This is also where you reach that proverbial fork in the road. Now that the office manager is long gone, it will be up to you to determine how you will manage your time and workflow during the business day.
I’ve talked about this before in other posts. There’s the idea of being a virtual employee and then the reality. We all go into it thinking that we’ll be taking calls between yoga class and chai lattes with old friends. We’ll be setting up clients on WordPress through a phone app while we’re at the playground with the kids. Then, we all get the huge reality check… sigh.
Many of us realize that having a system in place and imposed upon us for years should make us inherently organized. But that’s not the case. When you have a system of organization and scheduling imposed upon you, you never really have to plan. And when we are left to our own devices…
Winging It Doesn’t Work
I learned the limits of my time management and organization when I began my virtual career. After years of working in corporate America, I was on my own to do my own thing and, I did, often with exhausting, and frustrating results.
In my new virtual career, I had no need of a schedule, since the virtual world is awake 24-7. Without a routine, I could push off doing tasks and become distracted by other things.
Get me on a shuttle to space, because I was the #1 cadet.
A lunch break planned for 45 minutes stretched into lunch and a pedicure and surfing the web. By the time I actually got down to the business of working, hours had passed and I was sorely pressed to account for them.
This meant spending twice as much time on the laptop for the same amount of work. Eventually, I was working way more hours than I had at any corporate job, and I had that guilt that comes from having nothing to show for it.
You can’t wing it and be effective in the virtual world. You’re more likely to fall behind on deadlines, forget about tasks and lose large chunks of time. You’ll also work way beyond your allotted time and capacity, and this will ultimately mess with your cognition and well-being.
Getting On Track
If it’s 3 a.m. and you’re still working, then it’s time to put a schedule in order.
The best way to get started is to figure out what daily and weekly personal tasks need to get each day and at what time.
For example, if you have kids, when do you need to have them up, fed and ready to go? Figure in your time to be up and ready in that time frame. then do a test run and check what time you can be at your desk ready for your day, (reasonably).
That’s the time you log in to work.
As you work during the day, check your “fade times”. these are times when you become distracted and lose energy. Schedule meals and breaks during these times so you can re-energize or decompress.
Most of all, schedule a definite, consistent end time. This is when you cut off work and start focusing on your personal life. By committing to an end of shift time, you force yourself to turn off mentally and physically, and it will urge you to get your work tasks done so you can feel a sense of completion at the end of the workday.
A great way to see how well you manage your time is by using a timer. Time all tasks during your work day so you can determine where you are allocating most of your time and effort. This is important because you’ll be able to pinpoint tasks that may be delegated or automated down the road.
It seems rigid and structured to time and schedule work and personal tasks, but remember – we manage routines and schedules all the time without thinking about it. Tracking simply makes us more aware and more accountable for our time.
Tools Of The Trade
Now that you have a general idea of how to schedule your day, you’ll need the right tools to keep you on track.
There are many scheduling and organizational tools available on the web, and most are free. Here’s where you want to keep it simple. If you’re spending too much time trying to figure out how to use an app in order to make your life easier, it’s clearly not worth it.
There are three great tools available for organizing your schedule and workflow: Google Calendar, Toggl, and the Tomato-Timer. I’ll demonstrate how using these three simple tools can structure your work day and pinpoint where you’ll need to rethink your workflow processes.
Each day, block off work sessions and meetings in your Google Calendar. You can also take this time to schedule recurring meetings and personal appointments. Set reminders to your email or cell phone so you’ll receive alerts.
Schedule work sessions for 25-minute blocks in Google Calendar, and then enter the name of the task in Toggl. Set your Toggle timer, your Tomato Timer, and get to work.
Use the Tomato Timer to schedule breaks in between work sessions, and longer times such as lunch breaks. The act of using a timer will set you mentally to focus on a particular task. It’s also a great way to avoid distractions. Use breaks to surf the web and decompress.
Use the Toggl timer to measure tasks and create reports. At the end of each workday, run the report feature in Toggl to review where you are spending the most time. If you are spending numerous work sessions wading through emails, it’s time to rethink that process and consider automation. It’s also a great way to target processes that may need additional staffing resources or other programs.
Some Helpful Hints:
- Instant messenger, phone calls, doorbells… all these things will throw you off your work sessions from time to time. The key is to be flexible and remember – you’re creating a loose structure to stay on track and evaluate your workflow. Don’t be afraid to change things around, and don’t worry if the day doesn’t go as planned. It takes time and practice to implement work routines.
- The Peak Time app only needs a fingerprint to determine your “peak time”, described as the time of day when you are at your most productive. Tailor the bulk of your workload during your peak times, and see if you are more effective overall. Are you a night owl? An early riser? Now you can use this to your advantage.
- Don’t forget your environment! Charge your electronics, decorate your workspace, and ensure your desk is organized and comfortable.
Free Your Mind (And Your Schedule)
You know what many successful people, from Einstein to Stephen King have in common? They all integrate schedules and routines into their lives. If it works for them, it’s worth giving it a try, right?
Once you incorporate scheduling and working in block sessions, your to-do list will shrink. You won’t lose focus or become distracted.
You’ll be less at the mercy of whatever gets thrown at you during the day, and more in charge of your workflow. You’ll be able to prioritize requests and interruptions throughout the day, and you’ll have a better understanding of what you’ve accomplished. Time cannot simply disappear when you are accountable for it.
A sense of purpose and fulfillment in the workplace leads to a more satisfying experience, and this also means less stress and greater happiness. Scheduling your day may not completely change your work life, but it can greatly simplify it.
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