In the pursuit of properly balancing work and life, work is often considered the culprit; the “villain” that takes time away from the people and activities we most want to devote our attention to. Whether or not that’s true for you (and we hope you actually really enjoy your work!), there is something to be said for managing your time at work well, so you can spend more precious time with the people you want to be with and on the things you want to do in your life.
These are our six top tips to help you better manage your time at the office, so you can spend more time living the rest of your well-designed life:
This isn’t the first time we’ve encouraged you to plan your days ahead of time—ideally, on Sundays or every evening before bed—and it won’t be the last. That’s what paper planners like the Day Designer are for, after all! Unfortunately, you likely can’t just plan once (the night before, let’s say) and consider your schedule set. You’ll probably need to be flexible—moving a project higher on your to-do list thanks to an early morning email from your boss or canceling an appointment to pick up a sick child at school. So yes, plan your day the night before—but make time to come back to your plan in the morning and throughout your day to update your plans as needed.
Prioritize Your Plans
We know you’ve already got your day planned out, but have you thought about which tasks should come first? Not all to-dos on your list are created equal, and it’s easy to think that because something is urgent to someone else it should also be urgent for you. Once you’ve planned what you need to get done in a day, take an honest look at your list and figure out what is your highest priority and what is . . . well, not. Identify the top three things that need to get done, then list the rest in order of priority, knowing that your focus will be on the most important, urgent tasks first. Analysis paralysis is a real thing, so just having a list of things to do won’t stop overwhelm; nip it in the bud by getting clear on what needs to get done first. Then do it.
Turn Your To-Dos into Time Blocks
While to-do lists are a helpful (albeit often overwhelming) account of everything you need to get done, they’re not entirely realistic until they’re plugged into your calendar. Take your to-do list, pull out your planner, and schedule time not just for the appointments, meetings, and events in your life, but for the everyday tasks that need to get done, too. You may quickly find that there was more on your to-do list than you could realistically get done in a day. This is good news! (And also totally normal—we all overestimate how much we can get done in a day.) Since you know your priorities now, make sure they have space on your daily calendar; then, move anything else to your next available time slot tomorrow.
Plan for Distractions & Interruptions
Yes, you read that right—plan for the conversations, activities, and emails that will try to derail your perfectly-planned day. In an ideal world, there would be no distractions or interruptions, of course—or, at least, you’d be able to quickly eliminate them. But even the most well-designed lives don’t always live up to the ideal. The solution is to design those distractions into your life, as well! Schedule some buffer time for the distractions and interruptions—both from your coworkers, family, or email, and from your own daydreaming, text messaging, and idly watching Instagram stories. When you’ve planned for the things that take you off-track, you’ll likely find that you stay more on-track (and in control of your schedule) than ever.
Track Your Time
Start tracking how you spend each hour for your day. Try it for a week. You’ll quickly get a more realistic grasp of how long certain tasks take . . . and where you’re simply wasting time. Don’t beat yourself up about it; just use this information to manage your time better in the future. What tasks or activities are a total time-suck? Can you eliminate them from your schedule or at least put a time limit on them? If you see that it only takes 25 (focused) minutes to prepare for your weekly team meeting, can you block off those weekly 25 minutes in your planner right now? Also, try to identify the activities that bring you the most results. The Pareto Principle says that 20% of our causes bring in 80% of our effects. So what is your 20%? Figure that out, and allow for more of that in your schedule on a weekly, or even daily, basis. The point of planning your days is not just to use your time, but to use it well.
Give Yourself Grace
This last one seems simple, but it’s probably the most important. We could give you all of the time management tips in the world, but the fact is, sometimes it just won’t all get done. There will be days where you feel like you’re consistently putting out “fires,” days where you spend more time in your inbox than with your kids, days where it seems like not a single thing got done (though you could swear you were busy all day)! We get it. We’ve been there, too. And it’s okay. That’s life. Give yourself grace, knowing that you’re consistently doing the best you can. Then, get out your planner, knowing tomorrow is a new day—and you can plan for a better one.