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Time Management

Via Forbes : Time Management Techniques For Work-Life Integration

Despite all the talk and best efforts, work-life balance remains elusive for many professionals. The generic advice about how to structure our time fails to account for each individual’s income requirements, career goals and personal values. When you fall short of “having it all” — the successful career, the storybook family life, the active gym membership, the eight hours of sleep — the outcome is guilt, stress and shame. In a nutshell, these emotions only hinder growth.

No one can be in two places at once. Expending effort in one area of life causes guilt in another. Long hours at work, for example, can result in a cycle of negative self-talk: “I’m letting my family down by staying at the office so late.” Conversely, leaving work early to join a child’s field trip can cause thoughts like, “I have so much to do at work. I really shouldn’t be here.” These statements only add more guilt and shame, and the vicious cycle continues.

Fortunately, it is possible to have a successful career and live in accordance with your values. The key is to understand what works for you. You can also shift your approach, maybe embracing the term “work-life integration.” Just making that subtle pivot in language will help.

The Tool

Start this integration by identifying where you would really like to focus your energy.

You can use an energy chart, similar to the one below, to provide a fantastic visual representation of where you are now and where you want to be. The energy chart allocates how much energy you spend in each of your “essential roles.” Create your own chart by first calculating your total daily waking hours.

Next, over the course of a week, record how much time you spend on each intrinsically fulfilling activity daily, both as time and a percentage. For example, if you spend 10% of your time exercising, you would assign “10” as your energy allocation for that activity. You can also include activities that you’d like to incorporate into your life. If you would like to start meditating, for example, assign it “0” since you currently spend 0% of your energy on meditation.

Typically, clients will include eight to 10 activities, but there is no right number. For your chart key, create color-coded rectangles for each activity.

Now map out how you wish to spend your time. Being a visual creature, having a chart of what you value makes it far easier to stay accountable to your goals. Having your current and future life charts side-by-side will show you whether you are living in alignment with your core. This may just be the motivation you need to kickstart your journey.

Taking Action

With a mechanism in place, it’s now time to start acting toward your goals. Begin by figuring out how you might be able to get back more time for yourself. Some, for example, choose to wake up 30 minutes earlier to fit in something they love, whether meditating, walking the dog or journaling.

Next, look at how you are “wasting” your waking hours. How much time do you spend scrolling social media or browsing the internet? In front of the TV or shopping? You might be surprised at how quickly these numbers add up. Twenty minutes per day on social media is 2.3 hours per week. Ask yourself if this time would be better spent on any of the essential roles in your future energy chart.

Next, evaluate how you can strategically shift your schedule. Say, for example, you currently do laundry after your kids go to bed. Could you do laundry when they are doing homework instead and use the time after they’re in bed to treat yourself to an at-home yoga session or a nice bath? Of course, routines are powerful. Be determined to approach this from a flexible perspective.

Then identify the barriers preventing you from doing what you love. If you find yourself overloaded with work, for example, delegate more. If you find that housework falls entirely on you, talk to your family and provide specific ways they can help. Ultimately, if you spot an unfair “time-suck” in any aspect of your life, don’t be afraid to speak up about it.

Now ensure you are allocating your newfound time toward the activities you identified in your future energy chart. If you’ve made time to exercise, for example, set a goal, whether that’s running a 5K or going to the gym three times per week. Think about ways to help you stay accountable to that goal. Maybe find a gym buddy or track your progress in a notebook or in an app. Think creatively about how you can optimize every second of the time you find for yourself. After all, time is finite — it’s truly your most precious resource.

Lastly, treat your energy chart as a living document. Make a note to come back to it periodically to ensure you’re on track. As you make progress, your current energy chart will evolve, and the preferences on your future chart will likely change, too. Alas, all change requires some type of tool or method. In this case, a little rigor will create much happiness, lower stress and maybe even increase longevity. Go forth and see how worthwhile it really is.

via Business 2 Community : 10 Tips for Time Management Within the Workplace 

On average, we spend 8 hours a day at work. We show up at 9am, and leave by 5, that’s 480 minutes, or 28,800 seconds! Yet we complain that there is never enough time in the day. We’re rushing to complete tasks at 4:30 because we desperately want to leave on time. Soon enough, we realize it’s 6 p.m, and we still have work to finish, that we later put off and say we’ll get to tomorrow. It’s a vicious cycle that occurs in every workplace, regardless of what industry you’re in. It’s up to you as an individual to find tips and tricks, so that we can be our most productive self at work. 

As a Project Manager, it’s my job to be efficient and organized. Here are 10 tips that I use to manage my time more productively, which I hope you find helpful.

1. Question Yourself

It’s easy to get caught up in the mundane, day-to-day tasks. Therefore, a great approach to any task that you find yourself doing, is to pause and ask yourself. “Is this the best use of my time?”, or “Are there more pressing things I should be doing?”. I often find myself jumping into a variety of tasks that aren’t that critical, so this approach has allowed me to assess and evaluate the importance of my immediate tasks.

2. Shut Your Door and Plug In

In many working environments, you will be surrounded by fellow coworkers or subordinates. It’s easy to get distracted or off topic, and therefore isolating yourself is sometimes the best approach when you want to be productive. Whether it’s plugging in earphones or closing your door, don’t feel bad for doing whatever is necessary to finish your work.

3. Tame Your Technology

We all fall victim to this: checking our phones unnecessarily, going on social media 8 or 9 times a day, and even monitoring our inbox multiple times to see if we received anything new. Allocating time for checking and replying to emails is important, but don’t let that take up your whole day. That, along with browsing social media can take up a large chunk of your work time. Being conscience of this can greatly reduce the amount of wasted work hours.

4. Clear the Clutter

As the saying goes, a clear desk is a reflective of a clear mind. Having a messy desk or workstation creates unneeded stress for both you and others around you. Try to keep your space clean and have the same expectation of your peers.

5. Write it Down

One of the most common lies I tell myself is, “I’ll remember this”, or “I don’t need to remember this”. A common practice is to write everything down. Always have a notebook on hand because you never know when an important piece of information will be given to you. Being able to remember the details of it will reduce the time you spend remembering or retracting your steps to find the missing information.

6. Organize Paper To-Do’s

Creating action items and organizing it into immediate and not immediate tasks categories can greatly increase your task efficiency. When writing tasks down, ask yourself if what you’re currently doing is the best use of your time.One must have an organized idea of the urgency of each individual task. Understanding this will help allocate your working hours to the must immediate or time-sensitive deliverable.

7. Schedule It

A lot of people make to-do lists but never actually get around to completing their to-do’s. If this is a challenge for you, creating dates and times in which you want to complete a task will allow you to better organize your time and generate a greater understanding of what’s delaying you or taking longer than it should.

8. 30 Seconds or Less

Not all tasks are created equal, nor do they all take the same time to complete. Being able to analyze a task as it comes in, and assessing whether or not you can quickly address it, is a great time management skill to learn. Getting things off your plate quickly will allow you to address more pressing tasks within your work day.

9. Sometimes, It’s Okay to Procrastinate

It’s not always the best use of your time for you to tackle a task right when it comes in. Let routine, time-consuming items with no set deadline pile up, and tackle them all at once. This process can only happen after you clearly understand the deliverables needed for a task, and the number of other tasks left to do.

10. Consolidate Routine Actions

Finally, being able to combine routine tasks into a large batch is a great way to cut down the time wasted jumping from one action to another. Actively being able to set your brain to something it can do well allows you to power through it quicker. If you were to jump from large tasks to routine ones, it will slow down the process of both.

Ultimately, these are all tips that can help influence better time management in the workplace. Some might resonate more than others, and some you might be implementing already, but in the end, it’s the conscious effort of being aware of yourself and your surroundings that lead to the best management of yourself.

via The New York Times : How to make the most of your workday

Do you often find your workday spiraling out of control? You start each day with a plan to get so much done, but soon find yourself becoming distracted, focusing on low-priority tasks and, simply, procrastinating. So how can you regain control of your time? One-size-fits-all lists on how to be more productive don’t work; we’ll outline productivity techniques that can be adapted to your personality and working style.

Three Basics of Productivity

Use these principles to help guide you through your workday.

All workers and workdays are unique. With fewer companies and employees adhering to a traditional 9-to-5 day, the differences in our workdays are becoming more pronounced. But putting those differences aside, three overarching ideas apply to all our productivity tips:

1. Trust the small increments. You can’t expect to change years of working habits overnight. Small changes in how you work can gradually add up to big changes in productivity. Try one tip to start, and keep adding more as you find the strategies that work best for you.

2. Be accountable. Whether it’s weekly check-ins with a co-worker or setting your own deadlines and announcing them to others, having to answer to someone else can often force you to get the job done.

3. Forgive yourself. You are human: Accept that you are sometimes going to slip up, become distracted and have a bad day. It’s more important to move on than to dwell on your mistakes.

For the Multitasker

If you’re trying to do three things at once, you’re often accomplishing very little.

A BIOLOGICAL IMPOSSIBILITY

Think you can get more done by juggling multiple tasks at the same time? Try calling your co-worker while typing an e-mail and checking your Facebook page. You may feel as if you’re being productive, but you’re probably not getting any of those tasks done efficiently.

We all have a limited amount of cognitive bandwidth — the number of thoughts and memories we can hold in our minds at any given time. Your brain may delude itself into thinking that it has more capacity than it really does, but it’s really working extra hard to handle multiple thoughts at once when you are switching back and forth between tasks. Your ability to get things done depends on how well you can focus on one task at a time, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour.

“Multitasking is not humanly possible,” said Earl K. Miller, a neuroscience professor at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

MORE ERRORS AND LESS CREATIVITY

When you multitask, you tend to make more mistakes. When you toggle back and forth between tasks, the neural networks of your brain must backtrack to figure out where they left off and then reconfigure, Dr. Miller said. That extra activity causes you to slow down, and errors become more likely.

“People are much more efficient if they monotask,” he said.

Trying to multitask also impedes creativity, he said. Truly innovative thinking arises when we allow our brains to follow a logical path of associated thoughts and ideas, and this is more likely when we can focus on a single mental pathway for an extended period.

The brain is like a muscle: It becomes stronger with use, Dr. Miller said. As with physical exercise, the more we strengthen our mental connections by focusing on one task to the exclusion of all others, the better we can perform.

HOW TO MONOTASK

To the best of your ability, set up a work environment that encourages the performing of one task at a time. It’s probably not realistic to think that we can block off hours at a time for a single task, but even committing to monotask for five minutes can yield productivity benefits.

Here are a few small changes you can make:

Remove temptation: Actively resist the urge to check unrelated social media while you are working on a task. Some workers may need to go so far as to install anti-distraction programs like SelfControl, Freedom, StayFocusd and Anti-Social, which block access to the most addictive parts of the internet for specified periods.

Work on just one screen: Put away your cellphone and turn off your second monitor.

Move: If you find yourself losing focus – reading the same sentence over and over or if your mind continually wanders off topic – get up and briefly walk around, Dr. Miller said. A brief walk around your office can lift your mood, reduce hunger and help you refocus.

Work in intervals: Set a timer for five or 10 minutes and commit to focusing on your assignment for that amount of time. Then allow yourself a minute of distraction, as long as you get back on your task for another five or 10 minutes.

WHEN DISTRACTIONS TAKE OVER

The tendency to become distracted is primal, so forgive yourself if you do. It arose in our earliest days as humans, when we needed to respond instantly to lions, tigers and other predators that threatened us, said Dr. Miller. Every sensory input was deeply interesting, and our response to it was sometimes a matter of life or death. Our brain has not let go of this ancient survival mechanism; we still crave that informational tap on the shoulder, he said.

Fortunately, the more we work on focusing on one task at a time and ignoring distractions, the more we exercise the prefrontal cortex – the more evolved part of our brains. Then it becomes easier to focus.

For the Procrastinator

Accountability – whether it’s to yourself or to another person – can be crucial to your productivity.

BE ACCOUNTABLE

To combat procrastination, find an accountability partner. This can be a colleague or a manager, whose role is to receive regular progress reports on your project. The person you choose will have to take his or her role seriously, expressing disappointment if you have not achieved your goal, and appreciation if you have. Some inveterate procrastinators even agree on a set of rewards or punishments to go along with their deadlines, depending on what motivates them the most. A reward could be a free lunch; a punishment could be an email to the department announcing that a deadline was not met.

STAY ON TRACK

To-do lists work to keep you accountable because they help you stay on the path to getting your most important work done – if you use them effectively, that is.

Before you leave work for the day, make a list of five to eight goals that you would like to accomplish the following day, said Julie Morgenstern, a time management expert based in New York. On a separate list add any personal errands that need to be done that day — like booking a flight for a vacation or buying a birthday gift. That list should contain no more than two or three items. Be realistic about what you can accomplish in a day of work, and resist the urge to make a to-do list for the whole week, which can leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

Make the items on your to-do list specific, realistic and simple — don’t secretly pack eight or 10 tasks inside one huge item, like “finish project.” Instead, break your project into small, discrete components.

TO-DO LIST DOWNSIDES

Because our primal mind craves distraction, the classic to-do list can prevent interruptions from taking over your day. But humans are also vulnerable to so-called “structured procrastination,” where in order to avoid working on a hard task, they spend time on a much easier one. Answering an email or liking a post on Facebook can be a form of structured procrastination. Writing your to-do list can also be a form of structured procrastination. So, give yourself five minutes or less to write a to-do list each morning. Keep it focused and short, so you’re not spending more time checking off items than actually completing them.

LIST KEEPERS

Some people like to keep their lists on paper – making emphatic and satisfying checkmarks whenever they complete a task. Others prefer the computer route. If that’s the case, many apps are available, including these:

  • Todoist: This app works well across many platforms and is rich with features like reminders, notes and the ability to sync your lists with your devices.
  • Remember the Milk: This one includes a feature that allow users to share tasks with others, like coworkers and family members.
  • Evernote: This note-taking app allows you to create to-do lists in the form of personal notebooks.

To avoid confusion, pick either paper or digital for your lists, as it can be hard to manage both.

At Your Desk

Where you work can be just as important as how you work.

WHAT YOUR DESK SAYS ABOUT YOU

There’s no one right way to organize a desk. But your physical workspace can have a big effect on productivity. It “can either energize you or deplete your energy,” said Ms. Morgenstern, the time management expert.
In general, only 25 percent of a desk’s messiness is related to organizational skills, Ms. Morgenstern maintains – the rest is tied to time management. “Every paper on your desk has a task associated with it, and that task is going to take time.” Have you factored in enough time to get it all done? Out-of-control piles of paper may be a sign that you need to delegate, she said.

Ask yourself: Are the piles on your desk the same ones that were there three weeks ago, or are they moving? As long as they’re not stagnant, you’re probably doing O.K. with some clutter, Ms. Morgenstern said.

In most cases, keep your desk clear except for the project you are tackling at the moment, along with the equipment you need to complete it, she said. You should also create a space for an “in zone” – brand new things that have just come in – and an “out zone” for things that are finished and need to be distributed.

One of the easiest ways to start to change your work space is to spend the last 10 minutes of your workday readying your desk for the next day. Then you won’t have to start your day with yesterday’s mess, Ms. Morgenstern said. Starting out with a desk prepared for the day ahead could have a powerful effect on your mind-set and productivity.

For Computer Users (Everyone)

As much as they speed up the pace of work, computers can slow things down, too.

KNOW YOUR COMPUTER

Not understanding the capabilities of your computer can be a serious hindrance to your productivity. Some people fear that asking for tech help will make them look incompetent, but in fact the opposite is true, according to research.

Ask for technology advice when you think a computer or online task is taking longer than it should. It could be that you don’t know how to use a particular type of technology efficiently, or you don’t know what a company’s past practices have been in a certain area. Make an effort to seek out the people who can fill in your knowledge gaps, while being respectful of their time and responsibilities.

Managers can assist in this process by offering regular information sessions and company-specific manuals related to technology like email, Excel, Microsoft Word, Slack and others. A mentorship program is another option.

TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR INBOX

Do you find yourself constantly stopping to check your email? Email is an ideal way to practice structured procrastination — when you work on an easy, unimportant task rather than tackle a harder, important one.

Email is like life: It is messy, imperfect, full of surprises, and everybody handles it differently. There is no perfect email system. Experts may promote the value of techniques like “Inbox Zero,” where you try to clear your inbox every day, but even if your inbox is empty, your work life – with all its unanswered questions, incomplete projects and challenging problems – will remain full. Embrace the daily challenge of keeping your work life under control by using email as your ally rather than your nemesis.

Here are a few techniques that can help make your email work for you:

  • Set aside dedicated times every day to process email. This could be a few times a day or five minutes every hour, Ms. Morgenstern, the time management expert said. “Give email your undivided attention when you’re working on it,” she said.
  • Divide email into groups. As you scan your email, sort the messages into two groups: those requiring quick responses and those needing thoughtful ones. Try the “two-minute rule,” as popularized by David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done.” If you can dispense with an email in two minutes, do it now; if not, do it later at a scheduled time. If emails are going to require a few days of thought, buy yourself some time by acknowledging receipt that day and saying you will respond later. Make it a point to follow through.
  • Try to identify the emails you are actively avoiding. Often there is an emotional component to emails you avoid, Ms. Morgenstern said, because they involve saying “no” to someone or making a difficult decision. Instead of procrastinating on replying, you will likely save time by responding in person or on the phone, where your tone and personality will come through more readily, rather than trying to write the perfect diplomatic response in an email.
  • Turn off notifications. Some email experts advise checking email only two or three times a day, but in many work environments this is not realistic – an all-important message from the boss or a client may need a quick response. But almost anything can wait for 20 minutes. So, turn off your email notifications for 20 to 30 minutes when you need to focus on something else.

GET HELP

Spend a week or two identifying the email issues that consistently frustrate you or slow you down. Then, find an “email guru” in your company and see if that person would be willing to sit down with you for a half-hour to explain the various capabilities of your email system. Your guru could be a super-efficient co-worker or someone from tech support, but it should be someone who can show you how to use built-in features that you may not be aware of, like filters that can block unimportant messages and send them to spam. Ask about how you can use labels, folders, filters, archives, starred messages, unsubscribe lists and other features to help you spend less time on email.

No email guru in your office? There are plenty of online resources for email management tips. But if a particular technique doesn’t work for you, abandon it.

For Those Who Power Through

It’s no surprise that the way you treat your body can affect the way your mind works.

MOVE MORE

Working continuously and for long hours does not mean you’re getting more done. Sometimes the best way to get something done is not to work on it for a while.

Sitting for long periods of time is just plain bad for you, but it’s also bad for your ability to be productive. Standing up and moving around improves blood flow to the brain, which enhances cognition. Alan Hedge, an ergonomics professor at Cornell, suggests that workers try a combination of sitting, standing and walking to keep altering their body position and give their minds a break from work.

How to Make Desk Work More Productive

A timed combination of sitting, standing and walking can help you work at your best.

  1. Sit for 20 minutes and work.
  2. Stand for eight minutes and work.
  3. Stop working and take a walk for two minutes.
  4. Repeat.

TAKE LONG BREAKS

Where were you the last time you had a great idea? Your desk? Or was it when you were in the shower, while you were walking your dog or driving your kids to school?

Working a 10- to 12-hour day may earn you points with some bosses, but it’s not great for creativity. Instead of powering through, consider intentionally taking a break from a large project for up to 10 hours. That will allow new ideas to marinate in your subconscious, causing your neurons to make new connections.

Sleep is one of the most effective ways to take a long break, so try not to give it short shrift. Research shows that sleep allows our brains to make new and unexpected connections, leading to insights and breakthroughs — which explains why we so often have brilliant ideas during our morning shower.

Learn to identify the signs of mental fatigue, like reading the same sentence over and over websites or writing emails with no real goals or priorities in mind. Don’t feel guilty about taking a break, or leaving for the day when you can think that your brain needs time to recharge.

TRY A NAP

It’s pretty common to feel a “post-lunch dip” in the midafternoon. Your body naturally wants to go to sleep about seven hours after waking, and this is amplified by the effects of digestion. Unfortunately, this biological reality collides with an economic one: Most offices frown on napping.

If it’s possible to take a 20-minute “power nap” at work (for example if you work at home), by all means do so. To best increase your energy, it may be a good idea to drink a cup of coffee before your nap. Research has shown that this method likely works because the short power nap helps clear the brain of the sleep-inducing compound adenosine. Caffeine, meanwhile, takes about 20 minutes to have its physiological effect — kicking in just as the napper is awakening.

If a nap is out of the question, however, train yourself to quickly recognize the signs of the post-lunch dip: drowsiness and an inability to concentrate. Then, get up and walk around, talk to a colleague at another desk or work on something less demanding of your brain power until the sleepiness passes.

FIGHT STRESS

When we feel overwhelmed at work, our fight-or-flight response tends to come into play, leading us to take quick, shallow breaths. This sends less oxygen to the brain, causing us to become even more stressed and to think less clearly. Counteract the effects of stress by breathing more efficiently.

Most people are vertical breathers, in that their shoulders move up when they inhale, according to Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist and breath instructor. Many people also breathe from their upper chest, whereas the biggest part of the lungs is in the middle of the body.

Horizontal breathing may seem unnatural at first, but it is actually the way animals and small children breathe. Working with your body rather than against it, you will maximize the blood flow to your brain – and your mental capacity.

PAY ATTENTION TO POSTURE

When you feel stressed, you may start to lift your shoulders up toward your ears, clench your face or tense up all over. Over time, these actions become so habitual that you become unaware of them. The purpose of good posture is to expand our bodies rather than to compress them. Good posture allows you to breathe more fully, prevent chronic pain and think more clearly.

As you do your work, try to be aware of any excess tension you are holding in your body. For example, you may tense up your hands far more than necessary when you type or use a mouse. If you start to feel any tension, try to stretch that area of your body.

This exercise is a component of the Alexander Technique, a way of learning about how to rid your body of harmful tension. According to Lindsay Newitter, owner of the Posture Police in New York, this technique warns of a practice called “end gaining,” where people try to get ahead of themselves and lose sight of the present. When you see people hunched forward in front of their screens, chances are they are end gaining. Good posture enables you to meet your work in the present moment, and therefore get it done more efficiently.

via Management Today : For better time management, focus on the big picture

A book about time management crossed my desk some years ago. It had all the usual advice – check emails at set times, eliminate unnecessary meetings, schedule difficult tasks first thing. The reason I remember it is for one of the more unusual tips I’ve read. It suggested, ‘You should wear a wig. Think of all the time you will save washing and styling your hair.’

Indeed. I have coached many people since then, and while most have managed fantastically busy schedules, they have done so without wearing a wig to save time*. I’m pretty sure business stars like Bill Gates or Sheryl Sandberg have never succumbed to one for that reason either.

Thankfully, there’s a new wave of advice focusing less on ‘saving’ time, and more on rethinking what you’re doing with the time you have, and why. Tim Urban at waitbutwhy.com has mapped out pictorially exactly how many days, weeks, years and decades we have if we live to 90 years old (be warned, it fits on one page). He then suggests how you might use that knowledge to allocate your time on both a small and a grand scale. It might lead you to make some far-reaching changes.

On TED, speaker Laura Vanderkam suggests we schedule our priorities ahead of anything else. In her words, ‘when we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got.’

This plays neatly into the ‘Urgency vs Importance’ matrix. We spend most of our time in either the ‘Urgent, non-important’ quadrant or the ‘Non-important, non-urgent’ (‘Insta & Netflix’) quadrant. Where we should spend more time is the ‘Important, non-urgent’ quadrant.

Unfortunately, this quadrant is where a lot of life-critical material hangs out. It’s where you’ll find ‘change career’, ‘become a better leader’, ‘spend more time with my parents/kids/partner’ and ‘sort out my pension’. (I didn’t say it was all interesting.)

If you want to make better use of your time, start here, with the bigger picture. In a year’s time, what do you want to have changed in your work and personal life? What do you want to have learnt?

Now look at your time use. What are you doing or not doing that stops you achieving your goals? Are you doing the right things with your time, or just the things you like or are comfortable with? This raises two additional questions. The first: if you’re busy, but not with anything that contributes to your longer-term plan, do you really need to do it? Beyond essential tasks, what could you delegate or ditch?

The second question: if you have time, but you’re not spending it where you need to, why is that? Perhaps you’re scared to take the next steps towards your goals, or you don’t know how to proceed, or you’re not sure it’s the right goal after all. Take time now to address these.

A final question. What do you, me, and the business leaders of each of MT’s cover interviews have in common? Every one of us has 168 hours a week. What’s different is how we choose to use them.

Via Forbes : It’s a pattern with which most full-time professionals are familiar–you’re spending increasing amounts of time at your desk, but it feels like you’re getting less done. The hours stretch on, the to-do list grows, and you find yourself facing a future where you might let go of your apartment and just start keeping a toothbrush and slippers in your desk. Otherwise you’ll never get it all done—right?

Wrong.

It’s an understandable assumption. Most people feel they have too much to do at work, and the time-space continuum did not change when people started using organizational buzzwords like “multi-tasking.”

But while few of us leave our desks at the understood 5 p.m. day’s end of so many song lyrics, watching the minutes tick by in front of your computer screen is not actually the way to get ahead, and can even hasten falling further behind.

“There are several reasons why our days have swelled,” says productivity consultant and author of Never Check Email In The Morning Julie Morgenstern. “Companies continuously are trying to hire as few people as possible. Our roles are continuously changing, the world is changing, we’re in a time of rapid change—nothing is ‘business as usual.’ Acknowledge that you have more work to do than time to do it, you’re going to do different things.”

Does this mean that starting Monday morning you’ll be a fully-optimized task wizard who never sees another 6:30 p.m. in your cubicle? Probably not. But whatever your title, industry, or rank within an organization, a few conscious decisions about how you spend your time can mean not just shorter hours at the office, but better ones.

Why not start by figuring out what you’re actually doing with all of your time? It will probably surprise you.

Maybe you keep trying to write that proposal but can’t help clicking over every few minutes to see the emails pour in. Or your boss keeps strolling over to give you tasks while you try to complete the ones you’ve already got. Or you’re overwhelmed by trying to work while maintaining your superior command of Everything That’s Happening On The Internet.

Whatever the reason, doing too many things at once can diminish the quality of your work and add hours to the end of your day. If you’re looking to optimize the time you spend at work, figuring out how it’s actually allocated–versus what you think you’ve been doing–is a great place to start.

Morgenstern recommends keeping a time diary to start, or using the app Eternity Time Log, which directs users to plug in their major categories of responsibility, then tracks how much time they devote to each.

“It will show you where your time is going, and you can say, ‘Why did I take so long editing? Because I needed a break, or because I got stuck’–you can find where you wasted time and start to tweak it,” says Morgenstern. “Or, if you’re unable to keep track because you’re so scattered, your task is to learn to batch similar kinds of thinking.”

The additional challenge of figuring out what you do all day? Morgenstern warns that time spent on modes of communication–responding to email, listening to voicemails, marathon meetings–doesn’t count. You’re only really productive when you’re engaged in the true content of your job description.

See what tasks make the short list–and eliminate the rest.

One of the biggest mistakes people make at work is putting absolutely everything–big and small, essential and inconsequential–on the to-do list. Approach that potential client! Order wraps for the reception! Label those hanging folders!

There’s no possible way to get it all accomplished–and most people find it hard to leave at the end of the day with straggling tasks still glaring back at them. But the trick, says Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, is to figure out what actually belongs on the list–no more than three to five absolute musts–and ditch the rest.

“Truly think through what your priorities are for the workday,” says Vanderkam. “There are no bonus points for having a long list when you don’t get to everything.”

And forget the new app that promises to help you make the list and accomplish everything on it. Both Morgenstern and Vanderkam say when you really need to buckle down and focus, analog is the way to go.

“For many people, even for tech whizzes, a list that’s on paper–even if it’s created on the computer but printed out–is very helpful,” says Morgenstern. “You can refer to it without the danger of going back into that computer screen,” which, she says, is just a portal to the carnival of distraction that is the internet.

alarm_clock

Alarm clocks aren’t just for waking up in the morning.

Don’t underestimate the power of one of the simplest tools on your smartphone–the alarm. Morgenstern says being time conscious can help you target and overcome all manner of personal foibles, from being easily distracted to not knowing when to call a task complete.

“If you’re a perfectionist, you can say, ‘I’m going to spend 90 minutes on this, no more,’ and set that alarm, and it helps you overcome your own perfectionism,” says Morgenstern. “You can say, ‘I’m going to work for two hours before I check my email.’”

Which brings us to…

Isn’t it time you broke up with email?

When was the last time you thought, “I just wish I had more email in my life?” (Probably back when you had a handle that included the name of your favorite athlete from childhood.)

You may think this title belongs to someone you dated in college, but the most poisonous relationship in your life is the one you are probably carrying on with email. It wants your constant attention. It’s got its mitts all over your work computer, laptop, smartphone, and tablet. It’s that constant, shrill, whine that wants to know WHY YOU AREN’T LOOKING AT IT THIS VERY MOMENT.

“Email delivers lots of to dos and lots of distractions,” says Morgenstern, who recommends eliminating it from the first waking hour and the first working hour of every day. “It’s the world’s most convenient procrastination device. That’s something you have control over: you can turn the dinger off. You can’t get into proactive mode if you start your day reactive.”

It’s not you. It’s email. Shut it down.

email

Plan your workdays three days in advance–including when you’ll go home.

Banking on having the time to plan your day as it’s starting is a bad idea–at that point you’re already in the trenches with the tasks flying fast.

Plan your workdays three days in advance–including when you’ll go home.

Banking on having the time to plan your day as it’s starting is a bad idea–at that point you’re already in the trenches with the tasks flying fast.

Kathryn Dill

I joined the staff of Forbes in 2013, covering leadership topics and researching the world’s wealthiest individuals for the Forbes 400 and World’s Billionaires lists before taking over the Careers beat. Previously, I worked as a stringer for the Chicago Daily Herald and Chicago Tribune, covering the small towns of northern Illinois as they weathered the municipal impact of the recession. I studied English and American Studies at Boston College and completed a master’s in Business and Economic Reporting at NYU, during which time I wrote for Inc.com.

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