May 29, 2015

Tick Tock...

Sarah Pavey

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Each person has his or her own particular strengths and skills at work. In the Mind Tools office, for example, we've got expert project managers, inspiring leaders, creative geniuses, finance pros, technology whizzes, and top-notch sales people… to name but a few!

Me? I love time management and productivity… and I'm not afraid to admit it! I'm always searching for the next big time-management app or tool, and I'm all ears when it comes to the latest strategies and techniques.

Looking back, I think my interest in all things productivity-related started in high school. One day, I suddenly found myself facing a whole bunch of exams, with no real idea about how to organize my time or my workload. Of course, I took the most obvious path: I checked my schedule for the date of my first test and focused on revising for it, without much thought about the second, third, fourth, or fifth exam…

You guessed it... by the time I felt ready for the test, I realized I only had a few days left to prep for the next one! Admittedly, I panicked and procrastinated for a while (one of my specialties as a teenager) before I realized it wasn't getting me anywhere. Instead, I decided it was time for a bold new strategy.

How could I focus on all of my exams, and not get stuck on the one coming up next? To me, the most obvious course of action was to divide my day up into dedicated chunks of time. For example, I would spend one or two hours on one subject, followed by a break, followed by another chunk of time focusing on another. I prioritized the more important tests, and allocated additional chunks of time to them, but overall I managed to cover pretty much everything. It was tough to start with: it felt counterproductive to stop when I was in flow, and I was going against my natural instinct to see things through to completion.

Despite my reservations, it was working, and it started getting easier. Approaching revision one chunk at a time stopped me from multitasking, it forced me to focus, and it kept my perfectionist tendencies in check. It also helped me discover how long certain tasks would take me, which meant I could plan my next revision sessions more effectively.

A few years have passed since then, and times have changed. These days, you'll most likely find me using the Pomodoro Technique® and setting 25-minute work sessions, rather than two-hour ones. Of course, work is a little different from exam prep, and I've learned how important it is to be flexible. For example, some jobs just won't fit into specific chunks of time - they take as long as they take. And, always expect the unexpected... contingency time is a must!

In our latest article on Timeboxing, we discuss a simple technique you can use to focus on time instead of tasks. It encourages you to allocate a certain length of time (a "timebox") to each of your activities, and then stop once your timer goes off. You can use it to manage your own, and your team members', time effectively, and get the most out of your day.

What time-management strategies or tools have you found useful? What are your biggest time-management challenges? Are some tasks easier to manage using timeboxing than others? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

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2 comments on “Tick Tock...”

  1. Doing anything we can to minimize our multitasking will help us be more productive and efficient. Look forward to checking out Timeboxing. Thanks for the info, Sarah.

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