Remote workers are having to take more responsibility for managing their own time. We look at some practical tips that will help organisations guide their employees in prioritising tasks and upping task efficiency, while at the same time boosting their job satisfaction and overall well-being.
The to-do list
Our first instinct is to start jotting down our to-do’s for the day or the week and numbering them in order of importance. That may not be the most productive approach, though.
Let’s say our list of most to least pressing tasks starts with replying to an important email, followed by a long-overdue report that needs completing, then a number of phone calls, another email that is not quite as urgent, and some research on a new project.
Typically, if you were to follow this list from 1 to 5, you’d be in danger of interrupting your workflow and, worse still, ending up slogging at heavy brain work at a time of day when your mind is crying for a break. Plus, what should be a small task, such as doing emails, may end up eating up a disproportionate chunk of your day.
The thinking behind organising one’s work life
Let’s take a step back and look at the thinking behind organising individual work time. A useful approach can be borrowed from the ancient philosophers – after all, they saw their work as having to solve problems in a practical way.
Stoicism in particular holds that one should remove the emotional – the chaos and the noise – in favour of order and logic. They gave us some clear pointers on how to achieve that.
First, wake up early – nail the most challenging work while you feel fresh and everything is quiet. You are most in control of your time before others wake up.
Then, manage your expectations – anticipate possible problems and interruptions, while being pleasantly surprised if everything goes according to plan.
Create periods of stillness by allocating time so that you are able to focus on only one task. That is when you will do your best work.
It is critical to focus on what is essential at any specific moment. Say no to disturbances, and make it your motto to do less – better.
Lastly, once the day is over, do an evening review. This is a good time to assess what you did well and what you could improve on, and to start tweaking your schedule for the next day based on what happened today.
A more productive method for ticking off tasks
Now, let us pull together all of that by considering an alternative to the regular to-do list: blocking out your day in sections.
Start by grouping together smaller tasks and identifying those tasks which require more concentration and those that require less. Based on the principle that most of us do our best work early in the morning, block out ample time for the biggest, hardest task, such as completing that report.
Late afternoons tend to sap our energy, so allocate a large block to less demanding work such as doing that research. Two or three short blocks spaced throughout the day could go towards checking and responding to email, while two more short blocks late in the morning and again late in the afternoon could be for phone calls and, for instance, text communications.
Tips for ensuring that the blocking method works
As pointed out above, key to being more organised and making the most of each day is to get up early and take care of the most difficult part of our working day before the rest of the world wakes up.
Allot enough time to each task or set of tasks, and be flexible when things mess up your schedule. As long as you manage to stay in control of your diary, you’ve won the battle.
Say no to any avoidable distractions and disturbances. Do your utmost to remain focused on one task at a time, as scheduled.
Review your day to see what you have achieved, what you can do better, and how your schedule for tomorrow needs to be adjusted.
Blocking out your time as opposed to working from a to-do list gives one more control over your day and encourages greater productivity. This, in turn, increases job satisfaction and, ultimately, improves employees’ well-being.