Success at work and in life often comes down to one thing—developing better time management skills. But in the frantic pace of the digital age, time is something everyone seems to be short on now, so if workers could figure out how to make the most of their day, they could be far more productive and happy regardless of their time constraints.
Jackie Gaines is a high performing senior executive, national speaker, and best-selling author who has had a progressive career of more than 38 years of sustained leadership and accomplishments with major health systems and organizations. Gaines has also written four books, including Wait a Hot Minute! How to Manage Your Life with the Minutes You Have in which she discusses how to make the most of your time. Read on below for helpful advice from Gaines’s book on how to achieve a healthier and happier work-life balance.
1. Prioritize sleep so you can function when you’re awake. If you do nothing else, prioritize your sleep needs. You will be more productive and feel more ambitious when you get the rest your body requires. Try scheduling sleep like any other daily activity on your to-do list by penciling in a stopping point in your day and stick to it without fail, and then wind down with a book or another relaxing bedtime ritual to help you drift off to sleep.
2. Establish what the workday means to you and your boss. It’s common for employers to call or email you after hours, but it is up to you to decide whether or not you’re available after hours. If you choose to be off-duty on nights and weekends, then that is your choice, but just make sure you respectfully address your workday limits to your boss upfront so everyone is clear on the boundaries.
3. Don’t stay on your email all day. Constantly checking your inbox is distracting and slows you down. Try to designate a few times in your workday to check your email so that you remain in control of your schedule and aren’t being reactive to new messages as they come in.
4. Choose human connection over technology. Though technology has improved our lives, it comes with its own set of problems. Emails and texts are convenient but they create room for confusion and miscommunication, so whenever possible, try to talk in person in order to get your message across clearly.
5. Learn to say no and mean it. It’s okay to turn down invitations, cancel plans, or disconnect from the outside world every now and then. Saying no is a skill that will benefit you throughout life, so allow yourself to start to politely decline unnecessary commitments.
6. Set achievable goals each day. Even the most thoughtfully constructed to-do list will be useless if it is too ambitious, so try to make your daily goals small enough that you can actually get them done. And remember that you can always do more if you have the time.
7. Give multitasking the ax. Multitasking can be ineffective and counterproductive. People work best when they give focused attention to the task at-hand, so aim to work on only one project at a time and give yourself permission to forget about other priorities until you are done.
8. Listen up! Active listening consists of being present and engaged when communicating with another person but it’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s very common to forget to listen after you speak your thoughts in a conversation and you often lose important information as a result. To adjust this bad habit, try turning off your inner monologue when you are talking with a coworker, manager, or anyone else, and be sure to focus when it is the other person’s turn to speak.
9. Don’t be a sheep. While maintaining the status quo is often a good thing (especially at work), there may come a time when it is advisable to stop following the herd and innovate. If you can envision a way to work smarter and better, you can create new best practices for your place of work that will save time and increase quality and productivity.
10. Stop shuffling papers. Most of us waste a lot of time shuffling papers from one pile to another and chances are that your desk is full of paper that you don’t know what to do with. Stop this chaotic cycle by figuring out the appropriate action for each paper by either putting it in a to-do pile so you can deal with it immediately, a file (for documents you must keep), or the trash.
11. Step away from the Internet. Surfing the web is a huge time waster for most people as it can often turn into an hour (or more) of wasted time that you can’t get back—especially when you should be working or headed to bed to get some rest. To alter this habit, try shutting off access to the Internet at a certain time each day to avoid getting lost in cyberspace.
12. Have some fun along the way. It’s important to remember that stressed-out people aren’t all that productive. You have to relax and schedule ‘recharge time’ into your life to avoid burnout—especially if you have an intense work environment. Be sure to build in time for fun on the weekends and on some evenings, but try to make work fun too.
13. Practice breathing and mindfulness. Imagine how productive you could be if you could focus, calm all anxious thoughts, and truly be present. You can find out by practicing mindfulness. Breathing is a great tool for achieving a relaxed, clear state of mind. There are multiple methods for achieving this state such as tai chi, meditation, yoga, or simple breathing exercises. Find one that resonates for you and practice it on a daily basis.
14. Stop owning other people’s stuff. How often do you hear yourself saying “Never mind, I’ll do it myself”? Probably more often than you’d like, and this habit will take up your precious minutes in no time. The solution is to hold others accountable for their responsibilities; this includes your children, your spouse, and your colleagues. Let “never mind” be the exception instead of the rule.
15. Let go and delegate. Learn to know when to let someone else handle a task. It can be hard to give up control, but it is also necessary to delegate, especially if you’re in a leadership position. Remember that delegating is not admitting you can’t handle your responsibilities; it’s about maximizing the potential of your entire workforce.
As professionals, we know that we are always going to have obligations, deadlines, and responsibilities, so with these time-management tips, you can learn how to handle your precious minutes and work with the clock instead of against it. Always remember that you have two choices when trying to manage your time, you can either let your priorities and obligations run your life or you can take charge of your minutes and let them work for you to achieve your goals in a timely manner. While you won’t ever succeed long-term by racing the clock, you can drop your bad habits, improve ineffective practices, and kick stress to the curb so that your whole life improves over time.