There are all kinds of tactics you can use to become more productive, increase your concentration, and manage your time better. Everyone has certain struggles in this area, and everyone has their own ways of dealing with this, or at least attempting to. How do other professionals handle this and what can you learn from them?
We asked Annemarie Roos, HR consultant at Shoeby, about her approach, tips and advice on this topic. Spoiler alert: For a self-confessed chaotic person, she is secretly really organized.
Hi Annemarie, what role does time management play in your work?
“Time management is a very important topic for me. I’m not a born planner or organizer and I definitely struggle to keep my focus during the day. This is precisely why I decided to throw myself into various training programs and seminars aimed at teaching brain-friendly ways of working. It’s now at the point where my manager sends over other colleagues if they need help with their inboxes or scheduling.”
What strategy do you use?
“I begin each day by determining my top three tasks that really need to get done. Anything I do on top of that then feels like a bonus. My day actually always turns out differently than I’d expected. If I make my to-do list too long, it just doesn’t get done. That creates extra pressure and I then feel like I’ve failed. That’s why I take an extra close look at my priorities in the morning and make sure to pick just three.
I’ll then schedule these three appointments and tasks. Ideally, I’ll do this in one-hour time blocks, because I’ve learned that it’s good to focus for an hour and then take a 15-minute break. That might sound awkward, but taking breaks is actually really important if you want to stay focused and do your job well. I’ll usually take a walk or gaze out of a window and do nothing at all; it’s about taking a moment to relax my focus between moments of concentration.
“Always take a moment to do nothing.”
Additionally, I tailor my work environment to the task at hand. It’s easy to make phone calls in the office, but if I need to really concentrate, I’m better off working by myself or working from home.
Oh, and one more tip: I block out time to complete small, separate tasks together, so that they don’t pile up and I can work through them quickly.”
How do you prioritize tasks and manage your agenda?
“I’ve learned to start and end my day by working through my inbox. During these times, I take a moment to read through all my emails and attach a general action to each one.
Any tasks I can do in less than two minutes, I do right away. Anything that’s time-sensitive I schedule and get it out of my inbox. In my agenda, I give these actions certain colors: For example, purple is a call and blue is planning and development. By doing this, I manage to structure my diary and my inbox is virtually empty.
Additionally, I always schedule two hours a day for ad-hoc tasks. These two hours also give me some flexibility if something takes longer than I’d expected.
“I’m naturally chaotic and not at all organized. I’ve been working this way for years because it helps me to manage my agenda better and get an overview of what I’m doing. It also gives me peace of mind and I just get more done this way.”
How do you avoid distractions and get yourself in a state of flow?
“I’m a thinker and a dreamer, so, my biggest distraction is myself. For me, the trick is to eliminate all other distractions, like my phone. I deliberately put it somewhere I can’t see it. If I don’t want to be distracted by my colleagues, I sit alone or work from home.”
What should you watch out for if you want to organize your time well?
“That you don’t overfill your day. Things always happen that you didn’t see coming. There’s a good chance that I’ll have to push back a lot of tasks if I overfill my schedule. You can do this for a day or two, but if you keep doing that, it gets difficult to get a clear overview of what needs to be done and causes unnecessary stress.”
How do you deal with stressful periods?
“In these moments I always feel that I have too much to do in too little time. These are usually the times when I’ve lost track of what’s going on. When you’re in these moments, you usually can’t see the forest for the trees. Everything feels like it’s top priority.
So, I often ask my manager to sit down with me. An outsider can help you get things into perspective and separate the wheat from the chaff, which means that, nine times out ten, I usually realize things aren’t so bad.”
“The corporate world is placing increasing demands on people, so you have to take care of yourself.”
How do you cultivate a good work/life balance?
“I cultivate a good balance by scheduling plenty of time for myself and making sure I’m charging my personal battery. In the past, I had a tendency to impose a lot of extra responsibilities on myself, on top of work, such as daily exercise, visiting family, and maintaining a lot of friendships. Basically, I didn’t want to miss anything because I was afraid people wouldn’t like me. This caused me a lot of unnecessary stress. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that it’s okay to say ‘no’.
I now make sure not to plan anything at all for two out of every three evenings, so I can see what I feel like doing at the time. That might mean going over to a friend’s house for dinner, but often I just end up cozying up on the sofa to watch TV or read a book.”
“Personally, I’d rather not schedule anything and end up doing something anyway than have loads of things I need to do and not actually have the energy to do them.”
What kind of policies related to this topic do you have at Shoeby?
“If people let us know that things are getting too much for them or that they’re in a difficult situation, we respond immediately. As a preventative measure, we like to inform our employees about these kinds of topics using newsletters, for example. Last year, we held a masterclass about work satisfaction, which included discussions about work/life balance and your personal energy schedule. But in terms of prevention, I still think we could be doing more here.
We primarily facilitate and inform employees, so that they can tackle these issues for themselves. Most teams will have a meeting at the start of the day or week to discuss workloads and their current focus, and we provide access to online training about productivity, goal setting, and finding peace of mind via Goodhabitz.
We also encourage everyone to ask others for help if they need it. Asking for help is always a good thing and it allows us to do a little better next time. After all, we believe in accomplishing things alongside our colleagues, not on our own as individuals. If you can see that your colleague is struggling, you should offer to help.
That’s also the culture here at Shoeby; it’s a warm, engaged organization where we all work together and strive to be a little better each day. That’s just the Shoeby feeling and you feel it all over the company.”
“Time management will always be a challenge for me. All I can really do is continue to be aware of it. And if I can’t figure it out, I just ask for help.”
Do you need help figuring out how to structure you schedule or work day? Our psychologists are here to support you. Schedule a free, no-obligation introductory session.