Last week, we talked about how you can change your mindset about work to improve productivity and decrease procrastination. This week’s blog is all about specific strategies that you can use to proactively prevent time drains, as well as skills to use when you catch yourself procrastinating.
You know that time tracking we talked about in our blog, “Diagnosing Time Drains?” Well, we’re not done with it yet! Now, instead of tracking what you DID each hour, we are going to use your time tracker to create a daily schedule. Of course unexpected meetings or projects may come across your inbox, but the goal is to give yourself a rough estimate of how you will manage your time during the day, including when you will take breaks. Scheduling in breaks is important because rather than taking 5 minute breaks here-and-there to text or go on social media (which can really add up), planning your breaks ahead of time helps to motivate you to complete work. This strategy also helps to increase productivity by limiting the amount of time that you’re engaging in off-task activities.
Since we all have different work styles, it may take some experimenting to figure out the best method for you to schedule breaks. Some people prefer to schedule a break after working for a set amount of time. Other people would rather set productivity goals, and once the goal is met then they take a break. Depending on your work environment, or your schedule that day, you may want to use both options. If you know that your afternoon is crammed with meetings and conference calls, you may want to knock out a few tasks before taking a break. Or, if your day is pretty flexible, but you have challenging projects to get started on, it may be helpful to schedule breaks every 1.5 hours.
Managing Your Workspace
Sometimes it can be really tempting to quickly check your phone or personal e-mail, but as we discussed in previous blogs, this time can easily start to add up. To remove this temptation, we recommend managing your environment. For example, blocking access to certain Internet functions like Gchat or Social Media, and only allowing yourself access during breaks. Another helpful tip is to turn off your phone’s notifications and mute text messages. This will help you to remain focused rather than continuously look at your phone. The main goal- remove any potential distractors to eliminate the temptation to go off-task. Of course, if you are really driven to procrastinate, you will find a way; however, by making procrastination more difficult, you will likely think twice before engaging in a time drain.
Managing Your Work Environment
What do you do if a coworker comes in to your office with a work related question? At times, these conversations are necessary, and you may have to go off-task to address it. However, other times, these conversations or emails can wait. That’s why your schedule is so important. If an email or conversation interferes with what you are currently working on, rather than derail your focus, use your schedule to find a time when it is more convenient to address that issue. It’s much easier to keep working while you’re focused, instead of stopping your work each time you see an e-mail or someone has a question.
Getting Yourself Back on Track
In cases where you have to go off-task to address a work related question, or you do get distracted and start to procrastinate (hey, we’re human!), here are a few strategies that you can utilize to get yourself back on track:
Get Started- Often times, the most difficult part of a task is getting started, or going back to the task after losing focus. When this happens, try to do anything that is related to the task- even if it seems easy or trivial. Tell yourself that you will work for at least 5 minutes. Then, once the 5 minutes is up, tell yourself that you will work for another 5 minutes, and so on. Before you know it, you overcame the hurdle of getting started and you’re making forward progress.
Break Down Tasks- While scheduling is helpful, we may have difficulty gauging how long an assignment might take. It can be overwhelming to look at your calendar and see that for the next 3 hours straight you are scheduled to work on your pitch deck. When you are procrastinating because a task seems overwhelming, difficult, or time consuming, try breaking it down into smaller tasks that are more manageable. Then, tackle one task at a time.
Reward- To maintain motivation, make sure to reward yourself! Breaks aren’t just a means to better manage your time, but also to help motivate you, maintain focus, and stay on-task. Knowing a break is approaching can be the push that you need to get that e-mail sent to a client, or stay focused on the documents that you are reviewing for your boss.
As we discussed during our first blog in our time management series, time drains may look different for everyone, and you may not recognize that you aren’t using your time as efficiently as possible. That’s why it’s important to consistently check-in with yourself to assess your productivity. By using a combination of 1) monitoring, 2) thought identification, and 3) behavioral strategies, you can learn to stop time drains in their tracks AND prevent them from happening in the first place.
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