Life on a Timer

In the shuffle known as the “work day,” it’s easy to lose sight of key objectives when the hours are sliced into meetings, messages and emails, and that random but timely question.

Coping methods for managing the office cavalcade include organizing tasks via Trello, Todoist, or the humble priority list. Likewise, there are time management principles, like the notion of doing the most important work first, waiting to check email until noon, or using Pomodoro technique (which advocates 25 minute work periods followed by short breaks).

While there are certainly automatons — excuse me, fellow humans — who can perfectly adhere to a structured approach, some of us require more adaptive methods. Here’s a few ideas to shape your time.

Determining Priorities
While there are experts who advocate finding your optimal time to work and tackling the toughest items then, this sidesteps the reality of the office clock. How to ensure that the most important items are handled first? Ask yourself what will make the greatest difference, and start that first — even if you’re not a stellar morning person.

Taking Breaks
A break doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair. It can be as simple as getting a cup of coffee, taking a five minute walk, or changing the scenery of your work area. You could also catch up on industry articles or browse content related to the work at hand.

Have some space? Try stretching or taking a few forward folds. Likewise, if you’re stressed, finding a few minutes to focus with deep breathing can provide a sense of inner calm.

Timing Tasks
This is brilliant technique for getting started on a difficult project, or breaking a complex one into smaller pieces. Break off a set amount — anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes works well, depending on the task type. Establish your internal goals, set a timer, and get to work.

The timer could be part of your sport watch, your phone, or your browser. Methods may vary, but the point is to have something that allows for a quick glance and a steady alert when it’s done. While the timer is running, avoid interruptions. In most cases, incoming emails and requests can wait until you’re done.

Using a timer can well work at home, too. Don’t spend all weekend with household chores hovering over your head. Give yourself ten minutes, and get done what you can. No need to tell the neighbors, but the simplicity of having a set work period can give you more freedom.

Ultimately, a timer is simply a tool to manage the most limited resource of all. You may find it’s not always needed, but when dealing with open-ended tasks, limits are your allies.