With remote work becoming the new normal, the average workday in the U.S. has grown by three hours since mid-March. In the U.K., France, Spain, and Canada, it has increased by two hours.
Did the amount of work increase or did getting the same things done become more complex?
These could both be true given the challenges of remote work technologies, but the bigger suspects are the distractions sprinkled throughout the day. In a recent survey we conducted, only 29% respondents say they have completely established boundaries with family and housemates.* These distractions could also be contributing to work stress, missed deadlines, low productivity, and improper goal setting.
So, it’s possible that anything from the seemingly endless pings on the phone, calls with colleagues, or that pet that needs attention in the middle of the workday could be keeping you from focusing on what needs to be done.
Give time management techniques a try. They help successful people with multitasking and managing their schedules. You too can use them to block distractions out, create a manageable schedule, focus on a specific activity, set goals, and get back to being your efficient self again.
In this article, we’ll give an overview of three time management techniques and how you can implement them. We will also provide the name of popular apps that can help you with each of them.
Pomodoro technique uses a timer to break down work into 25-minute focus windows, separated by short breaks. Each focus window is called a Pomodoro, originating from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer used by the developer of the method, Francesco Cirillo, back in the 1980s.
This time management technique provides you with a time framework to focus on important tasks. This helps overcome the mental resistance to starting a task, combats procrastination, and breaks big to-dos into smaller tasks.
It also brings in an input-based mindset that helps you focus on the specific task at hand instead of the overall job that needs to be done. Think of it as blocking 25 minutes to create one slide at a time instead of thinking about a 50-slide deck all at once.
The time management method also makes it easier to block out distractions, such as emails, messages, and social media pings, by providing focus windows that feel short and manageable.
Any good old alarm or clock app on your phone can do the job, since all you need is a timer. You can also check out Pomodoro apps. They will offer features such as:
Automated reporting on where time was used.
Integration with project management tools that import all tasks and timelines for better planning and reporting.
Screen lock that resets the Pomodoro session if you exit before 25 minutes or change the screen to attend to interruptions such as emails or phone notifications.
Some of the popular** tools on the market include: PomoDone and Focus To Do. They offer apps for phones as well as software for Windows and Mac computers.
Imagine doing laundry every time you had a piece of clothing to wash or running the dishwasher for each utensil—that would be cumbersome and inefficient. Instead, you probably do these tasks in batches: maybe the whole week's laundry in one go or the day’s utensils at night.
You could bring batching from your personal life into your work life too. This time management technique will help you group similar work-related tasks together such that they can be done within a dedicated amount of time.
The biggest benefit of batching is that it helps cut down on the time and effort it takes your brain to switch and refocus between different tasks.
When you’re focused on an important task, such as researching a topic or writing an excerpt, your brain is focused on taking the information in, analyzing it, and knowing what to look for. But if you had to answer emails every 15 or 20 minutes between this task, your brain would need to switch from this state to a completely different state of transactional responsiveness multiple times over, causing mental fatigue, tiredness, and loss of efficiency.
With batching, you can stay focused on a certain task and achieve the flow you need to be at your most productive. It can also help you block out distractions and maximize your concentration.
While a paper to-do list would do, technology will make batching a whole lot easier by keeping track of your to-dos and enabling you to move them between lists. Apps for to-do lists and note-taking can offer the following benefits:
Scheduling to-dos in advance and tracking them without creating clutter on a paper calendar or notebook.
Automating reminders for scheduled to-dos that you might have put in a while ago and forgotten about.
Creating recurring to-dos for daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis.
Viewing daily, weekly, or monthly to-do calendars, without having to manually rearrange every list each time.
Timeboxing is bringing your to-do list to your calendar and assigning time and date to each task. This results in your calendar looking like boxes of time divided for each task.
Timeboxing originated as an Agile project management practice for setting time aside for each part of a project. However, it started seeping into personal time management practices as business gurus like Elon Musk and Marc Zao-Sanders popularized the technique in the last few years.
Timeboxing enables you to have a very real sense of what your work looks like vis-a-vis the time you have. If your day has to-dos that amount to 12 hours of work, timeboxing would let you see if it’s possible to squeeze all of them in and push back on some of the commitments to avoid burning yourself out.
The time management method also allows you to visually track where the most of your time is being spent, such as the fat three-hour chunk from your afternoon you wasted on non-critical meetings.
Timeboxing gives a relative positioning of work such that you know when to get started on a task to meet the deadline. This means everything gets done in time and you have a comprehensive record of how long it takes you to do something and where your week went.
Not only does it help you feel more in control of your time, it also minimizes the feeling of helplessness that results from overly busy schedules.
Like the Pomodoro Technique and batching, timeboxing can be done on a piece of paper or a calendar in your journal. However, using digital calendars helps in the following ways:
Automated reminders before each task allow you to stay on track
Recurring timeboxes for tasks to remind you of things that happen on a daily or weekly basis.
Simple dragging-and-dropping items to shift meetings or appointments.
Some of the popular** tools on the market include: Google Calendar, Fantastical, Business Calendar, Any.do, and Microsoft Outlook. They offer apps for phones as well as software for Windows and Mac computers.
Though we’ve covered some popular time management techniques in detail, this is by no means an exhaustive list of all time management techniques.
If none of the three techniques we discussed appeal to you, here are some other options you can evaluate:
Do it now: If the task takes less than three minutes, do it now. That essentially boils down to not procrastinating on tasks that take very little time.
Eat that frog: This comes from Brian Tracy’s book by the same name. A frog in this context refers to a task that is big, ugly, and needs the maximum attention. Give priority to this “frog” first and deal with everything else on your to-do list later.
Pareto analysis: This is an 80/20 rule that states that 80% of your time goes in 20% of your tasks. Start by dealing with these 20% of tasks consuming the majority of your time, and address everything later.
Not-to-do list: Create a list of all the activities and tasks that distract you and eat up your time without adding any significant value to your work. Then go about your day without doing any of these things and invest your time in activities that add more value to your day.
Triage technique: Sort all your tasks into three lists: things that need immediate action, things that are important but not urgent, and things that are a waste of time. Now attack them in order of importance.
*This survey was conducted in July 2020 among 384 individual contributors in small U.S. businesses (2 - 500 employees) who are now working at least part-time because of the pandemic. **Methodology for product selection: The products mentioned as “popular” in this article have been chosen via secondary research. We searched for “apps for pomodoro”, “best to do list apps” and “best calendar apps” on Google Incognito, on September 14, 2020, with location set to USA. Products from all the third-party listings that appeared on the first page of SERP were shortlisted, and the products that appeared the most number of times were selected.
Some applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.