For most of my life, I thought that this blur was outside of my control. I’d chalk it up to being busy, being someone whom others needed and relied on, or just not being in control of everything that happens in life. While it is true that no one can control everything, there is actually a lot that we can control, particularly when it comes to our work. Being eight years into my post-college adult life, I am just now getting to a place where I fully own that belief and feel comfortable and confident enough to take control of my workday, instead of letting it control me.
The Pitch for Personal Time Management
I’m sure I don’t have to sell the benefits of being able to manage your workday as efficiently as possible, But I will anyway. First, when you take control of your time at work, you give yourself the opportunity to separate work time and play time, as I like to call it. Unfortunately, taking work home has become the new ‘it” thing to do — a product of either guilt, a desire to please, or some combination of the two. I am more than OK in saying that I no longer take work home. As a result, I actually look forward to picking up where I left of … the next day … at work … (not at home). Even better, when I’m not working, I have a clear mind to do other things that make me feel fulfilled and re-energized, like blogging or yoga or cooking.
Managing time efficiently also helps you to reach goals faster, which then creates room for you to do more. No one wants to be tied to the same project for months at at time. I know I don’t. But with efficiency as the primary goal, it becomes easier to set a timeline, focus on getting the job done with that time period, and then move on to the next thing.
Perhaps the biggest reason why I’ve fully embraced this idea is the huge decrease in feelings of stress that I have experienced. Part of managing my time efficiently means that I have allotted some block of time, however large or small, for everything that I need to do. Instead of wondering and worrying about when I’ll ever find the time to do x, y, and z, I now just open my calendar and make time for those things. More often than not, I will have to move some of those time commitments around if more urgent needs come up, but that’s OK. Simple and plain, knowing that I have space in my schedule for all the ‘musts’ helps me sleep much better at night.
3 Steps Toward Mastering Your Time
Despite being aware of these benefits, taking the steps to achieve them are often easier said than done. That said, let me offer up three steps that I’ve taken to help me master my own workday, with the intention of giving you some hope that you can do it too.
- Take back control of your inbox. I don’t know when it happened, but I found that I had become a slave to my email. Instead of it being a tool that I used to my advantage, I let it dictate my day, my priorities, and even my mood. Instead, I now use email as nature intended it to be used, which is for the sharing of information, and not the dictator of where my attention should go at any given time. I still consume the information, but I don’t let it change my plan. I also delete emails … mercilessly. A list of 100 unopened messages can itself be a complete mental burden. However, when you get rid of the 75 messages that either do not concern you, do not include any information that needs to be stored for future reference, or do not require a response, that feeling of overwhelm is instantly reduced. (In a future post, I will go into greater depth on how I’ve managed to conquer the email beast.)
- Take back control of your calendar. For a long time I made the mistake of using my calendar only to allot time for meetings, conference calls, and the like. Except I often ended up in the same situation — a day chock full of other people’s meetings and no time to make progress on my own projects. I now block out just as much time on my calendar, sometimes even more, to do my own work as I do to attending meetings and calls. Also, if there are days when I need to have lunch with a friend or catch a show right after work, I’ll block those out on my calendar as well. It’s my time — and no, you can’t have it all.
- Be intentional with every ‘yes’. I’m not a selfish person. I promise I’m not. What I am is a person who very much needs to be productive, which also makes me a person who unapologetically safeguards her time. I’m sure you’ve experienced this at least once before: you’re at work and a meeting invitation comes through from a colleague. The invitation has no clear description, no context as to what it will be about, and no attached agenda. You then face the decision of whether to accept it or not. These days, that decision for me is always a no. What that does is allow the inviter to reevaluate whether or not they truly need you to attend that meeting. And if they do, they’ll reach out to you with more information.
What are your thoughts on managing time in the workplace? What lessons have you learned along the way? I’d love to hear them.