Some days, inevitably, you’ll head to work with a list of tasks longer than your arm, only to depart the office eight hours later with all of them still outstanding and a whole host of new ones to boot. Everyone has a day like this now and then, but if you find it’s a regular occurrence, it probably signals that you have a time management problem.
That might not be your fault. Depending on your workplace culture and office layout, you could find yourself drafted into last-minute meetings, pulled away from your desk by someone with an ‘urgent’ enquiry, or even trapped in conversations about The X Factor results.
On the other hand, it may be your own behaviours that are holding back your productivity. Perhaps you find it hard to stick to one task before your mind flits to another one, or perhaps you waste too much time on the less significant parts of a job.
Either way, you could help yourself on days when you know you have a lot to do by taking a few minutes to plan out your day on the way to work. One possible method to adopt is the Pomodoro Technique, developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. He used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to divide the day into 25-minute chunks followed by five-minute breaks, assigning devoting each stretch of time to a single task. After four ‘pomodoros’, you should take a longer break.
Scheduling time for tasks, as well as regular intervals to recharge, minimises distractions and allows you to understand more easily what is achievable within a day.
To assess how successful your approach is – or indeed to identify where, how and when you are losing your focus – it might also be helpful to use time tracking software. There are numerous free and subscription products intended for individuals and teams, which allow you to record manually or automatically how long you spend on individual tasks. But beware – they can also track the time you spend browsing on specific websites, which has the potential to reveal some uncomfortable truths.