Meetings, emails, reports, study, more meetings, more emails… oh and fitting in a lunch break before the next task. With no way to pause time, it can be a daily challenge to get everything done. However, with good time management skills, you can be more effective with your time, making the daily juggle less daunting when tasks actually get completed!
Last October, I started a degree apprenticeship which required balancing time between studying for a degree and working in a full-time role. As such, I’ve picked up some useful tips for managing my time more effectively. Whilst I haven’t found a way to add more hours to the day, the below tips might help to make the most of the hours we do have…
1. Task boards and lists
When organising your time, a task board or task list is a great place to start. Whether you do a weekly plan and/or a daily list, capturing all the tasks you need to complete helps create daily, achievable goals and breaks bigger tasks into more manageable chunks. In the age of technology, digital Kanban boards, such as Trello, are great tools for visualising and keeping track of your tasks. You can add task deadlines, categorise tasks, and track progress.
When creating your schedule, make sure to prioritise tasks based on their importance and urgency but remember to be realistic with your time! Don’t try to do too many tasks in one day, as you will only be disappointed when you haven’t completed them.
Similar to the organisational benefits of a task board/list, the calendar is great for keeping track of milestones and deadlines, as well as being a very useful tool for introducing routine into your ways of working.
Milestones/Deadlines: It is very easy to accept meetings, projects, and other opportunities, but without reminders, it can become just as easy to forget about deadlines; you can therefore become overwhelmed and overworked during the delivery period. This is especially true when balancing multiple assessments with work commitments.
Capturing key dates and deadlines in your calendar as early as possible will help you manage your time. Instead of trying to cram in big tasks or assessments at the last minute, as soon as you know when something is due, put the date into your calendar. You can then plan your time accordingly, splitting the work into stages that can be spread out around your other work responsibilities. This is also a good opportunity to add in a buffer period to factor in where delays or other commitments can change your plans.
Putting the dates into your calendar is also useful for balancing the work you accept. If you can see you have an important deadline, you can be more realistic about the work you can receive and complete whilst still working to deliver your task on time. If you know you will be busy, you can say no, delegate, or reschedule the tasks to when you have more capacity.
Routine: Whether you need time to study or have recurring/administrative tasks, putting a regular focus time into your week helps you keep on top of the activities that can easily be neglected for more important tasks. Having a dedicated weekly slot can be particularly useful for studying, as you can then plan out what you will focus on each week, adding more structure to your work and making better use of your time.
Whilst it might be tempting to work on multiple things at the same time, for example, working on a report whilst also replying to emails, this can actually be more detrimental to your time. The distraction from one task can mean more time is needed to get back into the flow when you return. It is advisable to set clear times for how long you want to work on a certain task and don’t move on until this time is up. This way you can focus on dedicating your time to a single task and doing it well.
Tip for avoiding distractions: If you are wanting to focus on a task, turn off notifications and make your colleagues aware you are focusing. When working remotely, most collaboration tools, such as Teams, have status settings. If you set your status to do not disturb, this stops messages from popping up and pulling your attention away from your task. This is great for those who are unable to resist replying to that quick question.
4. Filing Systems
Sticking to the theme of organisation and preparation for good time management, having a logical and well-maintained filing system for emails and documents is very useful for finding and keeping track of important information. This will reduce the time wasted trying to find that one email or document needed to complete a task. If you use Outlook, look into setting rules to filter your emails, as well as using the flag, actions, reminders, and category features to stay on top of tasks.
5. Take Breaks
Perhaps counterintuitive when trying to get the most out of your day but it is very important to take regular breaks! Taking a break boosts your energy and improves your concentration levels, ultimately allowing you to be more productive.
Tips for taking a break:
- Change your environment – if possible, leave your desk and go to a different location. This will help you to focus on something other than work. When you come back, you will have a clear mind and might be able to approach a previous blocker with a new approach.
- Be active - try to do some form of exercise, even if this is just a walk to the kettle for a cup of tea, or simply standing up and stretching.
- Refuel and hydrate – to stay energised and focused, make sure you are having enough water throughout the day.
Whether you are an apprentice like me or just someone looking for ideas on how to better manage your time, hopefully, the above tips will give some pointers on where to start!