This week we welcome HBG Senior Researcher and Efficiency Lead Kenny Tavares. Since he took on the new role of Efficiency Tsar this summer, Kenny has identified some off-the shelf tools and has also created some beauties on his own (yay macros!) to solve some long-simmering inefficiencies in our work. Getting from A to B can become much quicker when you take the time to sit back, identify the inefficiencies, and dream up the ideal solutions. In this week’s blog post, Kenny shares what he’s been learning about managing time. ~Helen
“Be More Productive,” “100 Time Management Tips” and “Increase Your Productivity” are some likely headlines you’ve seen in your LinkedIn or Twitter feeds. It seems there are an unending number of tips and tricks for improving your efficiency at work. However, for many of us, the idea of embracing even a few new ideas – never mind 20, 50 or 100 ideas – can seem like a daunting task. Some of these recommendations have been passed along so many times it’s hard to know where they came from or if they even make sense in the modern workplace. Do the authors of these articles even use these tips themselves? Reading all these lists can seem antithetical to being productive.
Still, I continue to digest these concepts – and for good reason. In our busy lives, we all want to feel as though we’re using our time as wisely as possible. Many of these suggestions are actually effective. But, when push comes to shove, most of us just resort to our regular habits. After all, the time it takes to change our routines can be better spent completing tasks and managing deadlines. It’s ultimately easier to stick with what works.
But, do our regular routines work? Recently, I was asked to help manage inefficiencies in our company tasks and it seemed like a perfect time to address my own time management skills. My research led me to the plethora of lists that abound on the internet. Feeling overwhelmed, I sought out a course to help me manage the unwieldly subject of time management and productivity. While, like many, I remain a work in progress, I have looked for some larger concepts to guide me through my journey. I have started to focus on the following ideas that I hope will be helpful to you, too.
Manage all of your time, not just your work time
We all want an existence where our work life is completely divided from our home life. However, by doing this, we may miss out on opportunities to be more efficient with our time. Also, there are certainly times when one bleeds into the other. Ultimately, it is useful to view all time as your time –the better you manage it, the more productive you’ll feel. Combining tasks like managing your calendar or to-do lists or checking your email can save a great deal of time. Also, depositing your after-hours work ideas in a safe place will free your mind from having to remember them the next day.
Consider your processes
In the prospect research profession, we regularly evaluate a set of sources to gather the information we need. We determine what sources are best for finding certain data and return to them regularly. Sometimes, information is found easily; sometimes it’s not. When a request is difficult, it is very easy to fall into a rabbit hole of fruitless searching so that we don’t wind up with researcher’s guilt – the feeling that we should spend an increasing amount of time on the project in case we miss essential information.
This can be resolved, though, by taking the time periodically to evaluate your practices. For example, routinely assessing the amount of time used to complete certain tasks can help you properly estimate the length of an assignment. You can jot down start and end times on paper or use electronic tools.
Some of my colleagues are using Toggl, and I recently joined them. Simply, Toggl is a time-tracking tool that can help better organize your time and measure the length of your tasks. Toggl is one of many time tracking tools available, so you may want to try a few to find the one that best suits you. Toggl has a number of features that make it easy to integrate into your routine. Regardless of the method you use to track time, evaluating tasks can help audit your time and identify where you might be more efficient.
Be mindful of your approach
While there are a number of tips you can follow to better manage your time, it’s equally important to focus on your mental and physical health. Anyone who gets that “2 o’clock feeling” knows how difficult it can be to stay focused throughout the day. Knowing and taking care of yourself is vital.
One strategy for staying focused and improving mental agility is the Pomodoro Technique. Named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer, the Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to divide tasks into intervals, called Pomodoros (usually 25 minutes), followed by a short break of 3-5 minutes. After four Pomodoros, a longer break is suggested, usually 15 minutes.
For those of us who routinely work on a computer, the “20-20-20 rule” is also a useful strategy for preventing eye strain, which can affect our productivity. Every 20 minutes, you should take your eyes off the computer and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Building in short breaks throughout the day can also boost your overall effectiveness.
While I’m still in the early stages of developing new habits, I have found that these three strategies have helped guide me through these changes. Time management needn’t be a long list of items. It should be a philosophy that assists your decision-making. Finding the rhythm that makes us more productive should be our ultimate goal.
What tools and strategies are making you more productive?