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Time Management: Establishing Productive Work Habits

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This is a guest post by Paige Donahue. She is a blogger and editor at BestEssays. She is an introvert who loves traveling the world. Gifted with a rich imagination and a talent for the written word, she enjoys penning stories and sharing her adventures. You can connect with her via Twitter.

Most people accept that work will stress them out, and up to a certain point this is healthy. However, when you start feeling that you have to run at full tilt just to cope with your workload, then you may be overstressed. This can have serious health consequences, and it may even be affecting the quality of your work and productivity. It would be a good idea to address it as soon as possible.

There are many reasons why you feel stressed at work. It may be because you don’t like what you’re doing, so anything is too much. It could be someone at work is making life difficult for you on a personal basis. It could also be your commute. If none of these is the source of your stress, then you may have a problem with time management.

Don’t worry, you are not alone in this. Many people fail to use their time effectively, so much so that several productivity principles address it. Each one emphasizes the need for organization and prioritization. However, managing your time productively is a skill you must practice every day. It will take time to acquire the necessary skill set, but it will be worth it in the end. Here are some work habits you can adopt in your daily life to make it sweeter, less stressful, and more productive.

Get someone else to do it

Two business women sitting in computer classroom

Most people have a tendency to take on all tasks pertaining to their work, but the fact is you will not always be the most competent person for a particular task. For example, if you write copy for your company, and you need statistics to support your copy, you don’t have to do a statistical analysis of your company’s raw data to get the figures you need.

For one thing, it will take time away from your creative work. For another, it will probably take you much longer than it should to do it. Lastly, you may not be doing it right, and the figures you get may be incorrect. Learn to delegate some tasks to people who really do those things, and stick to what you do best. The result will be that much better when you delegate properly.

Practice triage

Triage is a term usually used by medical professionals, which simply means attending to patients with the most urgent and serious injuries first before less urgent albeit equally serious injuries.

You can apply the same principles for your work. If you have several tasks you need to do for the day, put them in order of urgency. For example, if you need to send off a proposal to a client who is leaving that night for an extended period, do that one first instead of a proposal for a bigger client who is not in a hurry to get it.

Some tasks are time-sensitive, even if they are not earth shattering, so put those on the top of your list and get them out of the way first. You can then continue working without stressing about the time.

Stop procrastinating

Man playing with model motorcycle at desk in office

Putting off essential but unpleasant or boring tasks is understandable, but it is also a waste of time. If you have to do it anyway, delaying getting to it is just prolonging the inevitable. The best way to take on the things that makes you want to tear out your eyeballs is to do them as soon and as quickly as possible.

For example, if you really hate making reports, make a point of making notes to go into your report, so all you have to do is put it together. Once you get going, you will find that it is not as bad as you thought. At the very least, it’s behind you now, and you can start smiling again.

Write it down

It’s easy to forget things, even if they’re important, if you don’t write them down.

Have a notebook where you can list the things you have to do or ideas you want to develop. Carry it with you at all times, so you can refer to it at any time. You can also create a digital to do list, but here’s the thing: there is a strange satisfaction from physically crossing out each task as you get it done that cannot be duplicated by ticking a box. Besides, you might accidentally erase your list or lose your phone or tablet. It is better to have a physical list as a backup. If you can, put it up on your whiteboard or cork board at work, so you will be constantly reminded of what you have yet to accomplish.

In fact, have separate lists for your work, home, and personal life. Think of it as your bucket list, if you like. Just make sure they are attainable. If you plan to embark on an ambitious project, break it down into manageable chunks.

Say no

Such a small word, yet many people find it almost impossible to say when it comes to work.

They think that saying yes every time someone asks them to do something earns them a can-do reputation. This may be true, but there will come a point that you have so much on your plate that you don’t get anything done, at least not properly.

This can earn you a reputation as a “can’t-do” person, instead! Preserve your good reputation by learning to say no to tasks or projects when you already have a full workload. Explain why you do not think you can handle any more work, and give suggestions on who may be able to do it better.

Make allowances

When you take on tasks, one of the first things you need to establish is the deadline. How long will it take you realistically to get a task done? Don’t just say yes to someone else’s deadline until you’ve had a chance to look into the requirements and possible sources of delay.

For example, if you need to create a layout, it may only take you an hour to do the actual work, but you still have to consider if you have to wait on some people for logos, special instructions, and so on. In some instances, the deadline may not be negotiable, in which case you have no choice. Normally, though, you set the deadlines for your own work. Make sure you are not underestimating the time required to complete each task adequately.

Focus on a single task

Working on more than one task at a time is not a good idea. For one thing, it is stressful. For another, you will not be able to do any of your tasks well if you don’t concentrate on them one at a time.

Contrary to what most people think, the brain can only handle one task in turn. If you do two things at the same time, the brain does something called task switching, which is exactly what it sounds like. As a result, your brain has to adjust constantly to different requirements for each task.

Think of it as shuttling quickly between the kitchen and the living room, doing a little bit in each room each time. You will be exhausted in no time. It is the same thing with the brain. If you keep trying to multitask, your brain is going to overload. Result: stress, nothing done well, exhaustion.

Go to bed early

You might think you’re a powerhouse by sleeping at two in the morning and getting up at six. Guess what? You’re probably not working at peak performance the whole day.

You feel tired, and your brain is not working at 100%. You need to get enough sleep at night to feel energized in the morning. Productive people start their day (early bird, worm, sound familiar?) when they are calm, clear-headed, and creative.

You need to hit the sack early enough so you get the right amount of sleep by the time you need to get up. The amount of sleep you need depends on you. Some people need nine hours, while others are at their best after seven hours of sleep.

Note that getting too much sleep is also counterproductive. Find out what works best for you and make it a habit to get that much sleep every day, even weekends.

Take a break

Relaxing on hammock in garden

Taking a break is not the same as slacking off. Even the most dedicated body builder takes a rest between workouts to give their muscles a chance to repair.

Think of your brain as just another muscle that needs time to recharge. Make it a habit to get up for a few minutes after a couple of hours of work to loosen the kinks out of your shoulders and neck. Do a little stretching, get a cup of coffee, and shoot the breeze with a couple of colleagues. Enjoy your lunch, and don’t hurry over it if that is at all possible.

On your days off, completely forget about work and enjoy your free time. Give your body and mind a complete rest, and you will feel infinitely recharged. You will feel much more up to it and productive when you get back to work.

Schedule tasks strategically

Are you a slow riser? Do you find that you lose focus after lunch? Some people work at their best in the morning, while others are more productive at night.

While you should still start your day early, you should schedule when you do certain tasks to coincide with your appropriate energy level. For example, if you think better at night, you should do creative work at that time. If you are more eloquent during lunch, schedule client or work meetings then.

Listen to your body to determine when you are most productive, and do the most difficult tasks then. Limit hard tasks to two a day, so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Learn to anticipate trouble

You need to develop situational awareness. You do not work in a vacuum, and you only control 20% at most of the things around you.

Something or someone is bound to cause trouble for you in reaching your objectives. Know every step of your work process, and identify potential delays. Try to stay one step ahead to avoid being caught flat-footed and scrambling to catch up. Failing to anticipate potential problems can derail your schedule and affect the quality of your output.

How to develop good work habits

Set goals

The first thing you need to do is to set your career goals. Time management is about becoming more productive, so you have to make sure whatever tasks you are organizing and managing are going to get you to where you want to go.

For example, if your career goal is to make CEO one day, you need to get your MBA and set out to get as much management training on the job as you can fit into your schedule. Think of it as going somewhere. You need to plot your route so you can get there safely and quickly.

You might make pit stops along the way, but you should always have your end goal in sight. Always have a goal for everything you do, and everything you do will be productive.

Be committed

It took Benjamin Franklin several weeks and constant reminders to himself to develop good work habits he believed he needed to improve himself. You need to make a commitment to create these new habits from the start. There is no shortcut to developing good work habits.

Take it one at a time

Try not to take on too much all at once. Change is always upsetting, especially if it involves other people. If you start sleeping early, for example, and your spouse or friends are used to you partying all night, you will ruffle a few feathers.

Introduce your new habits gradually, get them and you used to it, and they will eventually get on board when they see how much better you look. This same acclimatization will work in the office, when you first start refusing to take on extra work you had no problem doing before.

You need your co-workers and superiors to understand what you’re trying to do. If you try to do all these changes at the same time, it might overwhelm you and cause you to slide back to easier habits.

Don’t expect perfection

Allow one week per new habit, as Franklin did.

Focus on each one for that long before moving on to the next one. You might backslide a bit, but as long as you try to maintain it, you should be fine. It will not be perfect, but you will definitely see major improvements.

Obsessing over your perfect record will just create something new to stress about, which you don’t want. Progress, not perfection.

Build relationships

Haven’t you ever wondered why it is so much easier to stick to your diet or exercise regimen when you have someone there with you? Sharing the burden is lightening it, so if you form a relationship of trust with your co-workers, it makes the changes easier to manage. You will be able to stick to good work habits and become much more productive.

Create a system

You don’t have to make your lists or schedules from scratch every day. After you have done it enough times, you should get into the rhythm of how your day goes, and you can establish a system for getting things done.

For example, you could schedule checking your email just three times a day, and this can be a permanent part of your schedule. You don’t even have to think about it. It becomes a habit. For delegating tasks, set your go-to people for certain tasks.

These “set-and-forget” systems can make you more efficient and help increase productivity for everyone in the workplace—most importantly, you.

Be flexible

Realize that not everything you set out to do will be worth the effort.

Times change, and so will your circumstances. New opportunities may come up that will necessitate an adjustment of your goals. Don’t be afraid to drop a goal that is no longer relevant or worthwhile to you.

You have to focus your efforts on things that matter, and sometimes that means sacrificing your career goals for something more important.

Change your lifestyle

Many of these habits require you to change your lifestyle in some way, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle will also give you more energy. Aside from sleeping enough, you should eat energy-rich foods, drink alcohol moderately, and do regular exercise. When you feel good, you can take on anything.


Happy woman flying with balloons

Forming new habits is almost as hard as breaking old ones. It takes time and patience to get into the groove, and you must not give up if you don’t see results immediately. Most people never succeed in developing good time management skills because they fail to appreciate its importance. Time is a valuable resource, and you would do well to give it due respect.

It starts with attitude. Have a positive one before you even get started, and believe that you can achieve what you set out to do. If you believe this with the utmost conviction, there is no reason why you cannot succeed.

This is a guest post by Paige Donahue. She is a blogger and editor at BestEssays. She is an introvert who loves traveling the world. Gifted with a rich imagination and a talent for the written word, she enjoys penning stories and sharing her adventures. You can connect with her via Twitter.

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1 Comment

Posted by Alexandra  | June 30, 2016 at 7:36AM | Reply

It’s very useful to see all these tips put together. They serve as a great reminder that there’s always something you can improve and get great unexpected results because of it.

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