Is your superpower wish the ability to stop time? Do you spend your days putting out fires, never getting to those projects that linger at the end of your to-do list? In this three-part series, we’ll offer tips to help you squeeze more out of your minutes as a busy HR professional.
Part 1: All in a Day’s Work
In this first installment, we’ll look at four strategies for getting more productivity—and enjoyment—out of your workdays.
1. Study how you spend your time.
Keep a written time log of every hour of your workday for two weeks. Record all of your time spent in calls, meetings, emails, travel, breaks and anything else.
After making your log, see if you can spot patterns. When did you feel most productive? When did you get interrupted? Which tasks did you accomplish? Which tasks were left undone? This analysis is your roadmap for how to improve your time management.
2. Carve out your most productive times.
Armed with the insights from your time log, you can take steps to carve out your most productive times for the work that demands your deepest thinking.
Hypothetically, you may realize that 9 a.m.-10 a.m. is when you feel most focused (coffee may have something to do with it). Yet, your log shows that you tend to spend that time reading/answering emails, many of which are not urgent. You observe a lull in your schedule from 12 p.m.-1 p.m. and see that you get lunch then. You notice that you tend to feel most drained between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., yet that is when you often tackle your most complex projects.
In this hypothetical, you can make real gains in your productivity by setting aside 9 a.m.-10 a.m. for your most complex projects, turning to non-urgent emails during the 12 p.m.-1 p.m. lull, and having lunch at 1 p.m., when you feel most drained.
Inevitably, there will be times when unexpected tasks pop up and require you to rework your plans. Yet, by organizing your days to take advantage of your most focused times as often as you can, you can do more with your minutes.
3. Set aside time for planning.
Invest time each week just to organize your to-do list. Consider dividing your tasks into high-, medium-, and lower-priority items. This can help allocate your attention to the work that needs it most, rather than to the projects that landed on your list first, but may not be as important. To do this, you’ll need a clear understanding with your colleagues, clients or others as to what a task requires and when it needs to get done. If that’s not clear, be sure to ask.
Check your to-do list at the start and end of each workday. Look ahead to the open time slots on your calendar and set appointments for yourself to work on your remaining tasks, keeping in mind the insights you gained from your time log.
Set aside time each week to think about how you will accomplish your lower-priority tasks—the items that tend to linger on your to-do list. Where a project is taking longer than you anticipated, consider getting a colleague’s perspective. Sometimes another point of view can help to pinpoint resources for getting a project done faster.
4. Make time for fun.
With seemingly endless demands on your plate, it may seem foolish, let alone unrealistic, to schedule more activity into your workweek. Yet, by pursuing what gives you enjoyment outside of work, you can stretch your brain in ways that can benefit your work. This can mean taking time to read that new bestseller, play your favorite sport, check out an exhibit, or do whatever else that gets your creative juices flowing.
Look back at your time log and see where you had space in your schedule for these activities if only you had planned to do them in advance. Then, try scheduling a few of these activities into your week and commit to them just as you would a meeting or conference call. Chances are, by making time for fun, you will approach your work with renewed energy and fresh ideas.
By taking a closer look at how you spend your workdays, you can spot areas where small changes can lead to big gains in your productivity, even without the power to stop time.