Ten trusted time management tips for human resources

Feeling overwhelmed, overworked and rushed is a common theme for folks in the human resources department.

On top of your own workload, you may also be tasked with making sure the rest of the organization uses time productively.

We’ve put together some important time management tips to help you get through the day. You can also pass along this advice to employees and make your company a more productive place.

1. Make better to-do lists

There’s nothing groundbreaking about using to-do lists as a tool for time management and organization. However, you may be able to improve the way you make your daily or weekly list of tasks.

For example, is your to-do list too general? Try getting more specific. Instead of writing down “Update the Employee Manual” on your list, narrow it down to updating a certain section. Don’t just review resumes. Decide what open position you will focus on and choose a set number of applicants to review.

When you’re assembling that list, try to categorize things by priority as well as the type of task (paperwork, phone calls, interviews, employee training, etc.) Then, whether it’s the most urgent item on your list or not, do the thing you’re dreading first. This is common, but valuable advice from productivity experts, career coaches and even Mark Twain.

Twain is credited with saying, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

By doing the tough stuff right away, you avoid the tendency to procrastinate, and you’ll carry a sense of accomplishment with you the entire workday.

Another tip to help you stick to your to-do list is making it public. Try sharing daily goals among co-workers to keep each other accountable, or post your list on a whiteboard in your office where anyone can see it. When you can’t hide from your list, you’re more likely to complete it.

2. Make a do-not-do list

Perhaps just as important as a to-do list is the less popular list of things you shouldn’t be doing with your day. Jim Collins recommends this strategy in his book Good to Great, and productivity guru, Tim Ferris, author of the best-seller 4-Hour Work Week, writes about this concept on his blog.

Ferris says the reason for making this list is simple “what you don’t do determines what you can do.”

The do-not do list may be less of a daily routine than a collection of things that you know can hurt your productivity.

Identify the things in your day that become time sucks and distractions:

  • Don’t read or answer personal email.
  • Don’t attend meetings unless your presence is essential.
  • Don’t get caught up in office drama.

You can also use the list to remind yourself of personal shortcomings:

  • Don’t be afraid to delegate.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist.
  • Don’t complain in front of coworkers.

This exercise will help you set your sights on the tasks that can make a true difference where you work.

3. Set aside a specific time for emails

While it is an essential part of business, sending and responding to emails has become one of the most time-consuming tasks of the modern work day.

Your email inbox can also be a major distraction. Don’t get obsessed with getting down to zero unread messages. Instead, choose a block or two of time each day when you will focus on emailing.

Turn off those notifications that pop-up on your screen and sidetrack you from the task at hand.

The world won’t come to an end if you fail to respond to your emails immediately. If someone urgently needs your attention, they can come see you in person or pick up the phone and call you.

In some work environments, there is far too much work being done over email. Many innovative companies are using different tools for digital communication that function more like highly organized messaging applications with the ability to filter by teams and projects.

If you think your company could benefit from tools like this, start by checking out Slack and HipChat. These programs have even been dubbed “email killers.”

4. Try stand-up meetings

In addition to emails, constant meetings can be a thorn in the side of human resource professionals. It may be hard to miss many of these meetings. But, if there are some where you aren’t needed or can be briefed afterward, don’t be afraid to politely ask to skip them.

Getting away from the conference room, out of your chairs and onto your feet is a good way to potentially reduce the time daily meetings consume. Stand-up meetings, also called scrums or huddles, are meant to cut the fluff and literally keep people on their toes.

A contributor to Forbes.com says implementing stand-up meetings helped his company cut back on meeting time by 25 percent, and standing up made meetings more productive. He also joked that employees were much less likely to fall asleep during a stand-up meeting.

As an added bonus, any opportunity to limit the time spent sitting has health and wellness benefits for workers.

5. Schedule time to focus on important tasks

Your calendar likely has daily meetings and appointments on it, but are you also using it to block out time to work on specific things? You should!

There’s a productivity technique known as time blocking that requires you to dedicate hours to a crucial task so you can concentrate on something that’s a major priority.

This concept is in contrast to the idea that multi-tasking is a good way to be productive. That’s because it turns out there is a lot of research indicating multitasking is ineffective. Experts, like psychology professor Clifford Nass from Stanford University, say it will actually end up wasting more time than it saves.

Reserve time during the day to shut your door, turn off as many distractions as possible and get the things done that matter most. Now you can work on things like researching the right group health benefits, recruiting top talent and improving workplace culture.

6. Recharge your brain with quick breaks

You deserve a break or two, and studies show taking a brief break in between tasks boosts productivity.

Short breaks help you clear your mind while encouraging creativity and problem solving. According to an article on The Huffington Post, which cites several studies, taking breaks as often as once an hour can make you more productive. You’ll return to the job rejuvenated and refocused.

What you do with your breaks is important. Obviously, it’s best not to use them for unhealthy habits like smoking or consuming junk food and soda. Get up and move around whenever possible as this is not only good exercise but helps stimulate your brain, too.

If you stay at your desk, listen to relaxing or motivational music, read an interesting article or drink some water. Dehydration can negatively affect productivity, but drinking water can reduce stress and promote mental clarity.

7. Tidy up your desk

It’s no secret that staying organized is essential to effective time management. That goes beyond your email, your file cabinets and the files on your computer’s desktop. It includes your surroundings … like your physical desktop.

Keeping your work area clean is another good way to avoid stress. In human resources, there are a lot of documents to deal with. Piles of paper on your desk will distract you and cause anxiety, which will make it harder to manage your time efficiently. So, create a personal workspace that’s a more peaceful place.

Craig Jarrow, from the blog Time Management Ninja, offers a collection of advice to help you keep your desk clean, organized and productive.

8. Be okay with saying “no”

People expect a lot from the human resources department. Whether it’s employees with questions, managers with suggestions or new hires that need help, just about everyone in the company is relying on you for something.

You’re no doubt being asked to do a lot when you’ve already got a full plate. That’s why it’s important to learn to say “no” to requests that aren’t the best use of your time.

It’s possible to say “no” and still be helpful. Suggest ways for employees to resolve issues on their own. Point people to resources where they can find the answers they need.

Knowing how and when to delegate responsibilities is an excellent way to relieve your burden when you or other employees feel overworked.

Realize that delegating means more than just shifting the work to someone else. SuccessSystems, Inc. President, Sam Lloyd, explains in an article on SHRM.org:

“Often, managers think that they are delegating when they assign tasks to employees. Sometimes this is merely dumping on people. Real delegation is assigning responsibility for outcomes along with the authority to do what is needed to produce the desired results.”

9. Stop at the end of the workday

There are only 24 hours in a day, and you should only be spending about eight of those focused on work. The ERC HR Insights Blog suggests treating the end of the day as your deadline.

“This will force you to set reasonable expectations for yourself every day and accomplish everything you intended.”

When you form a habit of constantly staying late or taking work home with you, not only does it disrupt your work-life balance, it could also lead to procrastination. You’ll always be telling yourself you’ll finish something up at home or you’ll just stay a little later. That doesn’t necessarily indicate dedication as much as it shows a lack of time management skills.

There’s nothing wrong with being committed to your job, and there will be times when working overtime is necessary. However, it’s best to avoid making that part of your routine.

10. Review your achievements and plan ahead

The day is done. How much of your to-do list did you accomplish? Here’s a way to avoid dwelling on what you didn’t get done.

One of the last things you should do before you head home for the day is make one more list. It is your all-done list, which is a newer concept that’s the opposite of a to-do list.

99u.com writes about The Art of the Done List. It explains how people who make something every day, like a carpenter, chef or artist, usually have a physical object as proof of their hard work. However, it can be a bit different for office workers. You need something that celebrates your accomplishments.

“The simple act of pausing to reflect and acknowledge your efforts provides valuable boosts of motivation, focus, and insight that would otherwise be lost amidst your busy day.”

The 99u article also explains that this kind of list writing can help you learn from mistakes and examine whether you are spending time on the right things.

Try not to focus too much on what’s missing a checkmark on your daily to-do list. Instead, move them on to the next day’s list and reprioritize.

Now you’re one step ahead for tomorrow. That’s some good time management!

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