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Time Management Tips: Work Smarter in Any Environment

April 2, 2020

Work efficiently and make the most of the workday!

Effective time management is a key strategy to work and life success. Currently, with many people trying to learn to work effectively from home due to the recent COVID-19 health pandemic, time management has become more challenging for many people. A complicating factor in developing an effective strategy is that there is no single recipe for success. Every person is unique—with differing personalities, job responsibilities, personal commitments, and goals—and all of these factors need to be considered when developing a time management strategy.

To help develop a personalized time management strategy, it is important to recognize your own working style and identify approaches that best amplify your working efficiency. This is a learning process that will take trial and error. It is helpful to learn about strategies that work for others and then choose and test out ones that are of interest to see if they will also work for you.

The Grant Plant is comprised of a team of grant writers who have experience with managing multiple deadlines, collaborating with partner organizations to complete projects, and working both in-office and remotely (some of us with over 17 years of work-from-home experience). Over the years, we have become well aware of the importance of effective time management. Recently, we had a constructive discussion about time management strategies that resulted in some useful key takeaways. I am sharing these today in the hopes that they may provide you with some new ideas to improve your own time management approach.

Assess weekly workload

  • Plan: At the start of each week, review your workload to see what is on your plate for the entire week. Screen and review new projects as they come during the week to assess time commitments and work requirements. It is possible the work plan for the week will have to be adjusted due to new, time-sensitive projects.
  • Review project requirements: Note project deadlines and time estimates and make sure you are in agreement and in tune with what is required. Potential strategies include reviewing work product requirements and building templates and determining what information is on hand and what is needed.
  • Collaborate: Communicate with your co-workers, as needed. Discuss potential issues with projects with similar deadlines or projects that may take longer than what is estimated.
  • Ask for help: Consider delegating tasks that you will not be able to complete in the required time.

 

Prioritize workload

Potential strategies/considerations include:

  • Deadlines: The sooner the deadline, the more urgent the project. Deadlines always need to be taken into consideration and will sometimes be the driving force behind prioritization. Learn to manage projects with close deadlines (consider importance, complexity, size, and other points below to help prioritize).
  • Importance: Projects with high importance should be prioritized before other work tasks.
  • Complexity: Consider how much brainpower the project will require and whether high complexity will impact the length of time it takes to complete the project.
  • Size: Will the work take a long time to complete or is it a quick turnaround?
  • Project background: Is all the information on-hand to complete the project? If there is information needed, it is best to get requests out for this information right away to get the process moving. Set the questions to partners in motion and then move on to another project.
  • Project partners: Get to know your clients and other partners who you work with on projects. Some partners will be immediately responsive and others may be harder to get information from. Set in motion communications with slow-responding partners and move on to another project. Also consider how much collaboration is required. Having a number of collaborators may make projects go slower because it requires relying on other people and their schedules.
  • Play to your personality: Prioritization will, in some part, be up to the individual – some people may tend to knock out the small/easy projects first, while others will choose to try and tackle the complex project that may require deep thinking.
  • Be selective: A good rule of thumb is about three daily priorities. If you have too many, you may find you get less done. Fit smaller items around these priorities.

 

Identify beneficial tools, methods, and motivational prompts

Although entirely personal, these approaches can potentially help with keeping track of project workload, spur motivation, and provide a sense of achievement.

  • Planners, calendars, notebooks: Write tasks and their associated target dates for completion in the product of your choice (daily/weekly/monthly planner, notebook, online calendar, etc.). In addition to writing down all tasks, break this down further and write out all tasks for the week or even for the day. Circle deadlines or important completion points, indicate who you are working with for each project, cross off tasks as completed, and carry over to next day tasks that are not completed.
  • Post it notes: Use post it notes to write out and show daily or weekly tasks. Post in a strategic location as a point of motivation.
  • Time blocking: Develop an ideal workweek schedule. Consider setting up meetings on specific days or at specific times (e.g., meetings on Mondays and Wednesdays only or only in mornings), save some days to complete desk/computer work, establish times when no one can disturb you so you can focus on priority/deep thinking projects (e.g., turn email off, post “do not disturb” if in office).
  • Create personal deadlines: Create your own deadlines for smaller project sections to keep projects on track and feel accomplished. This may also help with project planning by phasing projects around internal deadlines.
  • Recharge and refresh: Identify a method mid-day to keep up mental agility and motivation. This will look different for different people – a mid-day workout, a walk outside, an out of office lunch.

 

Work efficiently

  • Work simultaneously on projects: Consider working on a few projects at once. Switch between projects for a brain shift. This may be necessary at times to make sure a project is moving to meet deadlines (e.g., send out questions to obtain required information for a project).
  • Focus intently on one project: Block time to focus on a project that requires deep thought. Recognize that sometimes it may be more beneficial to just hunker down and knock out intense projects.
  • Complete tasks at hand: Make a goal to finish one complete sub-part of a project before moving to your next project or before stopping for the day (e.g., complete one section of a document you are working on, finish email responsibilities). Don’t stop in the middle of a task that will require you to re-familiarize yourself with the project again.
  • Maximize optimal thinking times: Recognize the times when you can focus and think the best and designate these times for harder tasks. For some, this may be to plan the day to make easier tasks at the end of the day when they are tired, or to do harder tasks during uninterrupted time periods (e.g., time blocked for deep thinking).
  • Move a project forward with what information you have: While waiting on information to come in, complete as much of the project that is as possible (e.g., develop the template, fill in the answers you can). This will help you to become familiar with the project and help develop a structure to build off of efficiently when info comes in. Prepare so you will be able to “hit the ground running.”
  • Manage emails and social media: Determine an approach to managing email and social media responsibilities. Designate specific times to check email (e.g, morning, mid-day, and end of day) or tend to these as they come in. Emails can be a distraction but also may sometimes need to be monitored for important, timely information.
  • Make sure meetings are efficient: Focus on the tasks at hand and try and keep meeting participants discussing these matters. Strive to identify and assign actionable, compatible tasks to participants that will move the work forward. Be conscious of time and don’t let meetings drag on for too long.

 

Regroup at end of day

  • Be flexible: Accept the fact that you often will not finish everything you had hoped to finish. Be flexible and forgiving with yourself, as long as you are doing your best!
  • Set up for success: Write out tasks that still need to be completed during the next workday. Note progress or tips that will help you be able to jump back into the project without having to take too much time to remember where to re-initiate your work or what the project is about.
  • Prioritize: Note any priority first-of-the day actions that are time-sensitive and require your immediate attention.
  • Regroup: Relax and enjoy your off-work time. Turn off any work-related concerns until the next workday.

 

I hope these time management tips and strategies will prove as useful to you as they have to our team at The Grant Plant. Time management is a continual learning process. Your approach should be flexible and grow with you as your responsibilities and life situations change. If you have any additional time management strategies that you use, please feel free to share with us—we would love to hear your unique and effective ideas!

 

Contact: Wendy McCoy, Resource Development Officer II, wendy@thegrantplantnm.com

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