Updating time management strategies for a new age and a new workforce

hourglass-620397_640By Michelle van Schouwen

So, how was your day?

All too often, working people’s answers range from “busy” to “exhausting” to “way too much to get done.”

We’ve heard many reasons both business owners and employees increasingly feel overwhelmed. These include competitive markets, reduced staffing, expectations that everything should be done yesterday, and unrealistic goals or expectations (even self-imposed).

The dizzying demands of today’s work environment then combine with new situations and habits to create a perfect storm of too-little-time-too-much-to-do. 

-We’ve forgotten how to focus

-We check our email and social media accounts 80,000 times a day (okay, maybe 100,000) distracting ourselves from the tasks we should be doing.

-We work at home; sometimes that’s great, but other times it means we get half as much done as we would in the office and we still feel harried.

-We attend too many meetings, many of which are too long and not sufficiently useful.

-We fail to optimize our work processes, creating inefficiencies and even errors that need correction.

-We don’t get enough sleep.

-We let our outside stresses and moods affect our productivity.

These situations and habits can be managed somewhat, even if you cannot control the economic climate or the fact that someday a robot will do your job. The strategies to do so can also be shared with your employees.

-Relearn focus. One of my first bosses told me (admiringly, I think) “When you are working, you are WORKING! And when you’re not, you’re NOT!” Find ways to focus. Perhaps you focus for 30 minutes, then take five. Design tactics to increase your ability to focus for longer periods of time – get in the zone. Inc. shares tips on that.

-Create your own Golden Rule of Responsiveness: When you receive a call or email that requires your response, what’s the ideal time range in which to make that response? Which emails merit immediate response? Can you label or color code emails for response “later” or “tomorrow” as appropriate? This MarketWatch article offers useful guidelines for email response.

-Also determine how often you should check your email. This varies by job, of course, but resist the temptation to render yourself inefficient by jumping to attention every time you receive a marginally relevant message.

-Social media, unless it is your job, is a distraction. Check it rarely, maybe at lunch. Same with the 24-hour news cycle, which is my weakness. I must be very disciplined to save my obsessive news checks for break times.

-You’ve heard the adage “everyone gets 24 hours a day.” To better employ your hours, determine what’s important, merely urgent, and in fact unimportant (to you or others). Assign time accordingly.

-Keep your meetings brief and useful. Start with business so that the agenda doesn’t get sidetracked, and stick, whenever possible, to the prescribed time. Some meetings should become phone calls, and some phone calls should become emails. Simplify where you can.

-For business owners, determine what “work hours” mean at your company, and how best to make the most of days while offering reasonable flexibility so people are better able to focus on work while at work. Here’s a good MarketWatch resource on this timely topic.

-Make a list, work the list, and leave some BLANK time for the unexpected.

-Leave time for yourself. This will help with your personal life, health, sleep, and maybe even your typical mood.

Balance is key, and managing time effectively in a hectic and distracted new age leads to the balance we need.

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Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company based in Longmeadow, MA. vSA is known for vSALaunch, its proprietary, modular and scalable system for B2B marketing launches, vSAConsult, its executive-level strategic planning capability, and for its expertise in integrated marketing for B2B. 

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