Given the often hectic day-to-day operation of many businesses, workers can burn out quickly. Burnout leads to lost productivity and can cost businesses workers. To avoid these pitfalls, you should improve your time management at work, and if you have direct reports, help them improve their own time management skills.
In 2014, the Small Business Administration reported that “About 10 to 12 percent of firms with employees open each year and about 10 to 12 percent close.” Those numbers represent a 50-50 chance of surviving the first five years. The long-term outlook is worse: “about one-third survive 10 years or more,” according to the SBA. Given the rate at which small businesses fail, it is important to avoid common mistakes. The most prevalent of those mistakes is a lack of planning.
Planning can take many forms; daily planning, in particular, requires time management skills. A lack of daily planning can snowball into a lack of focus for a business, resulting in failure. Time management at work means understanding your priorities and scheduling your work accordingly.
North American digital, lifestyle, and communications agency AB Co. recommends a daily agenda for workers. As they put it, “Every day it should feel like you are doing an inventory recap of your pending tasks.” Finding some sort of system for keeping track of these tasks is the key to time management at work. Fortunately, there are programs and systems ready-made to assist you with prioritizing your time.
One effective time management tip is to use a project tracking program such as Asana, Basecamp or Wrike. This type of application simplifies time management at work. You can track time spent on a task, assign projects or tasks to team members, and even get updates on others’ tasks by following their projects. Many of these software programs are cross-platform, meaning you can keep up with your tasks at a desktop computer, on a phone or on a tablet. You can set reminders to notify you about due dates or projects that need work.
Whatever the tool, though, the concept is the same: offloading time management at work so you have time to actually manage — that is, using an external system of time management (rather than keeping a task list in your head) frees up valuable brain power to focus on the tasks at hand. This type of planning offers many benefits, as AB Co. points out. With proper planning, you can be free to help others. Nothing will escape your attention, and “By taking time to plan each day you can displace negative worry stress with progressive and creative energy about future projects.”
The Importance of Breaks
Though often associated with a lack of productivity, breaks are an essential part of the work day. While some U.S. states mandate regular breaks, others make no requirement regarding the number or length of employee breaks. Even without regulatory oversight, a well-run business always implements breaks. Fast Company reports that the reason breaks are necessary is that “Our brains are vigilant all the time because they evolved to detect tons of different changes to ensure our very survival. So focusing so hard on one thing for a long time isn’t something we’re ever going to be great at.” A lack of breaks at work leads to fatigue, and fatigue leads to bad decisions.
Though it is important to rest from time to time, breaks can also be an important time to plan the rest of your day. Often, it is best to stand back and assess your time management at work — ask yourself if it is actually working. The Harvard Business Review says that “picking up where you left off forces you to take a few seconds to think globally about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve.” This global perspective is necessary, especially when you have been working on the minutiae of a project for extended periods of time. Plus, “sporadic breaks replenish our energy, improve self-control and decision-making, and fuel productivity.”
The danger of burnout is very real — not only for employees but also for entire businesses. Learning effective time management at work can increase productivity and reduce turnover. Rather than seeing breaks at work as counterproductive, companies should view them as beneficial. Effective managers understand that their employees are not machines. Proper planning and time to decompress are essential for any modern business.
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