The neverending time management struggle
Is it just me, or is working from home (WFH) making time management harder than ever? I sit alone at my desk (okay, kitchen table) without the useful threat of someone looking over my shoulder to see what I’m doing. Most of the time, it’s much more appealing to listen to a podcast or scroll through Instagram than to focus on work. Before I know it, the day is almost finished and I haven’t met any of my productivity goals.
How can I manage my time effectively so I don’t end up working late to catch up after a day of distraction?
When I was in college, I was a kick-ass time manager. I finished my assignments, planned sorority events, kept my apartment clean, and still found time to go to Disneyland almost every week (RIP SoCal Select Annual Pass). Looking back on that time, I don’t know how I did it. Now, I feel accomplished if I complete half my to-do list for the day. What happened to me?
Excuse #1: Covid.
I don’t even need to elaborate.
Excuse #2: Environment.
I’m no longer in a setting where I’m surrounded by others who are working diligently. There’s something really inspiring about seeing your coworkers being productive all around you or sitting next to your fellow students in the library.
Excuse #3: Interruption.
Everywhere I look, there’s something that needs to be done. The windowsills are dusty, the garden is overgrown, and the dishes are piled up in the sink. As I write this, I’m looking at the clutter that’s consuming my workspace. Working from home makes it so difficult to ignore the chaos that is happening all around you.
Enough with the excuses already. It’s time to examine some tips and see if there’s still hope for us distracted WFHers.
- Track wasted time
This is the place to start, and it’s not fun. What I found when I started tracking my time is that I waste the most time checking messages, reading articles, and talking to my husband (he’s just so cute). None of these things are inherently bad, but they’re not a helpful addition to my workday.
It’s important to be aware of how you waste your time. You can track your time by using any number of apps or websites that show you exactly how you’re spending your time. Once you’ve tracked your time for at least a week, you’ll know your weaknesses.
- Get rid of bad habits
Once you’ve figured out what your personal kryptonite is, take action to overcome it. For me, I need to turn off notifications on my phone or put it in another room while I’m working so I don’t get tempted to check it every time it vibrates. I also need to distance myself from my husband and designate a specific time (lunch?) to share all of my jumbled thoughts with him so that I’m not periodically doing it throughout the workday.
What are your bad habits? If you’re like me, you probably have some kind of vice that is exacerbated by your phone. It’s hard to stop watching TikTok videos. Make it impossible to start watching them by keeping your phone in your bedroom while you work. Perhaps you spend a lot of time lost in your endless thoughts and anxieties. Start a meditation habit to clear your mind of unhelpful ruminations so you can focus on the tasks at hand.
There’s nothing more intimidating than a to-do list with 50+ items and no clear place to begin. Rather than starting with whatever random task you wrote down at the top of the list, take a few minutes at the beginning of your day to highlight 5-10 things that absolutely need to get finished that day.
Consider what time of day you have the most energy. For me, it’s late mornings and early evenings. I try to schedule my most important tasks for those times and save my easy tasks (answering emails, finding images for articles, editing videos) for the mid-afternoon slump.
- Set time limits
Do you ever look at the clock only to find an hour has gone by and you haven’t really accomplished anything? That typically happens to me when I’m on Medium. I get lost in searching for publications and checking my article stats. Before I realize it, an hour has passed and I have little or nothing to show for it.
Maybe for you, it’s email. Your inbox magically fills up overnight no matter how diligent you are about clearing it each day–and you get sucked into answering every little email, even when you have much more vital things to do. The best way to make sure you don’t spend the entire day on insignificant tasks is to set a time limit for them and stick to it.
- Get into a routine
I have definitely failed at this one. Well, I’ve established a routine…but it’s a routine of distraction and it’s all too easy to keep following. What I need is a revamped routine that focuses on what needs to get done rather than what I feel like doing. That way, I’ll be able to follow the routine out of habit even when my mind wants to drift off.
What does your routine look like? Maybe it has more Netflix than productivity time. Spend a few hours crafting a routine for yourself and then start implementing it. It will be painful at first, but that’s what it takes to grow.
- Schedule breaks
Okay, I’m all about the breaks…but sometimes I feel too stressed out to take a break. It may sound counterintuitive, but taking a break is exactly what needs to happen when you feel stressed. Breaks allow your mind to reset so you can come back with the focus needed to get things done.
Having a break to look forward to will also help you concentrate on the task at hand. When I know that I’ll have a short break soon (perhaps to take a walk or read a few pages of whatever novel I’m reading), I am much more determined to finish what I’m working on. Schedule periodic breaks throughout the day so you can be as productive as possible when you’re working.
Seriously, it’s a thing. Exercising clears your mind and gets rid of the dust that tends to settle there. I know it might feel like it’s tough to make time to exercise every day, but it’s truly a game-changer when it comes to time management.
If you’ve always had trouble finding the motivation to exercise, it’s time to think outside of the box. I believe everyone can find a way to exercise that suits them. Whether it’s swimming, yoga, dance, walking, running, or weightlifting, near-daily exercise is essential to cultivate your productivity. Even if you don’t feel like exercising, you’ll feel so much better afterward.
- Be productive
At some point, you’ve just got to commit to productivity. Make it your goal and your metric of success. Turn it into a zen chant if you need to. Write it on your walls. Get it tattooed on your left bicep (okay, maybe that’s a step too far).
If you have trouble concentrating, you may want to try using a wellness tool like Hapbee to help you stay alert and focused. When I use Hapbee, my brain fog clears and my productivity increases significantly. Don’t be afraid to try new things if you think they might make a difference in your time management skills. Productivity awaits!