It’s ingrained in many of us to strive for optimal productivity. Are you in the habit of negative self-talk when you don’t accomplish as much as you had planned? You are not alone. Many of us may not have a healthy relationship with time management. Have you ever thought to yourself:
- I never have enough time in a day
- I don’t manage my time well enough
- I was a lousy worker/parent/student because I didn’t do this task today
I’ve succumbed to the idea that I only have a ‘good’ day if I have checked enough tasks off my to-do list. Well, that extra pressure you’re putting on yourself to achieve a certain level of productivity is probably making things worse and will lead to burnout faster.
Burnout is prevalent today, with 49% of the workforce feeling at least somewhat burned out.1 Yet paradoxically, time management tactics and tools often increase the stress we face rather than reducing it.2 This is because many time management techniques attempt to squeeze more tasks into our days. We optimize our time and then feel pressured to accomplish an even longer list of tasks before addressing the root issues.
If your mindset is ‘productivity or bust,’ you need to address the root problem of your negative time management mindset. Here are five time management techniques to prevent burnout and reframe your negative perspective on time management.
1. Struggling with perfectionism? Try the 80/20 rule
If you’re like me, you set higher standards for yourself than anyone else. So when we think we fall short, we tend to create this narrative that our work isn’t good enough. But balancing perfection with appropriate time management solutions should be the goal which is my version of the 80/20 rule. There is no need to let perfection be the enemy of good!
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, states that 80% of results come from 20% of the effort. In other words, when you’ve spent 20% of the time working on your task, you’re already 80% finished. There is clearly a diminishing return on your time after 20% of the effort. So instead of spending 8 hours on that project to make it perfect, could it be ‘good enough’ in 3 hours or less?
There are many root causes of burnout, one of which is perfectionism. A study of physicians noticed that self-critical perfectionism is uniquely predicted by high emotional exhaustion and burnout.3 This is an excellent example of how a poor time management technique can cause burnout. Shifting your mindset to be less critical can take some time, but is worth the effort. Preventing burnout and creating a healthier mindset around time management is essential.
2. Start your day by accomplishing the most challenging task
Historically, I’ve started my day by completing the easiest tasks first. I created this narrative that my brain isn’t firing on all cylinders before my morning coffee kicks in. This is a false story I’ve told myself for years. In fact, I often think about that difficult task in the back of my head all morning, distracting myself from clearer thinking which is critical for maximizing productivity.
Procrastination is something we have all succumbed to. Getting started on a difficult task is half the battle. So, instead of procrastinating and letting that difficult task loom over your head, tackle it immediately. This could even boost your confidence to complete your other tasks more efficiently.
Don’t fall into the trap of putting off a task for multiple days. When this happens, ask yourself, why am I avoiding this task? When I defer complex work, it looms over me after working hours. Waiting to start that problematic project until later in the day or week is a poor time management technique that will only add extra stress, and contribute to burnout.
3. Schedule no meeting days
My favorite work days are now Tuesdays because they are my no-meeting days. I look forward to these days because I know I will have more uninterrupted time to accomplish my work. I have found that getting into a groove of my work is easier if I know I don’t have other set obligations that will break up my time.
One meeting free day each week may not be possible, depending on your role or industry. If this is the case, try asking yourself why. Is it because you think you can’t ask for this from your manager, colleagues, or customers? Can you move recurring meetings to another day? This doesn’t need to be the same day each week. Perhaps it can move around depending on your weekly workload and schedule. If you feel like one day a week is impossible, try a 3-hour time block twice a week instead.
It’s essential to keep your boundaries firm on your no meeting time as much as possible. If you find it difficult to say no, your people-pleasing tendencies may be the root cause of this time management problem. Sometimes you need the flexibility to drop everything to help someone out. But you don’t need to do it every time. One company I worked for implemented no meeting Fridays to address team burnout. For the first few weeks, it worked splendidly. But after two months, it was common to have team meetings on Fridays again. Find the courage to set boundaries and explain why they benefit you and the organization. Take the time to celebrate the freedom achieved, health benefits realized and productivity gained. Active and tangible illustrations will reinforce the new boundaries as both credible and effective. Over time they will become components of the team work practices and revered as a positive component of company culture.
4. Avoid phone distractions
A study found that the average person unlocks their phone 110 times daily.4 I often unlock my phone without a destination in mind to feel a connection or to entertain myself. You may think this serotonin boost helps to provide a quick break. But this is likely another form of procrastination. And we know procrastination increases our stress levels, leading to burnout more quickly.
If you find yourself picking up your phone throughout the day when you don’t need to – try putting your phone out of reach. One fear may be that you need to have your phone on hand in case someone calls or texts you that you need to address immediately. My solution to this issue is a smartwatch. You don’t need to spend $400 on an Apple watch for this time management technique to work. A lower-cost option like Fitbit runs off Bluetooth. So when your phone is nearby, a notification can be sent to your watch to alert you.
An even better (and free) alternative time management technique is to activate your personal phone’s “do not disturb” setting during critical working times. You can even deploy a “pro” tactic and set specific contacts to be allowed notifications when your phone is in “do not disturb” mode. This way, you can simultaneously be available for those important contacts while also focusing your time and attention on your tasks.
5. Don’t check in on work outside of working hours
Early in my career, I got into the habit of checking emails outside of working hours. In my first job, I was an analyst consultant and was expected to respond to our clients promptly. I was eager to please and mistook the “respond promptly” guideline as an expectation to reply to emails even outside of working hours. Sound familiar?
Like you, I was motivated to start strong with my new employer and excited to establish rapport with assigned clients. In doing so, I overstepped personal boundaries to please both my clients and my manager. Always being ‘on’ happened gradually, and over time became a habit. This constant pressure of always being available during personal time can lead to burnout faster because it interrupts time to relax and recuperate. When you’re burned out, it’s more challenging to manage time in and out of working hours appropriately. Do yourself the favor of not checking emails until the next business day to prevent burnout before it happens.
Good time management techniques are strongly associated with positive mental health indicators such as lower stress levels and a healthy work-life balance – ultimately freeing you up to do better work and be more fulfilled doing it! These time management techniques help you optimize your time in and outside of working hours to reduce stress and anxiety levels.
A great solution to optimize these time management techniques more efficiently is LiquidPlanner. One of the core product features is creating and maintaining a balanced workload. You’ll know right away if you’ve signed yourself up for too much work each week. The automatic resource scheduler enables prioritization of tasks and changes with a simple drag and drop are reflected across your work in real time so you can maintain a balanced workload each week. LiquidPlanner can also help you reduce the stress of delivering against timelines. The predictive scheduling engine estimates when tasks will be complete with 90% confidence, so you don’t have to fret about delivering your projects late. The software makes it easy to apply these time management techniques to your daily life. Address the root causes of your poor time management routines with LiquidPlanner to create a sustained and healthy relationship with your limited time.
About the Author
Missy Day has over ten years of experience developing and executing marketing strategies for various industries. She runs and operates her marketing consulting firm and various other small business ventures. She also specializes in burnout management and prevention for other corporate professionals.