Stressful, right? But if you’re nodding guiltily along, then you’re one of the millions of people who struggle to manage their time successfully. It’s a really common problem – if you’re in any doubt, try our free time management test and find out just how organised and in control you really are!
The good news is, you can turn this around. You can take back control of your time and hit the super-charge button on your productivity! All you need to do is to develop a routine that will allow you to work more efficiently and make the best use of your time.
A great routine will help you eliminate distractions and cut down on your decision-making time. You’ll become far more productive – and a lot less stressed as a result. As you achieve your goals – pay rises, promotions, a new job, whatever it is that you want – you’ll be incentivised to stick with your routine. The longer you do so, the more you’ll find that your new, improved actions become habitual. You won’t even have to think about sticking with your routine – it’ll be automatic.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? You can do this! Let’s crack on with developing that routine!
How to Develop a Routine at WorkYou may already have a work routine in place – but if you’ve read this far, chances are it’s not working for you! It’s time for a re-think. Here are the steps you need to take to create a daily routine that works for you:
Step 1: Make a List
Start every day by making a list of the jobs you need to do and the things you want to accomplish. Include everything, even smaller tasks like checking your emails and doing paperwork. Allocate a priority for each. Your To-Do List might be a straightforward paper list, or you can use an app or piece of software to plan and schedule your day – Microsoft Outlook, perhaps, or Workflowy. Whether you favour old-fashioned pen-and-ink or modern technology, there’ll be something out there that suits you.
Step 2: Plan Your Work
When are you most productive? Some people are morning people, others work better in the afternoons, and others still are night owls! Schedule your work accordingly. Plan important tasks, or tasks that require a lot of concentration, for the time of the day when you’re most productive and schedule in the easier, less laborious tasks for your quieter times.
Step 3: Batch Process
Once you’ve created your list of tasks, allocate the amount of time you plan to spend working on each of them. A great way of saving time is by batch-processing smaller tasks such as making phone calls, responding to emails and processing paperwork into hour-long periods. Working through them consecutively will save you the time you would normally waste switching between tasks, and mean you can get more done in a shorter amount of time. Most people find that getting these out of the way first clears the mind – and desk/inbox – allowing them to focus on their more time-consuming and complex tasks. However, do whatever works for you!
Step 4: Create a Schedule
Now that you’ve grouped together smaller tasks into batches, take a look at the rest of the tasks on your list and start allocating time to each. Depending on the work you do and how long tasks normally take, it might be useful to create a schedule with half hour or hour long slots. You don’t have to schedule everything down to the last minute, but it’s helpful to have slots that can then become routine.
Step 4: Factor in Weekly and Monthly Tasks
When you’re planning your daily tasks, don’t forget about those equally important weekly and monthly tasks that also have to be completed. Fit these into your weekly schedule and give yourself enough time to complete them in case there are any last minute problems or changes.
Step 5: Schedule in Breaks
It’s vital to schedule breaks into your routine. Research shows that people who take regular breaks are more productive than those who attempt to power through without stopping for lunch. However, it’s up to you whether you favour one or two longer breaks or a few short ones. Find out what works best for you – but take time out, even if it’s just for a cup of tea or a quick stroll. This will allow you to recharge and get you in the right state of mind to fully concentrate on work again.
Step 6: Plan for Distractions
Like most people on the planet, you’re probably aware that social media and mobile phones are huge time wasters. You just mean to click on your Facbook page or Whatsapp for a quick catch-up – and an hour later, you’re still there! Distractions like these – and even your colleagues chatting to you over the water cooler – can make it difficult to stick to your routine. You could try switching off your phone and there are apps you can use to limit your time on social media. However, don’t feel you have to shut yourself away from the world while you’re working. Sometimes, it’s more sensible simply to plan for these distractions and factor them into your day! Take a tea break with a colleague for a quick catch up, or use a break to check your personal emails. By making them a part of your routine, you can limit the amount of time you waste on these.
Step 7: Use Technology to Help You
OK, so technology can be very distracting – but it can also be a time management saviour! Productivity apps such as Workflowy help you keep your idea and notes organised, tracking tasks, and bringing order to your day. Or you could try Momento, a mobile app that encourages you to enter all your thoughts, ideas and distractions into the app, freeing your mind so you can focus on the task in hand. Time Planner is another personal productivity app designed specifically with time management in mind, helping you schedule tasks on a daily basis. Experiment and see what works best for you - just don't waste too much time on it as that would be counter-productive!
Does it Work for You?
Once you have developed a schedule, give yourself time to thoroughly test it. If something doesn’t work – maybe your breaks are too long or too short, or you’re still spending hours on Whatsapp – then change it. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to developing a time management routine, it’s all about finding your own unique niche. It may take a few days or even weeks of trial and error, but keep tweaking and adjusting, keep a note of what works and what doesn’t, and you’ll have the perfect routine by the end of it.
Stick to It
Don’t expect any of this to be easy. Changing a lifetime’s worth of bad time management habits won’t happen overnight. Once you’ve found a routine that works for you, the hardest part is sticking to it! It may be tough at first, but if you want to be more productive, then you can’t let yourself slide back into bad habits. Start by setting yourself the goal of sticking to your new routine for a month. You could even promise yourself a reward at the end of the month – that T-shirt you’ve got your eye on, or a new app, perhaps? This will make it seem more achievable and at the end of the month, you’ll find you’re more comfortable with the routine and thus it’ll be much easier to stick to. If a month seems to challenging, start smaller – say two weeks. Whatever you do, persevere. You can do this – and it will become easier with every day that you do!
Developing a Routine Outside of WorkWith your work routine sorted, it’s time to overhaul your personal life. You’ll be amazed at the change to your health and happiness if you introduce a little order into your domestic situation!
Start by making a list of all the things you want to accomplish in your personal life during the week. Include things like grocery shopping, doing the laundry, exercise, socializing or cleaning the house. You can also add any personal goals – writing a novel, running a Marathon, whatever you want to do! Allocate a day and some time for each task. Pin your list somewhere you can see it, such as the fridge, or save it on your phone or device. Being able to see your tasks and goals at a glance will make it easier to track them – and you can tick them off as you work through them. Even if you don’t stick rigidly to your schedule, you’ll find planning these tasks makes it a lot more likely that you’ll actually get round to doing them!
Lifestyle Habits That Can Increase ProductivityIf you want to be achieve all your goals, you need to be fit and healthy. This is a fact! If you stay up all night, drink a lot of alcohol and eat junk food, you’re going to struggle to stay awake, let alone be productive. You don’t have to give up all your guilty pleasures completely, but a few changes to your lifestyle will help you become more alert and focused, which in turn will help you to stop wasting important time.
Not only is exercise vital for health reasons, but it’s proven to boost brainpower, sharpen your memory, reduce stress and alleviate anxiety. Research shows that workers who exercise on a regular basis are more productive. The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise (jogging, swimming, cycling) per week – this seems like a lot, but if you struggle to fit exercise into your leisure time, go for a brisk walk during your lunch break. Walk for 30 minutes Monday to Friday and that’s your 150 minutes of exercise ticked off your to-do list!
Do you skip breakfast and grab a quick sandwich to eat at your desk most days? If so, you’re not alone – but it’s important that you give your body the nutrients it needs to keep your productivity levels up during the day. Brain-powering foods to include in your diet are fish, blueberries, avocado, dark chocolate, and whole grains. Never skip breakfast! Not only do breakfast eaters tend to have lower cholesterol, heart disease and blood pressure, but they’ve got the energy they need to power through the day! Factor breakfast into your routine, and set aside time to prepare nutritious meals.
Keep It UpAs we’ve already discussed, the challenging part of any new routine is keeping it up. If you notice that your new regime is slipping and you’re sliding back into bad habits, then you set yourself new targets to help you to stick with it. Reward yourself with a meal out or a new book when you’ve met your goals.
Once you’re settled into your new time management routine, you’ll be glad you did. It will have a hugely positive impact on your life. And as your productivity soars and you get that job or promotion you were after, or run that Marathon – or just feel a whole lot less stressed – you’ll have this article to thank for it!