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Lucy Limb

BiteSize Learning

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Time management techniques for WFH


Our lockdown lives are bending out of shape. The unchanging rhythm of the day-to-day can make it hard to remember which day of the week it is. Managing the competing demands of our work and home life can be a challenge and evidence suggests working hours have increased.

It looks as though many of us will be working from home for some time to come so here are some tips on how to work smarter not harder. Productivity is all about doing the right things – doing what makes a difference to achieving your priorities. This is especially important in a rapidly changing environment where work demands are likely to move quickly and unpredictably.

Four smart working techniques to practise during lockdown:

1. The big three task

This first exercise is very simple to execute. Every morning – or the night before if you can remember ­– think carefully about the three most important tasks that will either make the most difference or add the most value to the day ahead. By tasks, we mean actionable jobs (not pieces of information) and they need to be achievable within that day. Write them down on a Post-it and stick it in nearby in your field of vision. Then, when you start your work, do these three things first - and do not start anything new until they are complete.

How this method works

Lasering in on just three tasks forces us to identify the work that really matters, and if it’s a larger piece of work, helps break it down into manageable chunks.

This technique also puts you in control of your workload by working deliberately, not reactively. It keeps the focus on priorities, and makes it easier to manage the expectations others in your team, especially if you’re being asked to asked to do new tasks.

2. Break-up time

Keeping the focus on work can be difficult at the best of times, but under current circumstances there are plenty of distractions.

A time management technique like Pomodoro is another way of keeping the focus in order to optimise working time. It consists of choosing one task and setting a timer for 25 minutes. Once time is up, you take a five-minute break before starting the next pomodoro. After four, you reward your efforts by taking a longer 15 to 30-minute break.

How this method works

Techniques like Pomodoro teach us as much about self-care as they do about increasing our productivity. Introducing a timing element promotes focus, and trains the brain to remove distractions and motivate us with regular rewards.

3. Develop a routine to reduce stress

When a typical working day is no longer governed by the alarm clock, daily commute, exercise or lunchbreak, it’s important to establish a new routine, especially if you share your house with other family members who are also working to their own school or work timetables.

Once you’ve worked out your working hours, be ready to discuss with your work team so that they know when they will be able to reach you. It’s wise to do this for your household too.

Other ways for home workers to help differentiate their work time is to change out of work clothes at the end of the working day, switch off any work devices and tidy away work or close the office door.

How this method works

A routine helps us to feel in control – to prioritise and be self disciplined so that we stay on top of things. It also allows us to develop positive habits, ensuring we make time for things that are important in our lives. Having a routine is especially good for our mental wellbeing as this blog explains.

4. Ditch your displacement activities

A study for the Journal of Consumer Research has shown that we favour short urgent tasks over large important ones – even if the shorter tasks are less pleasant. The urge to seek out easy work is an example of displacement activity. This is the stuff we do to avoid doing the stuff we have to do.

Once you’re understood your displacement activities, ask yourself “What am I putting off?”. Try using the displacement activity to motivate you by turning it into a reward. Say to yourself, “I’ll do 20 minutes organising that big task, then I’ll have that coffee in the sunshine.” Once over the initial inertia, these more challenging tasks will become more achievable.

How this method works

As humans, we tend to respond well to time limits and will do something urgent with a deadline rather than important activities without one. A common example of this is to look in our inbox for a simple task, to provide the satisfaction of achieving something, while offering us an excuse to put off the more important tasks. Recognising this tendency to avoid the important tasks, is a way to find out how to spend your time more productively.




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