Time Management Tips for IT Professionals
When it comes to time management, many of us are travellers on that proverbial road paved with good intentions. We want to maximize our time in order to accomplish more, but we're prone to falling into the repetitive traps of habit and routine. Prog rockers Pink Floyd captured the nature of this trap in their song "Time":
You are young and life is long / and there is time to kill today.
Time management is a constant work-in-progress, and as author Benjamin Hoff wrote, "You can't save time. You can only spend it, but you can spend it wisely or foolishly."
In this article, we're going to look at time management tips and tricks for when you're working in the office or working from your home office. Both environments offer unique challenges, and often require different tweaks.
Time Management 101
Let's start with the first rule of time management: There is no such thing as time management. Time is inherently unmanageable; one second is one second for everyone, and there are only 480 minutes in an eight-hour shift whether you have a critical deadline or not.
Time management is therefore actually behavior management. The majority of people can't work at full efficiency for eight uninterrupted hours — we are not the AIs and robots which may eventually come to compete for our jobs. We can alter our behaviors, however, as well as the external factors that influence them, to achieve greater productivity when we're on the job.
Where to Begin
Your time management makeover starts with a homework assignment: You have to identify your lost minutes. Lost minutes are like calories — you genuinely don't know how many you have in a day unless you track them.
Earmark at least one work week (longer is better, when possible) to monitor the minutes when you aren't doing work-related tasks. You can use the stopwatch function on your personal device to track your idle time, but a time tracking app on your work computer or personal device is a better choice. Look for one with a start/stop function that lets you add notes describing the cause of each work stoppage.
This may sound like micromanagement on an Amazonian scale, but it's important to be ruthless with your time tracking. Record every pause in your workflow, no matter whether it was involuntary or something you chose to do. The idea is not to get judgmental — remember, you're not debating whether certain non-work activities contribute to your worth as an employee or benefit the office environment.
Remember those 480 minutes in an eight-hour workday? Every five minutes you can reclaim in a given day adds just over 1 percent to your work time. Time management is all about finding time leaks and patching them up.
Office Time Leaks
Not every minute spent not doing work is lost time — bathroom breaks are quite necessary, for instance. Getting up from your chair to stretch and focus your eyes on a distant object isn't purposeless, as it has been shown to improve levels of awareness and your overall health.
In an office setting, there are limits to what you are able to control. What you want to discover is the time lost to circumstances under your control. This includes:
Excessive socializing. Quick water cooler chats are fine, but don't be afraid to break off a conversation that's stretching on for too long.
Device daydreaming. Smartphones are terrible time thieves, sucking you in with notifications, social networks, games, and personal mail. Brief message checks during the day are fine, but don't let yourself get lost in your phone, either at your desk or during washroom breaks.
No means no. If you're invited to an optional meeting, politely abstain. Decline invitations to participate in social event planning committees. And while everyone deserves a meal break, avoid joining noontime gaming groups that often stretch lunches well past the bell.
And, if you find a time leak that's not under your control, talk to your supervisor or manager about it. Most managers will want to know about an issue that is hurting productivity, whether it's a malfunctioning office machine, an internal app causing unnecessary delays, or a task logjam that needs a better workflow in place.
Home Office Time Leaks
Working from home (WFH) offers a mix of pros and cons. While WFH requires a greater level of organization and discipline, people who thrive in WFH situations typically find they can be more productive in their own environments.
For example, you can achieve significant time gains working from home by leveraging your "power hours." Human activity is heavily influenced by internal daily cycles that regulate energy and attention levels. You probably already know when you are at your most alert and capable. Optimize your time by using your "power hours" to tackle the most challenging tasks on your work schedule.
Obversely, try to spend your lower energy hours doing less complex tasks. It will keep you engaged and make it less likely you will get discouraged and take unnecessary breaks.
A daily plan is an important component of WFH time management. Start your day by visualizing how you intend to approach your workload, and create a brief outline of your plan. This exercise helps to set priorities and makes it less likely your attention will be permanently derailed by an unexpected distraction.
Heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson famously said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." Don't let common WFH distractions (doorbells, lawn mowers, pets, ice cream trucks, etc.) knock you off your feet.
Finally, the people you share your home with — family members, partners, roommates — are all potential causes of time leaks. While it's unreasonable to ask them to tiptoe around while you're at work, it should be okay to set some basic rules around distractions and interruptions. Anything that can potentially result in lost minutes should be on the table for discussion.
Time, Manage Thyself
As previously mentioned, you actually cannot manage time. Time is a constant, unless you're a subatomic particle — and that's a different box of cats altogether.
The key to finding more time in your workday is to modify your behavior and circumstances to plug the time leaks. If you become more mindful of how you spend your time at the office (home or otherwise), then you will find you have more control over what you can accomplish during a workday.