Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Time Management in the Office: Navigating Priorities

Time stress has become an epidemic in today’s workplace. Since the coronavirus lockdowns, many office employees have adjusted to working remotely with long hours of screen time, surrounded by online and physical distractions.  Many remote employees have limited time and energy to work through seemingly endless to-do lists. 

This time poverty is compounded by the fact that many teams are now returning to in-person office work, forcing employees to make significant adjustments to their daily routines.  

This creates a host of new time management challenges, such as attending often unnecessary in-person meetings, dealing with distracting coworkers, and juggling projects with team building activities.

Global studies show that employees only spend 53% of their work time truly engaged in their daily tasks due to distractions, fatigue and miscommunication with supervisors. Most workers are also unsure how to prioritize their wellbeing and career needs effectively. 

However, by carefully planning your days and proactively looking for opportunities to save time, you can avoid burnout and time stress in the office. Effective time management habits will also help you achieve your professional goals and give the best of yourself to the team.

When you understand how to prioritize tasks to serve yourself and the organization best, you save yourself significant stress. In today’s fast-paced work environment, this means carefully planning your days and discriminating between multiple high-priority tasks.

But what if you don’t have time to plan?

While organizing your schedule can be a complex and time consuming process, task prioritization tools such as the Eisenhower Matrix can guide and simplify your planning. 

Below is an example of how you can quickly categorize items based on importance and urgency with the Eisenhower Matrix and develop a prioritized task list.

Using this matrix, you can quickly sort items into four quadrants based on their importance and urgency to develop a prioritized task list. 

Read on for an example. 

Urgent and Important

This quadrant will list your highest priority tasks, which require immediate action. They have urgent deadlines and delaying them can have serious consequences for your team or jeopardize your employment. 
Examples of urgent and important tasks in the office could include being suddenly asked to cover for a colleague or a pressing deadline for a critical assignment.
While you will always have items in this category, they become problematic when they prevent you from working toward your long-term goals. If you feel that too much urgency interferes with your personal and professional development, consult with your supervisor to see how your current projects can be reprioritized. 

Important Only

Next, you should prioritize tasks which are less urgent but may eventually have negative consequences for yourself or the organization if not addressed. An important task will not necessarily have a deadline but is essential for your long-term wellbeing and career goals.

Examples of important tasks include:

  • Routine activities such as chores and housekeeping
  • Professional networking
  • Self-care practices 
  • Learning and developing professional skills

Urgent Only

Critical to effective task prioritization is regularly assessing how valuable each item on your to-list is for yourself and the team. Your most urgent tasks may have pressing deadlines but do not necessarily contribute meaningfully to your team’s overall performance. 
Consider how essential the task is when you have a tight deadline. Where possible, defer or delegate any tasks which don’t yield any significant benefit to you and your team so you can attend to more important matters. 
If your colleague or supervisor invites you to a staff meeting, for example, consider how relevant that meeting is for you. Can another colleague cover for you and take notes?  If a coworker asks you for a favor,  can you nominate someone more able to help them?  
Regarding your workload, ask your supervisor how critical your current assignments are and whether any of their deadlines could be extended.

Neither Important Nor Urgent

Tasks in this category are essentially timewasters. In the office, they include scrolling through social media, streaming, texting and gaming. 
While they might help you relax on short breaks, they add no other value and can be done anytime. Since they can distract you from other tasks on your list and cause you to procrastinate, leave them until last or avoid them entirely.

Eliminate Distractions

While knowing how to prioritize tasks is critical to mastering your time, you won’t complete them properly if your work environment is full of distractions. If you are now returning to the office but used to schedule personal tasks during your remote work days,  you will need to make some sacrifices.

Social media, email, Netflix and even chats with colleagues can help you unwind in breaks. But in your working hours, they take up time you should be using for more essential items and ultimately cause you to procrastinate more rather than engaging with the important tasks on your to-do list.  

To maintain a productive work environment where you can give priority tasks your full attention, turn off notifications on your phone and avoid checking your personal email. 

It is also important to set strict boundaries with colleagues sharing your space.  Let your co-workers know to not disturb you for a few hours when you have pressing work to complete.

Delegate Where Possible

Asking for help in the workplace is challenging. You are making yourself vulnerable and it is natural to fear that other co-workers will judge you or that you will burden them. When you transition to a new office job with a different team after years of remote work, these worries are intensified.
But finding the courage to ask for help will have immense rewards. Delegating your less important tasks to other team members puts unimportant tasks off your list and gets them done. This frees up significant time to pursue your personal and professional goals, which can greatly benefit your organization in the long-term. 
In fact, most of your co-workers will be happy to assist you if you ask politely and explain why you are asking for help. This will make them feel like trusted and valued members of your team, improving their motivation and self-esteem at work. To ensure you build a positive, supportive relationship with your colleagues, thank them afterwards and explain how their assistance benefits you.

Find Your Best Working Hours

The time of day when you are most productive is an important consideration when prioritizing tasks. 

Studies show that 79% of employees aren’t actively engaged every hour of their shift.

Even the most efficient employees produce their best work for less than three hours in an eight-hour workday.

This is because your diet, biological clock and circadian rhythms all factor in your energy levels at different times of the day. If you are a morning person, for example, you might experience a rush of energy at the start of the day and start to feel tired in the afternoon. Highly productive workers know their optimal working hours and use them for their most draining projects. 

To tackle complex tasks efficiently, determine which hours of the day you complete the most work or need the fewest mental breaks. Save cognitively draining tasks such as meetings and challenging projects for these hours where possible. 

When you find yourself tired and getting distracted, use that time for other tasks requiring less mental exertion.

Say No to Unnecessary Work

Prioritizing tasks and optimizing your work environment will help you use the time you have more effectively. However, it’s equally important to recognize that your time is valuable and thoughtfully choose how to invest it. 
This means recognizing and confidently saying no to unimportant tasks.
Saying no at work is challenging for most employees. New team members are particularly likely to overextend themselves because they feel strong pressure to be liked by their co-workers and show that they are team-players. 
Being passionate about your job and loving to assist others intensifies this temptation to spend extra time helping colleagues and taking on additional projects.
Yet enforcing boundaries actually builds your coworkers’ trust in you as it demonstrates you are aware of your own workload and carefully managing your time. It will also keep you functioning at your best, rendering your contributions to the team more valuable.
Additionally, prioritizing your own needs is essential to your long-term health, wellbeing and career. When you try to do everything, you leave less room for your own commitments. You also forgo self-care essentials such as breaks, relaxation and sleep, which allow your mind and body to recover from the workplace’s stressors and challenges. 

When and How To Say No

Doing colleagues favors or taking on extra commitments is a great way to become popular at work and demonstrate your commitment if you truly have the time to spare. 
And when you need to say no, you can still support your team by being transparent about your workload and offering another solution where possible.
If your coworker has asked you for help, for example, you can delegate the task to a co-worker with similar expertise, or if the task is not urgent, offer to do it when you have less on your plate. Politely notify them of any personal commitments and your need to focus on your existing projects.
By giving your supervisor and colleagues an honest reason for your decision, you will be keeping them conscious of your workload. This allows them to make adjustments where necessary, such as extending deadlines for your existing projects so you can focus on new ones. 
This way, you will save time by avoiding the new task or adjusting your timetable to accommodate it. You will also demonstrate clear and accurate communication, which will improve your career prospects in the company.
To stay the healthiest and most productive version of yourself in the office, you need to become a master of your time.  Planning your days and weeks with task prioritization methods, removing distractions and avoiding unnecessary commitments will maximize your success and long-term happiness.
Share this article
Tim Ward

Tim Ward

Worldwide Virtual Office Locations

 Australia – English
 Bahrain – English اللغة العربية
 Belgium – FRANÇAIS  Nederlands  English
 China – 簡体中文   English
 France – FRANÇAIS   English
 Germany – Deutsch   English
 Hong Kong – 繁體中文   English
 Japan – 日本語   English
 Kuwait – اللغة العربية  English
 Lebanon – English  اللغة العربية
 Malaysia – English  Bahasa Melayu
 New Zealand – English
 Philippines – English
 Qatar – English  اللغة العربية
 Saudi Arabia – اللغة العربية  English
 Singapore – English  簡体中文
 Thailand – ภาษาไทย  English
 Turkey – Türkçe  English
 United Arab Emirates – English  اللغة العربية
 UK – English
 United States – English