“The following blog was authored by AOE Marketing Assistant, Bailey Numbers.”
Time management has always been one of the most valuable skills in the professional world. But when working remotely, these skills are more important than ever. Working from home adds a whole host of new challenges that can cut into your productivity: interruptions from family members, roommates or pets, asynchronous communication with coworkers (causing projects to take longer), lack of structure and general lack of motivation. If you plan on getting anything done at home, time management is the key to success.
What is time management, exactly? It can be defined as the process of planning and allocating time for specific tasks in order to maximize efficiency. The foundation of time management is setting attainable goals and prioritizing tasks that help you achieve those goals. Like any skill, time management is learned: it requires consistent practice, patience and adjustment. Implement any of the strategies below, and you will feel that you have a better handle on your time and your work life.
Strategy #1: Set a dynamic daily schedule
When working from home, your day does not look like it did when you were in the office. Therefore, you can’t expect to schedule your day the same way. Plan on starting at the same time every day, and begin by making a list of the tasks you need to complete that day — physically write it down, on paper, on your computer, on a white board, etc. Define your priorities (see strategy #2) and estimate how long it will take to complete each of the tasks. Plan your daily schedule around these time estimates, adding in some contingency time — or “buffer” time in case projects take longer than anticipated. Additionally, work in some discretionary time to your schedule — time dedicated to any miscellaneous tasks you need to work on. Schedule open time in your day as well as frequent breaks. You’re prone to more frequent interruptions while at home, so preparing for these will help you stick to your schedule. Remember, since you aren’t commuting to and from work, this extra time at your desk helps to offset these more frequent distractions. Lastly, include your family in your schedule. If you have small children who will need your help with schoolwork, factor that into your schedule. Set expectations about when you are and are not available. Build your schedule in a way that is individualized to your needs.
Strategy #2: Define and prioritize tasks
When it comes down to it, productivity is all about getting tasks checked off your list. The best way to do this is to start with a comprehensive list of tasks that you keep close by on your desk. When determining which tasks are priorities, use this helpful guide, designating each of the tasks on your list as one of the four D’s:
- Do: complete tasks now or in the immediate future (15 min to an hour).
- Defer: complete it later in the day or tomorrow.
- Delegate: assign tasks to someone else (a coworker, intern, etc.).
- Delete: remove it from your list or morph it with another task that is related for maximum efficiency.
Keep referring to your list throughout the day as a reminder of your progress. Find a routine that works for you, whether it’s creating a new list every day, every week, or something else.
Strategy #3: Find a time management technique that works for you
There are hundreds of time management strategies out there that professionals use to maximize efficiency. Here are two different techniques that you may want to test out in your workday and adjust as necessary based on whatever works best for you.
- Pomodoro Technique: Break down your work periods into 25-minute intervals, which is often considered to be the length of time our minds can focus effectively. Set a timer on your phone or computer for 25 minutes, and when it goes off, take a 5-minute break. Then work again for another 25 minutes. After 4 intervals of work, take a longer, 30-minute break — for lunch, for a walk, to socialize with family, etc.
- 18 Minutes: This technique is all about being mindful of your productivity. Before you start your workday, take 5 minutes to sit and think about what you need to accomplish today to make it successful (make a physical list, if possible). At the end of each hour of work, take 1 minute to stop, refocus, and evaluate your productivity during the previous hour. At the very end of your workday, take 5 minutes to review the day. How did it go? What did you learn?
Remember that these are just two techniques, and there are countless others. Experiment with these and others and find what works best for you and your schedule.
Strategy #4: Be flexible
Ultimately, the number one skill that will help you be productive while working from home is flexibility. Remote working brings about added challenges for everyone, so being patient with yourself and your coworkers is key. Projects may take longer and require extra attention, as it is more difficult to communicate with coworkers and clients remotely. To compensate for these communication lags, consider what other projects you can work on concurrently to stay busy. Get creative in finding ways to participate in non-work activities, even if you have to stay in your home. Figure out the best way for you to intentionally put your work away at the end of the day and spend time with family. Other challenges will surely come up throughout the day that upend your previously laid-out work schedule, but if you prepare for this with a flexible schedule and an open mind, you’ll find yourself being productive even in these uncertain times.
(Credit: New Horizons Learning Center webinar: Time Management for Remote Workers)