Time stops for no one. Especially in the office.
Most people who have worked in an office environment know the feeling of looking at the clock and suddenly realising that one, two, or three hours have slipped pass without any meaningful productivity.
This can immediately set in motion a whole host of negative thoughts. You might feel worried that the boss will be disappointed, that you’re hampering your career prospects through continued poor performance, or even that the business and your own income will directly suffer from this period of low productivity.
What is particularly difficult about time management is that these negative thoughts can directly contribute to even lower levels of time management. Psychologically, this is because anxiety is a major factor in losing cognitive focus.
It’s something like a vicious cycle: you’re anxious about managing your time poorly, which leads to you managing your time even worse. If your time management habits get out of control, this can lead to very low wellbeing and—you guessed it—even worse time management.
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
In this blog, we will go through some time management tips to help make you more productive at work so you can stay healthy and reach your goals.
Treat the Symptom and the Cause at the Same Time
Was it the chicken or was it the egg that came first? With poor time management and anxiety, it doesn’t matter in the end. If you treat the anxiety directly, this will have flow-on effects for better time management.
It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to get work done faster is to step away from it. Going for a walk and getting some fresh air can reset your system, give you a shot of serotonin, and immediately boost your productivity. Do this regularly—maybe even once an hour for five minutes.
There are also some things you can do at your desk to kick the blues away. Breathing exercises and meditation are very useful. We often dismiss these kinds of remedies, probably because they seem so simple, but even just a few proper deep breaths will start to recalibrate your nervous system.
Another more active thing you can do is to take a break and do 30-60 seconds of intensive exercise. For example, dropping down next to your desk and doing twenty push-ups will provide immediate relief from anxiety. You might feel that getting pumped up is the opposite of what you need, but a hit of 30 seconds of intensive exercise can give you a hit of endorphins, lower your stress, and give you some mental clarity for 75 minutes.
By taking action against anxiety, you will directly improve your focus on your work, leading to greater use of your time.
When the brain is working hard to complete a task (either because it is difficult or boring), it will tend to seize any opportunity to stop that mental process and do something easier and more enjoyable.
In the modern world, we have become conditioned to get quick gratification from doing things like checking to see if we have any new social media messages or having a quick look at humorous photos and videos available on apps like Instagram and Tik Tok. We all know the feeling of switching tabs to a social media site and then suddenly realising that fifteen minutes have just slipped by.
You can train yourself to not divert your attention to these things. But the easiest way to avoid distraction is to put measures in place to physically disable your access to them. For example, you can turn your phone off, set lockout timers, or disable certain websites on your computer.
You may also need to block out other distractions, such as noise or conversation with your colleagues. Doing this may require using headphones and listening to music or letting your coworkers know that you can’t be disturbed for certain periods. Don’t worry about it, productivity is cool.
Break Time into Small Blocks
It’s a truism that scheduling your time will lead to better workload management. But you still need to do it effectively.
An example of poor scheduling is to allocate a three-hour block to a particular task. Most of us can’t work for three hours straight, and almost none of us can do so with any level of efficiency.
A well organised time schedule will break a day down into much smaller and more manageable blocks. So, if you have a big task, allocate three separate 55-minute blocks to it with 5-minute micro-breaks in between.
Break Tasks into Small Blocks
To complement proper time scheduling, you should also break your tasks down into more manageable blocks. For example, you may wish to set particular word-count objectives for each time block.
Exactly how you break your tasks down will be dependent upon your job and the nature of your work on any given day. To be most effective you should set objectives that are actually achievable within the set time periods. Being overly ambitious when setting objectives can actually reduce productivity because you will become dispirited and lose momentum.
It’s about keeping the scoreboard ticking over.
Improve Cognitive Focus
An underappreciated tactic for improving time management in the office is to actually train your brain to maintain better cognitive focus. If you can optimise your brain’s attention span, you will work faster and save time.
The human brain has a natural tendency to conserve cognitive resources, which unfortunately leads to easy distraction from tasks that require intensive or enduring mental effort. But you can train your brain into better mental habits.
In particular, there are many online programs available to strengthen neural pathways. These programs involve exercises designed to improve neuroplasticity, memory, and reasoning. If you strengthen the neural architecture you use in basic activities like memory games, maintaining focus for long or complex tasks will automatically improve.
Finally, another effective way of managing your time better is to give yourself rewards for working for certain periods and achieving certain objectives. These rewards could involve such things as a walk to get a coffee, an edible treat, or five minutes in the breakroom.
Setting yourself rewards will train you to be more disciplined with your time. It will also allow you to enjoy your work more, warding off negative emotions that will hamper your time management.