Rediscovering the Lost Art of Time Management

How to Protect Your Schedule in a Distraction-Filled World

Perhaps the greatest contradiction about the workplace is its name — the workplace. Whether we’re at the corporate office, in a home workspace or taking a meeting on the road, our workplaces are scattered with landmines for distraction. Based on research from Dr. Donald E. Wetmore, president of the Productivity Institute, the average person is interrupted seven times every hour and between 50 and 60 times each day. That’s a lot.

External tools aren’t helping us out much. Wetmore found that, on average, we use a whopping 13 different tools to control and manage our time, and still roughly half of the workday is wasted by interruptions. Clearly, the problem isn’t a lack of tools or technologies — the problem is us and our inability to deal with workday distractions and manage our time effectively.

Why is Effective Time Management Such a Struggle?

There are many factors that contribute to our inability to keep a tight grip on our work schedules, and a proliferation of technologies, stress and a lack of education/skill are chief among them.

Too Many Technologies

Productivity and collaboration solutions are catching on like wildfire across the business landscape. On top of the 13 tools Wetmore says we use to manage our schedules, on average we use over four additional technologies across three separate providers to communicate with each other. Compound these numbers with the fact that approximately 73% of the emails in our inboxes are irrelevant to our roles, and our ever-growing sprawl of collaboration tools and apps paints the picture of a pretty distracting, inefficient and (ultimately) expensive workday.

Stress is High

Stress sinks our productivity and time management, too. It’s estimated that over 12 million workdays are lost annually due to work-related stress and anxieties, and 40% of workers rate their jobs as very or extremely stressful. Technology may be making this worse, especially with younger, greener generations entering the workforce en masse. Recent research suggests the introduction of new, unfamiliar workplace technologies causes the most stress for the world’s youngest employees (Generation Zers). Does this mean our technology-driven work environments will become breeding grounds for a stressed-out, time-strapped workforce?

Education is Lacking

It’s a stereotype, one that older generations love to pick on, but it can be true — at least in terms of professional soft skills like time management and problem-solving. One in five professionals admits their professional skills are lacking and a scary 32% of “Gen Now” employees (the term coined to represent Millennials and Generation Zers) say their college failed to teach them “real-life” business skills.

What You Can Do as Business Leader

Some might argue that it isn’t a boss’s job to teach an employee how to manage their day. But when our people are the driving force of our businesses, it’s impossible to sit back and make no investment in the way they use their time and fulfill their roles. With this in mind, there are a few ways we can instill smarter time management practices in our workforces.

Practice What You Preach

Executive modeling can be essential to getting the most out of a technology investment, but the same practice can be equally powerful when it comes to encouraging everyday practices and behavior such as smarter time management strategies. If you wish employees were less mired in day-to-day tasks so they could be better prepared for meetings, be a model for them. Block out the thirty minutes leading up to every meeting as “prep time.” Send meeting agendas to all attendees a day before your scheduled meeting so they have time to prepare. Start using Eisenhower’s “Important/Urgent Principle” to manage your workday.

It’s amazing how far positive modeling can go in affecting peoples’ behavior. Above all, consider the idea of “servant leadership” and how we can re-approach the ways we lead to drive growth among our people.

Invest in Mentorship

Mentorship programs are fixtures at many organizations. However, they often revolve around mentoring new employees on organization-specific processes, tools and workflows. Mentors can also be important one-on-one models and coaches of soft skills like time management, especially for younger professionals who may be entering their very first job. This is one of the reasons why Select Communications recently launched a peer-based mentor program.

Use Technology Smartly

As much as technology can introduce greater distraction to our workdays, it can help us unlock powerful time management benefits as well. Tools like Outlook and Skype for Business give us free reign to organize our personal calendars as we see fit, making our “out of office,” “busy” and “in a meeting” alerts widely visible to colleagues. And countless consumer apps like Clear and Workflow exist to help us manage our schedules on-the-go from anywhere in the world. The technology tools are available — it’s just a matter of using them in the smartest way.

Creating a Distraction-Proof Workplace

Of course, time management technology isn’t without its flaws, and so much of its effectiveness hinges on smart usage. Platform integration and unification still remain a challenge — seriously, wouldn’t it be great if turning off your Outlook meant you stopped receiving Skype messages as well? Or how convenient would it be if your desktop could turn off your email and chat clients whenever you opened a Word doc or Excel sheet? Not to mention your “busy” sign on your calendar is only as effective as the colleagues who heed its message.

Whether you’re wanting to add time management or productivity software to your technology stack or looking to uncover ways for your organization to be more efficient and productive, the process starts by understanding your people. If improving collaboration, productivity and efficiency is on your mind, connect with us at Select and we’ll help you zero in on the right solutions to meet the needs of your people.