At this time it is vitally important that we all stay safe and do whatever is necessary to get us all safely through this pandemic.
As part of staying safe so many people are now having to work from home, which for some is a totally new experience that they may find difficult. Always in time management training we discuss the difficulties in managing different situations and prioritizing tasks and now for many it really will be a case of trying to juggle so many things and still get the work completed. In time management terms we refer to it as juggling elephants or spinning plates
For this article, I have put together 7 tips for managing your time and working from home during these unprecedented times.
1. Dress for work
I know this sounds crazy and so many of us see this as an opportunity to wear our track suits and be comfortable, however I do believe that a lot of our attitude to working from home and getting tasks completed comes down to our own discipline and the psychology of dressing for work is important.
I am not saying if you wear a suit for work you have to sit down in your home office or kitchen in a suit, but I would say to dress how you may dress if you were in work on a casual clothes day on a Friday.
There was a book written many years ago and the book said ‘people who feel good produce good results’ and so much of this is based on how we look and how we feel.
2. Plan your day-To Do List
Before you start work you must plan your day and start with some form of a to do list, this list will then determine your days activities. The list should be done roughly the same time every day because it then forms into a habit. In time management training it is always said this is the first action you need to take to enable you to start controlling your day.
It is often said the to do list should be done first thing in the morning before you start work and the reason behind this is that most of us are fresher in the morning after a full nights sleep and our mind is generally more alert and at its best.
On a time management training many years ago someone referred to this as ‘prime time’ which is where your energy levels are highest. Apparently for most people a typical day would consists of high energy levels in the morning, which start to subside by lunch time, then after lunch they go way down and then in late afternoon pick up, but they never pick up as much as what they would be in the morning.
To be honest I do not know how true this is as I have never tested it but apparently we are either Larks or Owls and according to a book I read many years ago most of us are Larks (morning people for energy levels)
There is another argument which favours doing the to do list in the evening when you finish your work, ready for the next day. The reason for this is that particularly when working from home it means you have your work planned for the next day, you can shut down your laptop and move on to your family commitments.
In a way it compartmentalises the work from the home and psychologically it is like switching off for the evening to enjoy your ‘me time or family time’
3. Prioritise your to do list
We often hear on time management training about a thing called Paretos principle, some of you may know it as the 80/20 rule. What this means is that 80% of the things on your to do list will give you 20% of your results and 20% of the things on the list will give you 80% of the results.
This in effect means every task on your to do list will have a different priority and we must always try to work on the most important priorities that give us the best return on our time, remembering time is money and can never be recycled.
So how should you prioritise?
Quadrant A Quadrant B
Quadrant C Quadrant D
If we look at the above diagram there are 4 distinct quadrants
A = Important and Urgent tasks
B = Important and less urgent tasks
C = Urgent but less important
D = less Urgent and less important
We need to get good at categorising the tasks on our to do list based on this quadrant, if we are working from home we really need to prioritise the items on our to do list which are most important.
The difficulty is that even on time management training courses people often get confused with distinguishing the difference between urgent and important.
In its simplest form a task is urgent if it has a looming deadline, in other words a deadline that is close, example it has to be done by close of business today (obviously the size of the task and length of time it will take is part of this as well)
Because a task is urgent it does not necessarily mean it is important, it may be important or it may not be important. So the task could be urgent and less important or urgent and important. Urgent tasks are put into quadrant A or C.
So what makes a task important?
This again can be quite confusing but in its simplest form what makes a task important is the impact of doing the task or not doing the task. I often tell the story on time management training courses about a highly successful CEO I worked with and he had a note on his wall in his office that read:
‘’Is what I am doing now helping me achieve my objectives and is it the best use of my time now’’
He always said that when he asks his team what piece of work they were working on they should be able to answer. He also expected them to say why they were doing it ahead of other tasks
He always said time management is about effective decision making on every task that passes your desk. He used to say people get confused with effective and efficient and this was key to success for time management. His definition was as follows:
Efficient normally means getting things done on the most efficient way possible
Effective means doing the right thing (the most important thing)
This is no different when you get back to the office after this horrendous virus, but it is highly important to remember to prioritise your tasks when working from home.
The final thing to remember is if you find yourself working all the time in the A quadrant (important and urgent) the question you have to ask yourself is why did I not do it when it was in the important and less urgent?
There may be a good reason but often if we do not attack the tasks in the important and less urgent quadrant today they become the important and urgent tasks tomorrow.
4. Delegate where appropriate
I am not going into delegation here but we must look at our to do list and delegate tasks from our list to other people if we can. Obviously we need to be in a position to do this but the more we can find people willing and able in our team the better it is for us to delegate.
Someone once said on a time management training if there is someone in your team getting paid less than you who can perform a task which is on your to do list then we should be delegating the task to them
5. Book appointments with your tasks
This is the greatest advice I was given many years ago and what I am saying is as follows:
• We do a To do list
• We prioritise the list
• We delegate tasks off the list where possible
We are now left with a to do list of tasks that have been prioritised that we now have to do, it’s time to swallow the frog and get started and the best way to do this (particularly if working from home) is to book appointments with your tasks.
You need to estimate how long do you think the task will take and then book an appointment to carry out the task, so for example of I have a task that I believe will take 90 minutes to complete, I will book into my system a 90 minute block 9.30-11am to do this.
If you are serious about working from home this is a step you need to get into the habit of doing. Is it perfect? No because it may take more than 90 minutes but at least we have a greater chance of doing the task if we commit to a timeline and goal for achieving it.
In the early days, in order for me to get into the habit of this when I worked from home I used to reward myself after finishing the tasks, silly things like I will sit down with a coffee and watch the news for 15 minutes etc.
6. Quiet time
As we often say in time management training this can be the most difficult habits of all to do, but you need to find some quiet time during the day to get your tasks completed and however hard this can be working in the office with interruptions it can be twice as bad at home.
The important thing is that you have to tell others you need a certain amount of time to just get stuff done with no interruptions.
For some of you working from home will be a haven for no interruptions but for others you will have to try and find a system that works for you.
7. Manage interruptions and emails
At this time working from home interruptions should be manageable as they should only be our own family with no outside visitors.
Emails are a constant barrage of interruptions for some people. The best practice spoken about for email management on time management training courses is to have the auto notification turned off so you are not interrupted every time a new mail lands in your inbox.
The problem with the auto notification is that curiosity kills the cat and we stop what we are doing and then look at the email. Okay I accept it only takes a few seconds to check an email but the problem is that you have lost the momentum in what you were doing.
If you add that time up over a day it can amount to a substantial time thief.
Picture this, you are working from home, you have done your to do list, you have checked to see if there is anything you can delegate, you prioritise your tasks and you have set an appointment with the most important task for you to get done.
You are about 10 minutes into this task when your email notification pings, you stop working on the most important task, look at the email and can then be distracted into a whole chain of reactionary tasks.
So please turn the auto notification off and check your emails at certain times every day (of course if you are on an IT helpdesk and your Service Level Agreement says you must respond to emails in 5 minutes) ignore this advice. Otherwise check your emails when you are ready and when you set aside time to respond.
When you do check your emails there are only 4 options you can do with it
1. Deal with it there and then if you can answer it quickly
2. Delegate it to someone else to deal with
3. Diarise it on to your to do list for later/or bring forward folder
4. Delete it
Finally when it comes to working from home due to the virus we really need to plan how we work. I can assure you the steps outlined as above work, but we do need discipline. With the best will in the world it will take time to adjust and bring some of the above practices in if you do not already do them, but it is worthwhile.
Do your best to remain productive but above all else do your best to remain safe.