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Working Smarter: How better time management can improve productivity

It’s what we all crave, but time always seems to be in short supply- no matter how our schedule changes over the years. Whether we’re running from meeting to meeting, extending deadlines or sending apologies to friends and family for missing out on their toddler’s birthday party, lack of time is one of the most common excuses.

We might live in a busier world than ever before, but are we really that short of time? Or are there steps we can take to manage our time better? Despite trying to pack more into the days, research shows that productivity at work is actually slipping, with at least 65% of employees admitting they were using the internet for non-work purposes during the day and 70% confessing they don’t feel engaged in the office.

Rather than the issue of time, businesses need to foster an approach which focuses on productivity, efficiency and results to encourage engagement among their employees. So how can you make this a reality?

Strengthen your focus

Trying to obsessively manage your time can have the opposite impact to the one you want, making you stressed out and unfocused. While lists are an important part of time management, you need to be sure you’re breaking down your tasks enough to maintain focus and energy. If you find your mind drifting, mindfulness techniques can be helpful in developing your concentration, while regular breaks are also important. If you’re a manager, you can up staff engagement by ensuring they take regular time away from their desk, whether that’s to go out and exercise or just grab a cup of tea and stretch their legs.

Time your tasks

One of the biggest challenges with time management is when tasks and meetings overrun, eating into the rest of your plans for the day. Try allocating set times for each task and move on to something else when the time is up (provided deadlines allow). As well as breaking up your day, this also enables you to understand how long tasks really take. Rather than trying to estimate and pack more on to your list than you can manage, you’ll learn to give more realistic timeframes.  

Training and development

Focus isn’t something you’re born with, it’s more like a muscle that can be trained and managed. By investing in training tools, you can help your staff to develop better concentration and time management techniques, which are likely to lead to better productivity in the long-run. From integrating challenges into your team building activities to getting employees to take specific courses, training works best when it’s interactive, engaging and personalised to the needs of your team.

Get the worst over quickly

Got a mind-numbing spreadsheet that needs urgent attention? Or perhaps it’s an audit of the cleaning supplies? We’ve all got jobs we hate doing and love to put off until the last minute, but this only leads to further procrastination on other projects. As Mark Twain put it: “eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day”. So whatever it is you don’t enjoy, consider that your ‘frog job’. Get it done first thing and the rest of the day will immediately seem brighter and you’ll feel more engaged.

Know when to ask for help

In high-pressure industries, it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew. When you feel like you’re drowning in work, you’re likely to become less productive rather than more, leading to stress and team breakdowns. Asking for help or delegating tasks is a crucial part of time management, and absolutely essential to getting the job done. Just make sure additional tasks are divided fairly between the rest of the team to avoid any conflict.

Cut back on meetings

Before you schedule a meeting ask yourself, is it really necessary? While face to face interaction is a great tool for driving your business forward, there’s a danger that internal meetings can go around in circles. If you have to hold one, make sure you stick to the agenda so it doesn’t overrun. And if you find yourself facing disagreements or obstacles during an internal meeting, consider addressing it later in the day rather than keeping the whole team away from their desks for longer.

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