Time management can seem like an illusion. We try to better manage our time by being more efficient and squeezing tasks into shorter spaces of time, whether or not the job is genuinely able to be accomplished in that smaller window. Forcing “efficiencies” where there are none to be had in the name of time management can cause increased pressure, stress, anxiety.
To better defend your productivity and sanity, focus on the real issue at hand: the amount of work that has to get done and the actual time it takes to do it. You can do this by getting the facts around the task, being clear on what the ask is before committing, being purposeful about your approach, and guarding capacity.
When you are asked to be involved in a new project or assignment, get clarity on your anticipated involvement. Ask as many questions as you have and find out what they are expecting and when they need your contribution. Don’t volunteer your own deadlines without getting that information. Too often, we over-volunteer our time and commit to deadlines much tighter than what is being expected of us. For example, don’t immediately volunteer that you can get the report to someone by the end of the day. That will put undue pressure and stress on you, and you might have needlessly overextended yourself if that person does not need the report by the end of the day. By asking the requester when they need the report, you may be surprised to find out that they don’t need it until days after when you were anticipating. This practice sets you up for success by allowing you to prioritize the work to the actual business need instead of overextending yourself.
Once you’ve committed to a task, block out the time for yourself to complete the work. Adding more structure to your workweek will minimize your distractions and enhance clarity around commitments and availability. Our calendars are often full of meetings and we see some space and think we can use that space to complete the work. However, it is easy to get sidetracked or have people book meetings during your anticipated work time. Blocking out your calendar will allow you to be realistic about your capacity and better visualize the commitments you’ve made, what deadlines you’re working against, and your actual workweek capacity.