daily tasks to establish a personal end of work routine. Include ‘plan the next day’.

Leave work at work as far as possible.

If you intend to work at home, it tends to linger in your mind until you finally do it - a clear case for the existence of Parkinson's Law.

The solution? Well, if it’s not at home, you can’t do it, can you?

Work at work and live at home - the world will still keep turning.

10. Stay aware

You want to maintain better time management in the workplace?

Keep your productivity tools accessible. The easier they are to use, the more you will be inclined to actually use them.

Never rest on your laurels. Once you're aware of the importance of good time management at work, keep looking for ways to maintain and improve yours. You’ll be amazed at the effect it has on your motivation, satisfaction, productivity, energy and happiness.

Isn’t that the point of life? 

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Related Articles:

Deal with Distractions at Work

How Many Hours Do You Actually Work?

How to Be Productive at Work

How to Clean a Messy Office

How to Delegate Work

How to Prioritize Work

Better Time Management for Managers

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