Happy Monday everyone! My husband and I just got back from our vacation to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where we went backpacking in the wilderness and
almost got eaten by bears got to see a bunch of amazing scenery. I will be talking more about our amazing trip later this week!
For now, I’m falling back into being productive. In the days leading up to vacation, I find it hard to focus on my work and get things done. I notice that I am very busy but not necessarily productive. My productivity tanks when my brain is somewhere else. Now that I’m back from vacation, I’m sharing all of my favorite tips on creating a time management system to rock your work week!
The Importance of a Time Management System
If you’ve been following along with me for a while, or if you know me personally, you’ll know that I am a creature of habit. (Related: How to Create a Morning Routine to Start your Day Right) If I don’t have a routine to fall back on, I get stressed out and it impacts my whole day. Having a time management system, understandably, is extremely important to me.
In my day job as a therapist, I have a lot to keep track of. I write my own schedule, so I must have a system of booking patients, returning phone calls, writing case notes, scoring evaluations, and more. Some days, I’m booked solid. Other days, I seem to have a lot more open time.
I have found that the more I have going on in a day, the more productive I am. Why? Because having a jam-packed day forces me to make use of my time management system to ensure I’m getting things done. While lots of people would say they’d prefer a lighter workload day, that isn’t always the case with me! If I have a lot of available time, I notice that my productivity slacks and I actually get less done.
Being busy and being productive are two different concepts. Being busy means you’re doing a lot of work but not necessarily in an efficient manner. However, being productive means you’re effectively managing your time and getting quality work completed. Without a time management system, I’m much busier rather than productive.
Effectively managing your time means that you’ll be getting more done in less time. You’ll learn to identify what tasks need your attention the most and get them accomplished faster. You’ll feel less overwhelmed by all the little things you have to do and you’ll start feeling proud of how much you’re getting done in a day. And over time, you’ll waste less time being busy and have more time for what matters the most to you! (Related: Work-Life Balance: Manage your Time, Improve Relationships, & Avoid Burnout)
Develop a Time Management System that Works for You
Not everyone works in the same way. For example, some people manage their work best with technology. Other people, like me, prefer to hand-write tasks. For the following tips, think about how you operate best and apply these principles to your preferred work style!
First, decide what needs to get done. Start your day by creating a to-do list of all the tasks you need to get done. Be specific. Make sure you’re including scheduling for your lunch! Being productive is hard when you’re too hungry to focus. Schedule in a little personal time as well. Make these a priority! You are important.
One tool that may help you is categorizing your responsibilities. Look at your previous weeks and organize your tasks into different categories. For example, my work consists of these categories: appointments, evaluations, documentation, and collateral contact, and office duties. Use as many categories as you want. If I have too many categories, I get overwhelmed. Knowing how to categorize your tasks will prevent you from forgetting all the things you need to do.
Second, develop a system to prioritize your most important vs. least important tasks for the day. I do this by color coding tasks. I use one highlighter color for my highest priority tasks of the day, another color for the mid-priority tasks, and another for the lowest priority tasks. Again, make sure you’re prioritizing yourself during the day! If you are not taking good care of yourself, your work will show it. So schedule in a little five-minute break to do some deep breathing or look at some cat photos. Your brain will thank you.
Find an organization system that works for you. My friend swears by Trello, a free tool, to digitally manage her time. I prefer organizing my tasks by hand. I use a Some people love Bullet Journals, and though I am a big fan of the concept, I have found that I simply don’t have the time to fully implement a BuJo system. However, I have drawn from Bullet Journaling to manage my tasks.
I use a normal old weekly planner. It doesn’t have any of the bells and whistles, and I’m okay with that. Sometimes, simpler is better. I used to cross off my to-do list items when I finished but that made it hard to go back and read later! Now I use check boxes. When I complete a task, I check it off. It’s just as satisfying as scratching it out. I’ll use an arrow if I’m migrating that task to the next day, an X if I’ve cancelled the task, or a backward arrow if I finished it early.
Get to Work
I swear by the Pomodoro technique for organizing my time. The Pomodoro technique was developed using one of those little tomato kitchen timers! The Pomodoro technique works like this: Focus hard for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. After four rounds of focusing, take a 15 minute break. Then start all over. I recommend using your breaks to do the things that normally distract you. Just make sure you get to work again after your break!
There are lots of fancy Pomodoro apps out there, but one of my new favorite apps that I’ve integrated into my time management system is Tide. It is a simple app that uses the Pomodoro technique and peaceful background sounds to help you focus. It also has an “immersive mode” that disables the pause button, so if you exit the app, it lists your session as a “focus failure.” That is incredibly motivating to me, as a person who doesn’t like to fail!
Find an Accountability Buddy
This has been a game changer for me! Find someone to hold you accountable. I love my coworkers dearly, but we are very aware of the fact that we tend to distract each other. We will regularly point out that we’re having a hard time focusing on getting everything done. We challenge each other to be productive. If, at the end of the day, you’ve conquered your to-do list, reward yourself! We like to go get coffee in the mornings, or hit our favorite sushi restaurant for lunch.
My boss told me that if I’m not able to get all my work done within my 40-hour work week, I either need to improve my time management system or I’m working too much. If you’ve tried all these techniques and found that you’re still having a difficult time checking off all your tasks, maybe it’s time to delegate. Check in with your coworkers to see if they can able to help you out. This might also mean outsourcing some of your work. Don’t be afraid to hire someone to take care of those tasks that you consistently put off! Be sure to return the favor when your workload lightens!
Do you have a time management system? What are your favorite productivity tools? Let me know in the comments!