6 Time Management Activities & Tips for Employees

January 9, 2018

Three words: effective time management.

In today’s increasingly busy workplace that phrase may strike you as fanciful.

Is there really such a thing as effective time management anymore?

With a few tips and these 6 best time management activities for employees, you can take back your schedule. Among the emails, texts, notifications, instant messages, shoulder-taps, and frequent meetings of a normal day, you’re lucky to find even a few minutes of uninterrupted focus time. Before you know it, it’s the end of the day and your most important projects are still on the to-do list, unfinished. How does this happen? More importantly…

How do you fix it? Let’s start with the basics:

What Are The Basic Principles of Time Management?

All too often, employees find themselves with too many tasks with too little time to complete them. This is why time management is such an essential and important skill in the workplace. It can be difficult knowing where to start; there are so many approaches to time management. But really, it all comes down to two basic principles.

The first principle to remember is that everyone has a hierarchy of needs. What this means is that humans put things into hierarchies based upon their importance. Basic needs (food, shelter, etc.) come first, then social needs and so on. Not every task can be the most necessary at any given moment, and some things will have to wait.

Second, time management is about effectiveness, not efficiency. You can perform a bad strategy efficiently and not be as productive as you could be. To manage time, you’ll need to learn effective skills.

What Are Examples of Time Management Skills?

While there are many time management skills to learn, all of them boil down to helping you organize your time, focus on what’s important, and increase efficiency.

Here are a few examples of great time management skills:

  • Creating a detailed plan of what needs doing and when to do it.
  • Knowing when to delegate tasks, such as letting your accountant handle finances.
  • Self-reflecting on your behavior and noting how you can better manage your time.
  • Overcoming distractions by limiting access to time wasters like social media.

These skills can help mitigate the consequences of distraction.

The Real Cost of Distractions

Black male employee overwhelmed by the notifications from his computer

Time management in the modern workplace is more about handling distractions than juggling hours in the day. That’s because we’ve never worked in a more distracting environment than we do now. Information floods our brains, each piece demanding our immediate attention, whether it’s a breaking news story, a social media update, the latest Marvel trailer, or an email from a coworker.

At the same time, much of your work requires full, focused attention and deep thought. Humans have a hard time jumping right into deep-thought mode, and a distraction can easily derail the process. In fact, a study from UC Irvine revealed that it takes over 20 minutes for an individual to return to a task after a distraction.

So an employee coming to ask you a “quick question” could effectively cost you half an hour out of your workday. No wonder you always feel like you’re running out of time!

6 Effective Time Management Activities For Busy Employees

Time management strategies seem to have been around since the first employee set foot inside the first office building. But that’s part of the problem: many of the tips and tricks are outdated. Those activities for time management in the workplace weren’t created in the context of today’s distracting, digital workspace.

You need tools and techniques that will help you do more than simply create to-do lists. You need effective time management activities geared toward your busy job and your busy work environment. So let’s get going.

#1 Work with your daily rhythm.

Do you find yourself craving a nap after lunch? Is it difficult for you to think clearly before 9:00 AM? Your body runs on a 24-hour internal clock with natural, “scheduled” periods of both high and low energy.

This internal clock is called your circadian rhythm.

For many adults, the lowest energy points are between 2:00 and 4:00 AM (when you’re hopefully sleeping) and 1:00-3:00 PM. However, these low periods may shift for night owls or morning people; and not getting enough sleep will make your energy swings more dramatic.
Instead of trying to power through your low-energy periods, schedule your tasks around them. Work on mentally demanding tasks when you know you’re at your highest, and set more mechanical, “mindless” tasks for the times when you’re running on empty.

#2 Understand your current habits.

You can’t control every distraction that comes your way, but you can control what you do with the distraction-free time you have afterward. And that starts with understanding what you currently do with that time.

Grab a sheet of paper and map out the day before, from the time you woke up to the time you went to sleep. Break it down hour by hour. Where did you invest your time? The results might surprise you.

Once you understand how you actually spend your time, you can hold yourself accountable and start making changes.

#3 Take consistent breaks.

Male employee feeling tired

Psychologist Dr. Larry Rosen, in a Harvard Business Review article, explains that our brains operate in 90-minute rest-activity cycles. That is, we can really only focus for 90 minutes before our brains need to rest. However, resting can come in many forms like taking a walk, eating a snack, or shifting to an easier task.

Dr. Rosen recommends that for every 90 minutes of working (particularly with technology), you should take at least a 10-minute break. Some researchers suggest taking as long as 20-30 minutes to let your brain recharge. Doing so will help you keep your energy and focus up, even during the low points of your circadian rhythm.

#4 Schedule quiet hours.

While open office arrangements may support group collaboration and comradery, they sometimes make for distracting, difficult work environments. According to a survey published in Medium, 58 percent of high-performing employees need more private spaces for problem-solving, and 62 percent think their office environments are too distracting.

Do you fit into these categories?

Among the Creative Team here at BambooHR, we instituted what we called “library hours” during the workday. These hours were a time reserved for quiet, focused work with no interruptions or conversations.

You can try the same in your own organization or with your own team. Honoring quiet hours during the day prevents a constant flow of distractions without making your workplace feel like a prison. There’s still ample opportunity for coworkers to chat or collaborate—just not during the designated focus hours.

#5 Disconnect from the digital world.

Of course, some of the most prominent sources of distraction are the very tools we often use to complete our work: computers, phones, tablets, and other digital devices. The Internet is a rabbit hole, and research can turn into a Wonderland-like diversion in a matter of clicks.

Certainly, there are aspects of your job that require these devices, but do you really need them to be active at all times? Try putting your phone away, out of sight, and on silent. If you’re a tab-hoarder (you know who you are), try opening only what you need and disconnecting from what you don’t. There are even apps and plugins that will block certain websites for you during designated times of the day.

Whatever you do, try unplugging during your deep-thinking tasks, and see what it does for you.

#6 Automate clunky processes.

Female employee meditating and balancing all of her tasks

You can be a master at ignoring distractions and have all of the most effective time management activities perfected. But as a busy employee, none of that will help if you’re still bogged down by poor processes. Tasks, like approving time-off requests or updating employee information, don’t need to take up your whole day. Yet in many organizations, it’s all you can do to keep your head above the flood of paperwork.

What Is the First Step in a Time Management Process?

The first step in time management is simple: Make a detailed plan.

By making a plan or to-do list, you’ll prioritize the tasks that need to be completed soon and sort out the essential from the unnecessary. Sticking to your plan will help you to avoid unnecessary tasks and focus on the important items at hand.

When you prioritize tasks, you should always keep in mind the 4 Ds of time management, which are:

  • Delete It: Is the task worth your time? If not, delete it.
  • Delegate It: Is it your responsibility/necessary for you to complete the task? If not, allow someone else to handle it.
  • Do It: Can you complete the task here and now in just a few minutes? If so, get it over with!
  • Defer It: Do you have to complete the task this instant? If not, schedule it for later.

Once you’ve used the 4 D’s to make your plan, you can then use other time management activities, games, and strategies, such as the ones we’ve listed above.

The fact is, the majority of your daily tasks can be automated and optimized with the right software. For example, BambooHR allows you to generate reports in just a few minutes, so you don’t have to go hunting around the office to gather all of the necessary information.

When you save that time on the tasks that normally consume your entire day, you can start working on those projects that have lived on your to-do list for far too long. Check out these additional time management tips from G2 Crowd

Want to try it out? Start your free trial with BambooHR today.

How Do You Teach Time Management Skills?

The number one way that you’ll want to teach time management is leading by example. Practicing what you preach goes a long way when you are trying to cultivate time management skills in the workplace. Think of it this way: If you haven’t learned how to manage your time properly, how can you expect to teach your employees to do so?

Second, while you should focus on good skills when teaching, you should also discourage bad ones like multitasking. Many people feel that multitasking can help them complete more work, but the reality is that multitasking is simply impossible. If an employee thinks they are good at multitasking, they are really only switching their attention from task to task in short succession, resulting in lower productivity and lower quality work.

Third, you should focus on clear, concise communication. Strive to explain principles simply and be encouraging while you do it. You should also avoid nagging your employees about the skills you’re trying to teach. No one wants their boss to get on their case all the time about how they are doing things wrong.

Finally, give your employees accountability for their own time management. Accountability can be a magical thing—rather than placing blame, set clear expectations ahead of time for your employees so they can hold themselves accountable for their work. If you’ve given them the right tools, communicated your expectations clearly, and then provided them with the freedom to explore what works best for them…well, they’ll be much more likely to become self-motivated to do their best work. Accountability really is a game changer.

Additional Time Management Tools

The best way to manage your time is to equip yourself with the right tool for the job. Time management tools can be simple, such as a daily planner, or more complex like an app that helps to automate certain tasks.

Here are some examples of time management tools you can use in your workplace:

  • Use a daily planner to create a schedule and/or a to-do list.
  • Use apps such as Asana or Trello to manage and automate certain tasks, allowing you to focus on others.
  • Use a physical timer or a timer app to remind you to take breaks.
  • Use a distraction blocker app such as FocusMe in order to prevent access to distracting websites and apps like social media.

Keep in mind that different tools will help foster the development of different skills, so you should select the proper tools that will help with the skills that you want to teach.

Tori Fica
Senior Copywriter

Tori Fica is a senior copywriter for BambooHR. Through research, analysis, and writing, she creates content to help HR professionals think and plan more strategically. Her focus is on taking complex ideas and in-depth research and turning them into clear, digestible pieces of content.