Time Management | By Duncan Haughey | Read time minutes
During COVID-19 lockdowns, many of us have been working from home - sometimes productively, sometimes not. Truthfully, I get it - it's easy to get distracted by a basket of dirty laundry or grass that needs mowing. It's easy to communicate ineffectively, get distracted, fall into a rut, or be inefficient because we're not prioritising.
Managing our time effectively to get work done is essential to getting the job done. And doing so requires avoiding the pitfalls that kill our productivity and efficiency. Here are my top tips on how to avoid those pitfalls and maximise your time when you're working from home.
Too Much Reliance on Email
Sometimes you just need to pick up the phone and talk to people. This statement is particularly true when there's an urgent or complex matter. I've observed a tendency to rely solely on email, thinking the act of sending an email completes the job.
But if you rely solely on email communication and something goes wrong, you'll have failed due to ineffective communication.
So what can you do? Start by choosing the right communication medium.
The Right Communication Choice
Picking a suitable communication medium at the right time is essential to ensuring you maximise your time and productivity. Let's look at an example. What are the advantages of phone or video calls versus emails?
Advantages of Phone or Video Calls
Making direct calls - whether voice or video - makes it easier to ask questions and give feedback. It's also vastly easier to reach an agreement and usually much, much quicker
Compared to sending emails back and forth for several days, phone or video calls are undoubtedly preferable.
Disadvantages of Phone or Video Calls
At the same time, communication by phone or video calls is oral, which means decisions and agreements will still have to be written down and confirmed in an email. Calls can also sometimes lead to conversations that are too casual and waste time.
The bottom line: Picking the best communication medium at the right time will help you get work done and reduce the stress caused by work piling up. So before you fire up your email or make a call, assess whether it's the right medium to achieve your desired outcome most efficiently.
The Usual 9 to 5
Many of us stick rigidly to a 9 to 5 routine working from home. Perhaps it feels familiar, and indeed, sometimes maintaining this schedule is absolutely required. However, many of us can flex our working hours to provide a better work-life balance. Yet just because we can, doesn't mean we actually do. But why don't we?
More important, how can we flex our working hours to create more balance? Below are a few suggestions.
Get Out More
When we're working from home, we often stay pretty well-planted at home, dragging ourselves through the day slogging away at our desks when a break would actually do us some good.
A walk in nature for 30 minutes might be all that is needed to feel revitalised and motivated to get work done.
Clear the Clutter
Don't be afraid to do personal jobs that you can't seem to get out of your mind - like that laundry piling up or the grass that needs mowing. Go ahead and tackle those things. Often, getting them out of the way frees up brain space for work tasks.
Mix It Up
Who says you can't mix work and personal life? The truth is, sometimes we have to - and that's okay. When feeling exhausted on a Friday afternoon, for instance, I give myself permission to finish early and leave a few tasks for the weekend. Then I rise early Saturday morning and get them out of the way.
Don't be afraid to mix things up with the work/personal schedule when doing so means you're better off physically and mentally and can be more productive.
Take a Break
Give your brain a twice-daily break for 10 minutes with no emails, phone/video calls or texts, meetings or social media. You'll feel better, clear your mind and be ready to face the rest of your day with more focus.
Urgent Versus Important
Your efficiency and productivity ultimately depend on your ability to distinguish between urgent and important tasks. If you're like me, you'll likely receive many urgent requests for your time and attention on a day-to-day basis. And often, the requests are urgent because the requester has left work until the last minute and their deadline is looming.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower best described this dynamic using what he called the urgent/important principle. Want to not be that person, the one who leaves everything to the last minute with a deadline looming? Apply this principle, which is outlined below:
Eisenhower's urgent/important principle consists of four task categories:
- Urgent and important: Things that demand your attention now
- Not urgent but important: Items that have to be done, but not right now
- Urgent and not important: Items that aren't critical, but can help if you feel the need to achieve something when you've had a bad day
- Not urgent and not important: Low-priority tasks quite often forgotten
Using this principle can ensure you do the right tasks in the finite amount of time you have available. Don't make the mistake of focusing too much on the urgent and not important tasks before the urgent and important ones. At the same time, ignoring not urgent but important tasks will inevitably mean they become urgent and important tasks, leaving you unnecessarily under pressure.
Avoid all of that by using Eisenhower's principle. When you get used to categorising your task list, you'll be able to better achieve your work objectives.
We have all struggled with work in some way at some point in our careers, but no more so than after a year of working from home. But it doesn't have to be that way.
If we get organised, look after our well-being and learn to distinguish between urgent and important, we can get work done effectively working from home.
I certainly miss the office and being with my team. I've also come to realise how much I appreciate those casual interactions at the coffee machine and over lunch. And I can't wait to be back. But until then, I'm going to take my own advice to ensure I'm making the very best use of my time working from home. What about you?
Project Manager Productivity Hacks: 2021 Edition by Nigel Creaser. What if you could get out of the office earlier and with more stuff done? In this book, you will find some relatively simple tools and techniques to do just that.
Recommended read: 10 Tips for Managing Time Effectively by Meggie Nahabedian.