How to Improve Your Time Management Skills to Stay Focused

The average employee spends 51% of every workday on low-value tasks like commuting, attending irrelevant meetings and reading or responding to unnecessary emails. This mismanaged time can really add up, with researchers estimating that companies lose out on 720 hours of productivity a year per worker. Lack of time management skills can also cause higher levels of stress and anxiety, which can quickly lead to feelings of overwhelm and burnout in the workplace. People who intentionally practice good time management are more productive, have more energy and enjoy more free time to do what they want. So, how can we improve time management skills to stay focused at work?

3 Time Management Skills to Help You Stay Focused

There are a lot of resources out there to help you manage your time. The average person tries up to 13 time management strategies before finding one that works for them. So, we’ve outlined three simple ways anyone can improve their time management skills and stay focused at work:

1. Track How You Spend Your Time

The first step to better time management is determining how you spend your time. Keep a time log for a week or two to determine how you use your time each day. Use a journal, spreadsheet, or an app— whatever is easiest for you to record your daily actions in fifteen-minute intervals. At this point, you are just gathering data. Once you have tracked your activity for a week or two, reflect on this information by asking yourself:

  • What time of day am I most productive?
  • What do I spend the most amount of time on?
  • Did I accomplish everything I needed to get done?
  • Which tasks take more time than I thought?
  • Use the above questions to evaluate how your time could be used more effectively. Perhaps difficult tasks could be done during your most productive time of day. If you find several tasks that took longer than expected, look at why. Was it due to distractions or interruptions? Or is it simply a matter of allocating time more realistically?

    2. Make a Better To-Do ListTime Management Box

    A to-do list is an easy way to stay focused on things that must be done. But rather than just creating a long list of things you may or may not get to, try using this list to prioritize your activity. You can rank the list in order of priority using a number or color system, or you can group items into a box separated into four categories labeled urgent/not urgent, and important/not important to visualize your priorities. 

    Taking time to set clear priorities for daily, weekly and monthly tasks can help you stay focused on the right things. Your to-do list is not a list of goals but should be a list of actual tasks that must be completed. When you find a task on your list is both “not urgent” and “not important,” take it off your list. Remember, the goal is to complete the most important and urgent daily tasks.

    3. Minimize Distractions to Stay Focused

    Next, use the information you have gathered from tracking your time and setting priorities to identify things that commonly distract you from your most important work. Most workers will find that their most common distractions are emails, interruptions and smartphones. Depending on your role at work, you may have limited control over the first two. However, consider establishing reasonable expectations around monitoring emails if you are a manager.

  • Schedule time to check emails. No matter your role, it is better to check email at limited intervals throughout the day to focus on other tasks more deeply. Actively monitoring emails all day to respond immediately is distracting and mentally draining.
  • Use “Do Not Disturb” functions. Create a do not disturb system for your workplace. There are many ways to do this for online work or for those lucky enough to have an office door that can be closed but can be challenging for workers in cubicles. However, workers can create a do not disturb sign to post at their desks; or tell colleagues they are not available for conversation if they are wearing headphones. The best way to minimize interruptions is to communicate and set expectations.
  • Let Your Smartphone Help You. If you find your phone is a distraction during the day, you are not alone. If you are constantly checking your phone, it’s time to let your smartphone help you stay focused! Use functions like “Focus Mode” on your iPhone or Android to minimize visual distractions during work hours, or simply turn off notifications for distracting apps on your phone.
  • How Managers Can Improve Employee Time Management Skills

    Managers play a very important role in improving their employees’ time management skills. Leaders should not only model good time management behaviors but also actively develop those skills in their team. In addition, managers should evaluate the amount of time being spent in meetings and on low-value tasks to see what could be done differently.  Effective time management can become a part of any workplace culture with an effective plan to prioritize tasks and minimize distractions.