More Americans work from home than ever before, and the numbers just keep increasing. While being a home-based worker has many advantages (flexibility, working in your slippers, short commute), it can sometimes be difficult to manage your time. Here are 10 things you can do to get a handle on your time.
Designate Some Office Space
Sure, you can work from any old table, TV tray or even couch, but if you’re truly interested in efficient time management, you need to have a space that’s designated as your regular work space. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever work from somewhere else in your home, but it’s important to have a ‘base’ where you do most of your work. It helps you keep a consistent routine, stay organized and avoid distractions.
Organize Your Office Space
When you work from home, there’s really no reason you should have to spend time hunting for printer ink, paper or file folders. Much like in a traditional office, you should just know where those things are. Spending some time to get your office organized goes a long way toward improving your time management. You’ll know where everything is and you can arrange items in the way that’s best for you. Plus, you won’t get sidetracked at the proverbial water cooler while you’re wandering around looking for supplies.
Ditch the Distractions
Nothing sends your time management into a tailspin faster than distractions. But what constitutes a distraction varies from person to person. For instance, some people find that music helps them concentrate, while others end up doing impromptu karaoke to every song. You need to determine what things distract you and do what you can to eliminate them. Of course there are certain things that distract everyone and should just be avoided entirely: television, phone calls, friends or neighbors dropping in to visit. Instead, record daytime programs to watch later. Turn the ringer off on your phone. Make friends and neighbors aware of your normal working hours so they won’t disturb you. All of these things are really simple little changes, but together they add up to a big increase in productivity.
Prioritize Your Email
Ahh…email. How did we ever get anything done without it? And now how do we get anything done with so much of it? This is an area where it’s important to put your time management skills into play. One of the best ways to manage your email is to set up a couple of different email accounts. Use one for work-related emails only, and the other as your personal email. This will save you from wading through personal emails to get to important work ones – plus you’ll be less likely to get distracted by the photos of cute baby animals your friend just sent to you. You can always schedule a few minutes somewhere in your day to look at your personal emails. But no matter which email account you’re dealing with, it’s wise to organize your messages. Delete the ones you don’t need (or the ones you think you’ll forward, but never do) and organize the rest into folders that make them easy to find at a later time.
Stick to a Schedule
When you work in a traditional office, you pretty much have the same work hours each day, and for good reason. A routine makes things more, well, routine. And when you’re trying to manage your time and be productive, there’s a lot to be said for keeping a routine to stay on track. Of course there will be days when you need to alter your routine slightly to accommodate family or appointments, but those days should be the exceptions, not the norm.
Make the Most of Your Peak Hours
Everyone has times of the day they’re more productive than others. Try to determine those times and then plan your most challenging tasks during those times. You’ll be able to get more done since your mind and body will be at peak efficiency. Tackle less intense tasks at those times when your body rhythm is at a naturally lower time.
Don’t Multitask Everything
For years now, multitasking has been a big buzz word. It’s great to be able to handle more than one thing at a time, but when it comes to work, it’s not good to multitask everything. Sticking to one task through completion, especially if it is quite involved, is often a better use of your time than jumping back and forth between tasks, since your brain has to keep shifting gears. Likewise, it’s better to just finish a small task rather than jump back and forth between several small tasks. Believe me, you’ll get all of them finished much more quickly.
Most of us work on a computer for many hours each day. The technology is incredible, and the wealth of information at our fingertips is amazing – maybe sometimes a little too amazing. It seems we can find ourselves roaming around on the information superhighway for hours without even realizing it. Try to keep your random Web surfing to a minimum, or even wait until a designated time to do it. If an idea pops into your head that you’d like to research (like those funny YouTube videos), just jot down the idea and save it for your designated surf time.
Plan Tomorrow Today
Want to get a jump on your tasks for tomorrow? Great! Start today. At the end of your work period, once you clean off your desk, create a to-do list for the next day. That way, when you start working in the morning, you can jump right in without having to get your ducks in a row first. Plus, you’ll have more time for coffee.
Take a Break
Sometimes the best way to increase your productivity and manage your time is to take a break. Your body and brain can start to get foggy after concentrating for long periods, and a quick stretch, 10 minute walk or small snack can help get you back on track and into your productive zone. But remember – if you work on a computer all day, you may want to take that break away from the computer to give your eyes and mind a rest.
Even the most disorganized among us can become masters of time management. It does take practice and discipline, and you may experience a period of trial and error to find what works for you, but in the end, the results are well worth it.