You start each day determined to get so much done, but soon find yourself overwhelmed by the demands. There are hundreds of emails to sort and urgent requests from your manager. Colleagues beg for quick favors that aren’t quick at all. When you’ve finished saving someone else’s day, your project management software notifies you of an overdue task. By the time you complete that task, you’ve forgotten the requests from your manager and 20 more emails appear in your inbox.
With a hundred projects vying for your attention, it may seem like you need a clone to manage your to-do list. What you really need is a lesson on how to prioritize tasks. These tips will help you take back your day—and your sanity.
You know what you need to get done today. You might even have an idea of what’s coming down the pike next week. But what about three weeks from now? To master time management, you need to take a long-term planning approach.
Pick three top priorities each month. Then break down those projects into weekly and daily tasks to help you reach your deadlines. Put tasks in writing and post them somewhere you can see them. That list will help to hold you accountable—and it makes your top priorities visible for your colleagues, too.
You’ll still have miscellaneous tasks that pop up each day, but this approach helps you to stay focused on the most important objectives.
Once you’ve identified your top priorities, develop a system for staying focused on those projects despite the inevitable interruptions to your day. In What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do, Laura Stack suggests organizing your life around the tasks that matter and letting go of the ones that don’t.
To do that, you’ll likely need tools to help you stay on top of your work. You probably already have email and task-management tools installed on your computer. Learn how to get the most out of those tools to improve your productivity. Explore how tools such as Teamwork, Trello, and Todoist can help you manage projects. Supplement your digital tools with paper to-do lists to keep track of goals.
When it comes to prioritizing work, everyone has an Achilles’s heel. Yours may be email management; someone else’s may be organizing files. Some people are just naturally better at some tasks and worse at others—and that’s okay.
What’s not okay is to fail to plan for it. If you know you need more time than most to keep your inbox tidy, it’s crucial to set aside an extra 30 or 45 minutes each day to focus solely on email. If your desk looks like the aftermath of a tornado every afternoon at 5, you may need to finish up your projects by 4:30 so you have time to tidy up the disaster before FEMA comes calling.
Learning how to prioritize tasks involves making room for challenges. Create room in your schedule for those pain points.
Before you can master time management, you need to know where your time is going. How long does it take you to commute to work and settle in at your desk? How long do you spend chatting with colleagues between coffee breaks? Do you spend hours planning lunch meetings when you can order catering for the office more efficiently?
The best way to identify your time-drains is to spend a week or two tracking how you spend your days. Use a template to document what you do each day and how much time it takes you. Before you know it, the inefficiencies will begin popping off the page, allowing you the chance to plug up all the time-drains.
Many administrative professionals struggle with prioritizing work. Fortunately, time management is a skill that can be learned. When you create a system that helps you identify (and stick to) your priorities, you’ll be able to master time management and adjust more quickly when changes occur.
Does all this talk about time management have you feeling stressed? These five tips will help you take back your chill!