Less clutter, more productivity

Simple steps to improve your time management skills

Bosses are always looking for ways to improve their workforce’s output, but there’s nothing more effective than an employee who takes charge of their own time management.

Businesses that want to quantify their efficiency may consider the use of time management software as they look to audit how their workers are spending their days and how long tasks are taking to be completed. Whether it’s to measure success or determine flaws, it’s unquestionably helpful to collate data that reveals a true picture.

While business tools, such as those offered by TallyPro, have a role to play in illustrating patterns – whether they be positive or negative – it is for the company itself to work out how they should then act. Should there be a problem, will a boss reach for the benevolent carrot, or do they go straight for the trusty old stick? How can leaders reward those that are found to be most productive?

Undoubtedly there are more and more distractions during the working day. Where once upon a time a quick read of the paper over a morning break might have been considered the norm, workers now have the rolling, 24-hour feeds of Facebook, Twitter and the rest on their desktop computer and smartphone. While technology was meant to save time, it often has the opposite effect. Matters are particularly bad among the young, perhaps unsurprisingly, with a report by technology company Highfive finding that as many as 73 per cent of young workers are doing something else during a conference call while 45 per cent check their phones during in-person meetings.

Bosses can try all they like to lay down rules about time management, but it’s best that they give employees some leeway in finding what works for them. Some workers may be able to sit at their desk from 9am until 5pm, including lunchtime, and complete their allotted 10 tasks. Others might spend an hour-and-a-half away from their desk and do exactly the same.

So by all means use the rich data provided by time management software, but then encourage line managers to work closely with their group to find out what makes them tick and don’t assume that time away from the desk is time wasted. Here are a few simple ways that workers can control of their own day by recognising what makes them tick and making adjustments to their routine.

1 Take an exercise break

According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, using time at work to exercise may actually help improve productivity.

This is something business expert Lisa Magloff said she tries to do every day.

“I have a desk job, but I find that if I take a long lunch and go work out, then I completely bypass the ‘afternoon slump’ and am much more productive in the afternoon,” she said.

If you can make it work with your employer, so you’re certain it won’t look bad on your time sheet, plan set times during the week for taking a walk or going to the gym. Getting your blood pumping could be just what’s needed to clear your head and get your focus back.

The body does not respond well to sitting at a desk for long periods of time. When sedentary, the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL), responsible for breaking down fat in the bloodstream and converting it to energy, drops off significantly, causing fat cells to build. In short, a lack of movement equals a decline in energy – so find those moments to get moving during the day.

2 Set time management deadlines

As Magloff mentioned, it is important to be cognisant of one’s own work habits and recognise how we work best.

Working in intervals of no more than 90 minutes proves to be more fruitful than spending any longer focusing on work. Aim to get a certain task complete in that time frame and you will find yourself more focused and looking forward to a well-earned break!

Regularly check in with yourself to evaluate if what you are doing is productive. Productivity levels can always be improved.

“Employers need to be more responsive and flexible to the fact that not every employee works best in the same way,” Magloff explained.

“Some employees need flexible working, some need more rigid structure, etc. Employers need to be open to allowing employees more room to structure their work in the way that suits them best.”

3. Stop trying to multitask

While multitasking is the cornerstone of many an office culture, some psychologists advocate that attempting to manage several tasks at once may decrease performance levels.

It turns out that 98 per cent of the population doesn’t multi-task very well, according to a study published by the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. Most of us are not really accomplishing more than one thing at the same time – we’re actually shifting back and forth from one task to another, such as typing an email and then listening to that conference call conversation, then back to our email and so on. It’s incredibly inefficient because your brain needs some time to refocus on a task and can actually reduce productivity by as much as 40 per cent.

While we tend to think of the ability to multitask as an important skill for increasing efficiency, the opposite may in fact be true. Instead, focus on a single task before moving on to your next project and you’ll see a world of difference in your output.

4 Create a nice space to work in

Although you might not think it is important to work in a pleasant setting, some research shows that an aesthetically pleasing office, with things like plants, can increase productivity by up to 15 per cent.

According to The Workplace Advantage report from The Stoddart Review, a business could bolster its productivity by between 1 and 3.5 per cent, adding as much as £70bn to the UK economy, by simply paying more attention to the details of a workspace.

The research found that only 53 per cent of the UK’s office workers could say their workplace enables them to be productive. For the rest, a workplace that’s unproductive is also affecting their pride in the company, its image and culture.

So, jazz up your office space with flowers, photographs, memorabilia or anything that puts a smile on your face, and the production results should begin rolling in.

5 Take regular breaks

Your workday success should be measured by how much you are actually accomplishing in a day, not how many hours you spend at your desk. Effective time-tracking software these days shows what workers have completed, rather than simplistic punch-card info.

With that in mind, taking regular breaks is an essential component to maintaining a sound body and mind.

If you just can’t find the time in your day to take a long lunch to go to the gym, try taking more frequent breaks and just step away from your work.

“Employees can boost their efficiency by improving their time management skills,” said business expert John Boitnott. “Make sure you’re giving yourself brief breaks every half hour or hour, so that you are mentally equipped to handle periods of hard work. I recommend taking a 5 to 15 minute break every half hour to an hour. Taking breaks will increase your efficiency while you are actually doing work.”