I know, it sounds nuts that there is one amazing secret to awesome time management at work, but I truly believe there is.
It’s actually taken me years to figure out what this secret is, despite having done it since I started work eleventy billion years ago (aka still in the 1980s)! It’s not earth-shatteringly innovative, or original, or even difficult, it’s merely a slight change in how you approach your workload.
I’ve always been the type of person who gets bored very easily, and I’m not nice when I’m bored! I hate it! I’ve lost count of the number of jobs where I’ve been bored out of my mind for several hours per day because, well, I’d pretty much done everything that needed doing, watered the plants, drank more coffee than is good for me and possibly alphabetised my stationery cupboard!
I’ve usually worked in fairly time-sensitive roles, too – mostly in wedding and event management, so there’s a lot of stress, and nearly every task is very time-sensitive. It puzzled me for ages as to how I could possibly be bored in this environment. Was I not being given enough responsibility? Was everyone else just incredibly slow? (Yes, I don’t mind admitting that this was one explanation I toyed with for years). Was I not doing the job fully? Missing out important things? Nope, it was none of the above.
While I was pregnant with my first two children I also did a fair bit of admin temping, and I actually got told off by several agencies for working too quickly. This apparently isn’t good for their bottom line when I was hired out by the hour!
No, I’m not saying this to brag, I promise! I honestly thought I was weird or not actually doing my job properly It is, however, simply about prioritising.
So, without further ado, here is my secret:
That’s it. That’s all there is. Simple, yet surprisingly effective.
No matter what your job, you probably have a list of things that need to be done daily / weekly / monthly, etc., and there’s not much you can do about tasks that are kind of scheduled like that. You can, however, break them down into the Quick and the Not-So-Quick.
Unless there is absolutely and 100% no way you can do it Right This Minute (you’re on a plane with no wifi, you’re in a meeting, your child just threw up on his teacher and you’ve gotta bolt) then you do it NOW.
How It Works
When you get into your office in the morning (assuming you work in an office of some sort) chances are you crank up the computer to find a list of emails, messages or social media posts you have to reply to. Skim read through them quickly, to make sure there isn’t something like “Get out now, the building is on fire”, or “Boss needs to see you the minute you sit down”. Then go back through them and one by one, decide whether it will take you less than 2 minutes to deal with or more.
Do ALL of the less-than-2-minutes one first. The overwhelming majority of emails can be handled with a 2 sentence or less response, and don’t require much thought or effort. Get those out of the way. Do NOT add them to a to do list, do not file them into your To Do Today email folder, and do not read your next email until you’ve answered. In the time it takes to add one task to a written or typed to do list, you could have probably answered it and put it out of your mind.
Once you’ve finished with said email, remove it from your inbox. This is very important. In fact, having a well-planned email folder system is vital. Keep everything, but really put some time and thought into how you set up this folder system. It will save you so much time in the long run. I always make sure to have a folder for “Random shit that fits nowhere else”, too, but I don’t always name it that. Well, I usually do.
One point I’d like to just make here – I’m not saying the less-than-2-minute tasks are any less important than the ones that may take half an hour. They’re often just as, if not more important, but that’s not my point. They simply take less time to respond to.
Another important point – boring or unpleasant tasks are also either less-than-2-minutes or they’re not. You don’t get to put it off because you don’t want to do it. This is an easy pit to fall into, I know, but don’t do it!
Let’s say you had 30 of those quick reply tasks to deal with – in an hour, you’ve done them all. As I said before, chances are that’s your inbox nearly cleared now. You’re left with a short (well, shorter) list of emails that you know you need to devote more time to. Now’s when you start prioritising by importance and urgency.
This approach isn’t just for emails, you should use it for phone calls, messages, replies on social media, outgoing emails – anything! Always, always do the less-than-2-minute stuff first. I also like to batch it all into one dedicated session first thing in the morning when I can. I tend to bring a coffee in with me to work, and I don’t let myself get up for a refill until my less-than-2-minute tasks are done.
If your job doesn’t involve emails, phone calls and that sort of thing you can still apply this to your day – always do the least time-consuming jobs as soon as you possibly can and be done with them.
You may well be thinking that this is all sounding just way too easy (or stupid), but I promise you, it works! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had a happy email or social media comment from a customer mentioning how quickly I got back to them. That makes me (and my boss) happy, too!
Oh – and one quick note on that – also make sure you keep a whole heap of cut and paste standard responses all saved and ready to use. You might use email templates or something, but I just keep them all in my trusty Google Docs. I do personalise them a bit, but I save heaps of time by having the most commonly used replies all ready to go.
During the day you’re obviously going to get new emails and phone messages to deal with. Treat them exactly the same way! If an email hits your inbox and you know you can deal with it in less than 2 minutes, do it the minute you see it and then file it and forget it.
Try and leave at the end of the day (or night) with your inbox totally empty if you can. Trust me, that’s a fabulous feeling!
So let’s sum it up:
- If you can do it in less than 2 minutes, you do it NOW
- Have a well-planned email folder or filing system (or paper if you still use that, lol)
- Once an email is dealt with, get it the hell out of your inbox
- Treat tasks that come up during the day the same way
- Every single task is either a less-than-2-minutes task or it is not, even the icky ones
- Try and leave an empty inbox at the end of the day
Even if you’re not sure about this at all, I seriously urge you to give it a go for a week and see how your productivity soars. I can pretty much guarantee you that it will. You will start to feel the weight of the world lift off your shoulders as you watch your inbox or to do list grow shorter and shorter by the minute!
Be sure to let me know in the comments if you try it out and tell me how it went. If you already do this, then let me know that, too, especially if you have anything to add. And, as always, shares and Pins are so appreciated so here’s a pretty Pinterest pin all ready to use.
Love and Light,