A line I’ve written in more emails this year than all of my time as an entrepreneur is this: “I can’t give you any guarantees.”
Among the constant shuffle of our responsibilities, time has become elusive, slipping between our fingers. Over the course of the year, how many times have we had to adjust our plans, reorganize meetings, and juggle work with home logistics? The answer that comes first to my mind is, “Way more than I can count.”
Many of us continue to work from home, and time management continues to be one of our biggest challenges. As a leader, I understand that under the abnormal circumstances we find ourselves in, it can be hard to focus on the long-debated solutions of time management.
But since we are experiencing so many diverse stressors, I’ve found effectively managing our time has only gotten more important. Our ability to structure our days and give us a greater sense of calm and purpose can help make things feel a bit more normal. When we have the proper time management techniques in place, our ability to focus is stronger, which brings us close to our goals.
Here are three simple tips, which have helped my team and I maximize our hours and feel more empowered to conquer our workloads.
Examine where your energy is going
Look at the areas taking up room in your week; these can be distractions, such as an overflowing email inbox, or a phone that is always pinging with notifications.
For example, if the platforms you use to communicate with colleagues begin to hinder your productivity and focus, it’s time for you to consider if they are beneficial. Digital overload is one of our biggest time sucks. The last things you want during a stressful time are extraneous forces pulling you away from your high-value work.
Encourage your team to audit their workflow system. Nudge them to ask themselves, “How much time am I dedicating to social media and answering emails?” And “How much time am I using on activities with high value?” From there, ask them to think of ways they can eliminate these distractions. You can suggest disabling phone notifications and setting up regular breaks from their “digital lives,” which can offer opportunities to restore focus.
Another important aspect to maintaining focus is paying attention to mental reserves. Jill Klein, a professor of marketing who teaches managerial judgment for Melbourne Business School, suggests that workers should aim to align their time with optimal-energy hours, or those during which they are the most productive: “It’s best to take on important activities in your high-energy times, when you are at your mental peak, and reserve your low-energy times for small, easier tasks, like responding to emails.”
Keep tabs on tasks and time lengths
Having the right tools right now isn’t just helpful—it can help you anticipate time-management headaches. It will make the difference between feeling like you’re performing the same mind-numbing tasks over and over again, and developing a sense of clarity and productivity.
Harnessing data in a smarter way helps your employees track tasks better and save more time. At my company, JotForm, we’ve recently released our latest tool, JotForm Tables, as a way to combat data fatigue. It’s a spreadsheet-database hybrid with powerful online forms and especially handy for managing, tracking, and organizing data, all in one place. Combining tools such as these, as well as reducing distractions, will go a long way in optimizing your workday.
Add some humanity
It’s harder to keep track of people’s time while working remotely, but a flexible environment not only breeds trust—it empowers your team to do their best work with the limited hours they have.
We’ve all heard of miraculous-sounding “time hacks,” but I’d like to offer an alternative: conscientious time management. This sort of time management is where you not only encourage the right strategies but also foster a less stressful work culture, from the start. This concept ties into the positive effects of empathetic leadership, which can help leaders prevent the onset of burnout.
According to a report released earlier this year by the American Psychological Association, 7 in 10 employed adults say work is a significant source of stress in their lives.
Your time management plans, no matter how carefully laid, can fall victim to unexpected circumstances. As I mentioned, there are no guarantees that events will go according to plan. But leading with empathy allows everyone, no matter how much they are struggling that day, to show up and aim for their most productive selves.
Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.