Being confident in your professional strengths is key to success. Clients are sure to spread the word about how organized your office is and how quick you are to answer an email. But understanding your shortcomings is another great way to be your best self for your clients and for your business. This is not to say you should spend your days making excuses for the projects that go unfinished or the phone calls unreturned. There is only room for improvement when the need for improvement is recognized. In general, our professional weaknesses can be boiled down to two factors: poor time management and miscommunication. This week we discuss the former and how best to address time management challenges in your office.
With all the workflow gadgets and improvement widgets floating around in today’s modern workplaces, “I lost track of time” seems a sorry excuse for letting tasks fall by the wayside. Time management challenges are sure to interrupt your professional environment at some point, but it’s important not to make the issues personal or point fingers. Here are several individual solutions to struggles with time management, as well as some team-based solutions that will keep everyone on track and hopefully diminish the tension in the office.
- Keep a journal of daily tasks. This is a helpful way to stay organized at the start and end of each day. When you first arrive at the office, take a look at the list from the day before and check off anything you’ve completed. Spend the last five minutes of your day with your list, too. Not only is this a good way of keeping track of your tasks, I find that physically writing something down as opposed to typing it helps me remember it more clearly. It’s also a good way to ease into and out of the day. For those visual people, make your own library of symbols to keep track of completed tasks or tasks that need more information before they can be finalized.
- Utilize the tools in your inbox. I never thought I’d reach a point where 50-plus emails a day were “just a few.” I have found so much solace in creating specified folders for different projects and using those little red “follow up” flags. When I’m in the middle of a project and an email notification pops up on my screen, I immediately click the follow up button. That way when I go back to my (usually full) inbox, I know which ones need my attention first. When I complete a task, I file it into the corresponding project folder and change the flag to a check mark. There is nothing more satisfying than leaving the office with an inbox full of green check marks.
- Make your computer calendar do the heavy lifting. If you know you have recurring due dates for projects, create an alert. Set it for five days, three days, or one day before the due date, so you’re not scrambling for all the pieces to come together when it’s down to the wire. These alerts are incredibly customizable, so there’s no reason there wouldn’t be an option to fit any type of procrastinator.
- Take a timed break. Tracking your breaks allows you to stay on track with your current task. Set your phone timer (the only time you should have your phone out while you’re working!) and grab a snack, catch up on the news, sports, and weather. As soon as the timer goes off, it’s back to work. You can also try the inverse of this, which is to work in time bursts. Set your timer for 60 minutes or 90 minutes and work hard for the whole time. When the timer goes off, reset it and take a 10-minute break. The most important part of this tool is to stay focused when you’re working and make the minutes count.
While managing your time is definitely a personal responsibility, it’s important to remember that the team is only as effective as its slowest member. Consider these quick tips for helping everyone to stay on task.
- Keep your emails short and to the point. If you’re following up on the status of a project, make sure that’s the point of the email. Similarly, if you’re responding to an email, tell the truth about a project status. “It’s coming along” isn’t proactive and isn’t measurable. “I’ll have it completed by Wednesday at noon” allows for others to plan around your timetable.
- Take group lunches. If everyone is out of the office at the same time, then that means everyone is working at the same time the rest of the day. You can use lunchtime to talk about work, or to just catch up with each other. This gives your team a chance to relax together so that everyone comes back from lunch refreshed and ready for the second half.
- Ask if someone needs help. If you’re good at sticking to task and tend to sneak out of the office ten minutes early everyday, take some time to check with your coworkers on how you can use those precious extra minutes. Maybe there’s a brief you can proof or some data you can input that would allow your teammate to spend his time more efficiently and subsequently spare the rest of your team from a delay down the road. If you’re on the other end and someone is asking you if they can help, say yes.
Time management issues have the potential to derail a team of even the most productive members. Taking the time to internally discover what methods work best for you will not only allow you to save time during the day, it will also benefit your team in the long run. Most businesses aren’t operated by a team of one, so be sure all the other members are moving toward the same target at a consistent pace; this will keep the machine humming.