What's the most valuable resource you have? Your time. Efficient time management will help you and your business flourish, but that isn't always easy in today's workplace. If you find yourself spinning your wheels multitasking or losing an hour down the social media rabbit hole, it's time for a new strategy. Some productivity techniques are free and easy to implement, while others have a learning curve. Here's a breakdown of four popular time management strategies to help you decide which is the right fit for you:
The Pomodoro Technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo, is a widely used method of time management. Each 'Pomodoro' is a 25 minute segment of uninterrupted work followed by a 5 minute break. Traditionally, after four Pomodoros you take a slightly longer break of 15-30 minutes. You can keep track of time with a watch or phone. If you prefer, there are number of Pomodoro timer programs available for smartphone, computer, or web browser. These include Focus Booster, Pomodoro Keeper, Pomodorium, and Tomato Timer.
- easy to implement; just set a timer and start working
- many software options available
- frequent screen breaks may encourage agile thinking and reduce eyestrain and back stiffness
- good for people who procrastinate; a 25 minute time commitment is easy to approach
- some tasks cannot be interrupted every 25 minutes
- some people find the frequent breaks distracting
- frequent breaks may increase temptation to start a conversation, browse social media for 'just a few minutes,' etc.
- may be most effective when combined with distraction management software
Distraction Blocking Software
You may want to start by analyzing where your time is going. Software like Rescue Time gives you a daily report of how your time was spent, letting you identify time sinks. If that isn't enough to help you work more efficiently, try software like Cold Turkey and Freedom, which blocks your access to certain sites for set periods of time. Finally, there is writing software like FocusWriter, which restricts your access to the web and everything on the computer except for the typing box.
- quickly and effectively frees up time spent on social media and web browsing
- software may be customizable to block any site that is a time sink, IE Wikipedia
- convenient to test out; many programs have a free trial period or charge by the month
- initial configuration and inputting of blocked web sites may take some time
- software has to be activated to be effective
- each web-capable device you own may need the web blocked
- it may not be possible to block all time sinking sites if web searches are a vital part of the job
The 'Don't Break the Chain' Technique
You may have seen the 'Don't Break the Chain' method in action on a popular episode of 'Seinfeld.' Instead of technology-heavy methods that require software and timers and such, Jerry Seinfeld's technique is refreshingly clean and simple. All you need is a paper calendar and one or more colored markers.
Decide on an important, repeating task. Every day that you do that task, draw an 'x' on that square in the calendar. Challenge yourself not to skip a day and 'break the chain.' According to the Cancer Research UK Health Behavior Research Center, it takes 66 days to build a habit. This technique can get you there.
- simple and inexpensive
- can build lifelong productivity habits
- less effective for tasks that don't need to be done daily
- a paper calendar may be hard to keep track of, especially for people who work from multiple locations
The Getting Things Done Method
David Allen has developed this method which, although time-consuming to set up, has the potential to dramatically increase your worktime productivity. A full description of this method is beyond the scope of this article, but it breaks down into five steps:
- writing down everything you need to do
- breaking those tasks into actionable segments
- organizing tasks by various criteria
- reflecting on how the method is working and on what needs to be done in the coming week
- confidently engaging with your workday
- this method can be adapted to pen-and-paper or through the use of commonly available software
- very good for people overwhelmed with a large number of tasks
- excellent for those who tend to forget details; everything is written down
- initial setup is time-consuming and complex
- requires daily adjustment of the tasks list and weekly contemplation and re-calibration of goals