“You can fool everyone else, but you can't fool your own mind.” ― David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, 2002
Regardless of whether you’re preparing for a meeting, coming up with a new concept, or creating a presentation: the most fundamental requirement for efficient and effective working is maximum concentration. However, incoming e-mails and phone calls, conversations with colleagues, or social media distractions often cause our schedules to go right out the window. That means that good time management is an important element of working effectively. Accordingly, our capacity to organize ourselves better is vital in providing us with the opportunity to complete all our tasks at the end of each working day. A variety of methods and tools help bring order to the daily chaos of our working lives.
Planning and prioritizing
Step one for an efficient working life kicks in as soon as you arrive in the morning: a plan such as a traditional to-do list gives a good overview of all the tasks that need to be completed during the working day. By visualizing your tasks and breaking your day down into individual units, you get a better insight into what needs to be done. There’s nothing quite like effective prioritization during your daily planning session. From our own experience, we know that it is often impossible to complete all the day’s tasks fully, as unexpected tasks and meetings can get between you and your plans. That’s why it’s so important to prioritize and focus on the most relevant items. Don’t plan all your time out – leave 20% of the day free as a buffer for the unforeseen.
Blocking out distractions
For many people, the internet has become a part of working life that they cannot imagine doing without. However, it has its pitfalls: the risk of being distracted by Facebook, Twitter, news sites and your favorite blogs is extremely high. Even a quick glance at a page can distract you from the task at hand. Apps such as Freedom or SelfControl can help in this respect, allowing you to block specific sites for a given period, so that they cannot be accessed from your own computer.
Little things first
Are there important phone calls, forms to be filled in, or e-mails to be answered on your agenda? Precisely these small but unpleasant tasks can sit on your to-do list all day long and yet never get done – leading to frustration and making it even harder to get going on the next working day. For that reason, you should start your day by ticking these items off your list. By completing several small tasks in the first few hours at work, you don’t just gain in terms of time management: you also benefit from a psychological effect. Your inner monolog reminds you that you’ve already achieved something that day – and your next tasks become much more manageable as a result. What matters is ensuring that you don’t let yourself get distracted. In particular, incoming e-mails that contain important information that isn’t relevant to the task at hand can quickly shift your focus and cause confusion. Apps such as Reply Later, which lets you re-send e-mails to yourself at a given time in the future, mean that these e-mails don’t get overlooked but make their way to your inbox when they are more immediately relevant instead.
Writing down tasks and appointments
This sounds so obvious, yet many people still find it difficult. A well-managed diary makes all the difference to effective time management. Without a properly managed schedule, tasks and appointments cannot be planned effectively, which in turn increases your stress levels. Traditional diaries and calendars suit people who’ve been working with them for a long time, but those who are just starting out may do better with a digital version. The major benefit is that appointments can be stored on multiple devices, such as computers and smartphones, and can therefore be accessed from anywhere. Moreover, appointments can be shown on the screen at the right time via a reminder with sounds, vibrations, or pop-ups, making it almost impossible to miss them. Alongside the classic Outlook calendar or iCal, apps such as Wunderlist or Evernote are ideally suited for organizing your daily schedule.
Reducing meetings to a minimum
Interaction and communication are important to ensure effective collaboration – and so meetings are a necessary and desirable aspect of the daily routine. Nonetheless, you should treat them with care: with a regular meeting here and a round table there, a day can disappear so quickly that you barely have any time to be truly productive. For that reason, you should always ask yourself before calling a meeting whether the meeting is truly necessary and who really needs to take part. Often, a short update at your desk or a group e-mail are sufficient to share all important information. Every meeting takes you away from your workflow, and for that reason, meetings should be reduced to a minimum.
If you have a goal in mind, you work with greater concentration, more quickly, and more efficiently, which is why it is important to break your work down into achievable milestones. This even applies when you’re working on a very large, long-term project. Only by recognizing your small successes can you retain your overall focus. Whether your goals are daily, weekly, or monthly, they should all be clearly formulated and, wherever possible, visualized as well. If you constantly keep your goals in mind, you’ll be less vulnerable to distractions, you’ll allocate your time smarter, and as you achieve each goal, you’ll have more motivation as you take your next steps.
Finding your own rhythm
Everyone has their own natural rhythm, even at work. While some people do their best work early in the morning, others only function after the third cup of coffee and only get into their stride in the afternoon. That’s why it’s particularly important for everyone to find their own rhythm and manage their time individually. When am I at my most creative during the day? When am I running on empty? If you know your own natural working rhythm, you can schedule your day and your tasks around that in order to maximize your productivity. It’s important to remember to take breaks, too: short breaks in your routine, and a longer break when you consciously leave your desk, work wonders to help you keep a clear head.
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