Perpetually running behind isn't the best formula for a successful career, but scrambling to finish your workload on time is pointless if you don't learn how to differentiate between advantageous and inconsequential tasks. Use to-do lists to redistribute efforts where they're most beneficial, bringing productivity and balance back to your work life.
1. Promote Transparency
Overestimating what a list can do for you sometimes makes you want to give up when your workload balloons. Keeping track of your duties and goals doesn't solve time-management problems unless you use the information to improve your prioritization skills. For one week, make a list to track everything you do at work, including time you spend doing nothing, brainstorming, having conversations or taking breaks.
Auditing your activities can help you overcome misconceptions that you don't have enough time in a day. Look for time slots when you're most and least productive, and think about which tasks affect your company and career most significantly. Review your work patterns through fresh eyes, and restructure your schedule to better suit your priorities.
2. Use Relative Comparisons
Outlining your responsibilities and the steps you have to complete to achieve them makes it easier to determine how much time to allocate in your schedule. If any task or one step in the process must be finished today, you know you have to fulfill that goal to reach the next project.
Lists also encourage you to set deadlines and stick to them whenever possible. Otherwise, you may devote unnecessary time to low- or medium-priority goals for superficial reasons. For example, don't avoid or short-change mentally draining jobs. Add the task to your schedule, commit to a time frame and move on.
3. Quantify Actions/Results
Time management often fails when people take an abstract approach to goal-setting, rather than creating measurable plans. Use your self-audit to list activities and strategies that produce positive results to help you achieve that success over and over again. For example, if records show you save the company money by checking inventory every two weeks instead of monthly, recognize the value of devoting more time to auditing supplies.
Make sure you understand how different types of results all contribute to company value, whether it's organizational efficiency, profit, innovation or goodwill. This is especially true if your job heavily involves conversations, brainstorming or intellectual problem-solving. Those obligations may seem secondary to concrete tasks, such as drafting a newsletter or screening applicants, but they should be integral to your schedule if they advance the business.
4. Improve Communication
Telling your boss you have too much to do may send the message that you aren't a team player or lack self-discipline. On the other hand, taking on too many burdens can negatively impact your performance. If you're not sure what to complete first, ask your manager what goals to prioritize. Use your list to provide proof of your workload, giving your boss a realistic picture of what you're juggling. The priorities of upper management may change without your knowledge, so checking in helps you avoid wasting time on low-priority tasks.
When budgeting your professional time, aim for quality over quantity. Use lists to filter out distracting tasks and concentrate on goals that help the company thrive.
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