What Causes Stress at Work? Typically a lack of time management tools. Here are 8.

“Stop!! Stop the bus!! I just want to get off!!”, is a version of what most of us are thinking when we have far too much stimuli and responsibility going on in our work lives.  And sometimes, it seems impossible to put it all down and walk away, even for 5 minutes. It’s like being a stay-at-home parent to a newborn and you barely have time to pee, much less cram anything nutrient-worthy into your mouth. Thank God it’s someone’s birthday and there’s at least cake for lunch.

In this brave new work culture today, we are expected to take on more tasks and fit exponentially more into our workday than ever before. Jobs are shared, budgets cut, and the new concept of utilizing a fractional workforce in order to keep overhead down is being embraced everywhere by entrepreneurs since it is a more effective way of “scaling up”. This can leave us feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled in our jobs as we claw through each day where everything feels like a priority.

But there are ways around it, and it starts by mastering the art of time management.  “Yes, young (or old) Grasshopper…it is never too late to learn”.  There are people that specifically have made millions from dialing in this process. You can’t be a CEO of a company and not know how to master the art of time management.  This is why Tim Ferriss, Mitchell Harper, Tony Robbins, or any other dedicated “time management masters”  (my name for them, not theirs), are revered. Just look at the president or C-suite people around your own company. They are the hidden time management masters.

My girlfriends and I have a term that maybe you are familiar with called “Google that Sh*t!” for whenever we have an unanswered question. “Does anyone know what when Doomsday is predicted to happen?” “Nah…Google that sh*t, Steph. I was wondering that, myself. Got to prepare the household.”

Time Management

Today, let’s apply that to time management.  When you are feeling like are getting underwater with your work and all of your priorities have gotten away, tell yourself that it’s time to “time manage that sh*t” and try a couple of these tools below until you fill like you have found the best methods for yourself.

1) Make a Time Budget (a time management tool for work and life)

You have all kinds of things on your calendar. From meetings to deadlines everything looks like a priority, but have you considered expanding that into a full-on budget of your time? Often we leave big open spaces on our calendars when we aren’t in meetings or don’t need to be reminded of events, birthdays, or anything else, but that may not be the more effective use of your time if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

To create a time budget, we need to think about how much time we spend doing our day-to-day tasks. Elizabeth Grace Saunders, at Harvard Business Review, puts it this way:

Hours/Day to Work=24-(Number of Hours of Sleep)-(Commute)-(Personal Commitments)-(Exercise)-(Self Care)

 By “personal commitments,” I’m referring to items in your schedule that are an essential part of you feeling fulfilled. These vary from person to person but could include family time, volunteer responsibilities, social activities, or personal passions like playing the piano. Also, eating, showering, and getting ready fall under “self-care.” Once you have a sense of your daily time budget, you can calculate your weekly time budget by adding up the totals for each day. For some people, each day will look similar. For others, their personal commitments create large variations in their day-to-day time budget.

 So divvy up all that is not work-related that is consistent in your life:

  • Sleep
  • Commute
  • Personal Commitments
  • Exercise
  • Self-Care

 Once you understand the size of your time budget, then you can evaluate the different time costs during your workday. For example, you have “maintenance” activities like answering e-mail or planning, “execution” activities like attending meetings or completing a report, and “development” activities like networking or marketing. I recommend making a list of all the different elements of your workday and then either writing down an initial time estimate or percentage for each one.

For instance, 20% of my workday consists of answering e-mail, 50% of project work, and 30% of development activities. Make sure to not only consider the cost of a particular item but also the associated costs. For instance, a one-hour meeting could come with the related expenses of 15 minutes of travel time each way, 30 minutes of prep, and 15 minutes of follow up. That means that the total expense comes to 2.25 hours. So if you work a 9-hour day and want to spend no more than 50% of your time in meetings, then that limits you to an average of two meetings per day and ten meetings per week.

 Now divvy up your work obligations:

  • Maintenance
  • Execution (your main work functions that include meetings, reports, or whatever your job function entrails)
  • Development (network and marketing for your company and yourself, professionally)

 This may seem like a lot to take on, but there are great resources like RescueTime that can help you track how you are spending your time on your computer. This will help you gauge exactly how you are spending your time at work.

2) Prioritize Your Tasks at Work (or home)

Sometimes it seems impossible to prioritize your efforts for time management and results. But this is where you can make some real traction with “Time Managing that Sh*t”.   It is what separates true leaders from the masses. It even seems like an art form, but really, it is about repeating this process over and over again until it becomes second nature. This comes straight from Stephen Covey’s Time Management MatrixThe end goal here should be to prioritize based on prioritization and time management efforts that help you get the best results based on your goals. By keeping your eye on the end results, it makes it easier to prioritize. That could really be helpful when prioritizing both personally and professionally.

Make the 4-Square Grid:

Jump on a spreadsheet and create a 4-square grid like the one above. You will notice the labels of DO, PLAN, DELEGATE, ELIMINATE. Remember those four words like a mantra.   Label your 4-square grid the following way:

  1. (top left): [DO]  Important & Urgent Tasks that Bring Results to Greatest Long/Short-Term Goals (Important deadlines, urgent customer requests, quality issues, important meetings, health emergencies)
  2. (top right): [PLAN] Important & Not Urgent Tasks that Bring Results to Greatest Long/Short-Term Goals  (Projects, relationship-building, new opportunities, strategic meetings, improving systems health & exercise, and personal growth)
  3. (bottom left): [DELEGATE]  Not Important & Urgent Tasks that Bring Results to Immediate Obligations (Unimportant meetings, calls, etc. that you can delegate, or obligations you must fulfill. Try and resource these out, if possible, first before doing them.)
  4. (bottom left): [ELIMINATE] Not Important & Not Urgent Tasks that Will Not Bring Any Significant Results (Tasks that will not bring any true value to anybody or any of your goals. There will be no major ramifications from skipping these tasks. They are just distractions.)

Here’s one approach:

  1. Take your current ‘to-do’ list and sort all the activities into the appropriate grid.
  2. Assess the amount of time you have to accomplish the lists and, if necessary, reallocate activities.
  3. Determine end results for each activity to see where efforts are focused.

Example: Meeting with a potential partner=next step toward a major goal – 2 hrs (move into Important & Urgent category based on the end results)

Here’s another approach:

  1. Use this as a one-week assessment strategy. Make six copies of the grid and use one grid for each day of the week, listing all activities and time spent.
  2. At the end of the week, combine the five individual day data onto one summary grid and calculate the percentage of time in each grid.
  3. Then evaluate how well your time is spent and whether you workload needs to be reorganized.

3) Use the 80/20 Principle

Also known as Pareto’s Law, the 80/20 Principle is when 20% of your efforts get you 80% impact, and conversely, what 80% of your effort is getting wasted by 20% of [people, useless tasks, projects, etc.]  By focusing on this, you will determine where best to focus in on your efforts. Start by creating two statements:

I get the most impact in my __________ (career, work, finances) by this doing this particular ________ (effort, task, investment). [FOCUS YOUR EFFORTS HERE.]

 My time is wasted the most by ________(person, work, finances) by this by doing this particular ________ (effort, task, or investment). [ELIMINATE THIS IF POSSIBLE OR AT LEAST MINIMIZE IT.]

4) Create Efficient Processes

We can’t do everything, so it is important to focus on the most important areas and create efficient processes for the areas we can’t get finish.  The master of this is Tim Ferriss. If you have not read his book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” or visited his site: http://fourhourworkweek.com/,  you should definitely check it out. See examples of processes of efficiency in the next blog “Effective Time Management Processes that Will Bring You Work-Life Balance”.

5) Take a Break in Order to Recreate

If you’re still feeling like you’re underwater at work, take your lunch break. Being able to get out of the office and focus on something other than looming deadlines, meetings, and reports will help you refocus and be more creative. Go for a walk, head to the gym, or just walk down to the corner to pick up a sandwich.

Take a day off to give yourself space to come back to the office with fresh eyes so that you can restructure and organize your work better.  And most importantly, don’t forget to get a full night rest. Burning the midnight oil will not help you get more done. In fact, you will be less effective and get less done.

6) Don’t Be a Perfectionist

Yes, we have all been encouraged from a young age to do the best we possibly can on each project, but in reality, that only works in school. When we enter the corporate world we will find co-workers who are getting ahead by turning in reports, giving presentations or finishing projects that are just “good enough”. We become jealous when after we’ve put in all the time and energy into the perfect project while they get moved onto bigger and better things.

The truth is, if we strive for everything we turn in or do to be perfect, we will never get it all done. And if that isn’t enough, it’s not getting us anywhere. We see this when our less perfect co-workers are getting better projects or even promotions. Don’t strive for perfection when you’re completely overwhelmed, strive for good enough. You aren’t letting yourself down, nor are you letting down your supervisor or managers.

7) Talk it Over

We are all afraid of being that person at work, but it can be helpful to talk to your co-workers about your project load when your feeling overwhelmed. Talking it out with someone with a fresh perspective can give you insight into how you can prioritize tasks, and get more done. At the same time, we may be able to get insight on our project or schedule, and you can both benefit from the cathartic morning chat.

8) Talk to Your Supervisor

If you’ve tried all of the above and still can’t keep up its time to talk to your supervisor. Come prepared with your time budget, showing your allocation of time for each task, and how you have prioritized different projects. This will help your supervisor understand where you are coming from (not just complaining) and they will be able to help you manage the project better or decide which tasks can be given to different people in the department.

-Aimee Marcelo
Career Strategist & CEO of Career 5

If you want to further your career to a higher place, try strategizing and maximizing your efforts with our guided career roadmap system: The Career 5 Roadmap. It comes free with our career coaching and is a fun process that teaches you how to take control of your career treating it like your own personal business. Think YOU Inc.