Three words: effective time management. If you’re an HR professional in today’s increasingly busy workplace, that phrase may strike you as fanciful. Is there really such a thing as effective time management anymore? 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?
The Real Cost of Distractions
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 an HR professional’s 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!
Effective Time Management Activities
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 But that’s part of the problem: many of the tips and tricks are outdated. They weren’t created in the context of today’s distracting, digital workspace.
You need tools 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.
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 many 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 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.
You can be a master at ignoring distractions and have all of the most effective time management activities perfected. But as an HR professional, 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 the HR representative can do to keep his or her head above the flood of paperwork.
The fact is, the majority of HR’s 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.