Throughout the ongoing pandemic, how and where we spend our time has changed. Whether your commute has been drastically reduced to a short walk to a home desk, you’re traveling less, or spending more time on zoom than you thought possible – we’ve all been figuring out how to adapt our working lives to operate in more virtual environments. Although how we spend our working hours has shifted, a major source of stress for many is still the pervasive feeling that there is never enough time.
As a project manager, I think a lot about time management strategies. Many scientists we work with at COMPASS juggle a lot – between teaching obligations, research, publishing and outreach/engagement efforts – it’s common to experience a constant tug on your time and attention. Furthermore, obtaining training in time and project management is not easily accessible, or even valued, in some fields yet these are skills we all rely on to accomplish our work and achieve impact.
With more distractions at home and the ongoing stress associated with the pandemic, time management has felt both challenging and more important than ever. To help, I’ve outlined four simple but effective strategies below to improve time management and ensure how you spend your time is more strategically aligned with your goals and priorities.
- Understand where you spend your time: Tracking how much time things take helps identify distractions and areas to cut, and also helps to set realistic goals and expectations on what’s possible with the time you have available. Whether you consider a time tracking software (like TimeCamp or Toggl) or build in daily or weekly reflection to record how you spend your time, using this information can help you make more informed decisions about planning and future commitments.
- Plan ahead & set priorities: If you set a plan for what you want to accomplish and when, not only are you more likely to stick to it you’ll also be more prepared when unexpected obstacles come up. To make sure your goals are clear and realistic, consider using the SMART framework. Then, as best you can, break those goals down into more granular level tasks and work backwards from there. A big challenge is figuring out what and how to prioritize. The Eisenhower Matrix, also referred to as Urgent-Important Matrix, can be a helpful tool to identify priorities and determine which we should do first and which we should schedule. Block time on your calendar especially for the tasks that are important but not time sensitive and give yourself a buffer when possible.
- Avoid multitasking and distractions: In a world full of endless distractions, it can feel impossible to quiet the noise. We can feel our time and attention being pulled in a million directions and sometimes it’s impossible to get one thing done, let alone a growing to-do list. Whenever possible, focusing on one task at a time can improve our overall productivity, and mental wellbeing. Multitasking can be one of the most detrimental to our energy and focus. Consider shutting down social media and email during times where focus is needed and taking breaks when you are feeling distracted.
- Build accountability & support: Great advice I’ve heard is if you want to accomplish something such as a new vision for a project, a goal, or a change in what you’re doing, tell someone. It not only helps you to start to articulate what that thing is, but it can also help to build accountability and support. Share your goal and set a follow up conversation with an accountability buddy. This can help you reflect on what is working and what is not, and help you to adjust your roadmap accordingly.
At the end of the day, the tools, systems, and strategies we use to manage our daily workloads or to-do lists are personal; what works for others might not work for you and that’s OK! It’s about finding what is most helpful for you. If you haven’t already this Fall, maybe it’s time to gift yourself space to reach out to an accountability buddy, try a new tool, or set intentions around your time/project management strategies. As part of our future offerings we are considering ways we can support scientists with their project management skills and time management strategies. We’d love to hear if this offering would be of interest to you!