Five ways to use your time more effectively

How to manage your time

We’re in a wet and wild January. I’m between meetings, there’s nowhere nearby to work from and I’m too far to drive home. Living by the sea is one of the reasons I chose to work for myself. I pack a backpack, Bernadette grabs her surf board, and I settle myself on the sand or cosy up in a beach café. But not today.

I'm fighting the urge to fanny about on my phone. I'll slip into an inevitable internet spiral – have you seen baby otters playing with stones?! So here you'll find five ways that help me stay productive when a situation isn't working for me.

Sticking point

Stuck on a train. Stuck in a headspace. Stuck in a thought process that isn’t giving you what you need. With deadlines to meet, projects to progress and ideas to generate, it often feels as though we should keep doing what we’re doing. But that’s not always the best way forwards.

If we notice how we work, when we work on certain tasks best, and how we regain our focus then we can be more flexible – and productive.

How did I get unstuck from my meeting limbo? I drove to a spot with a view, left my phone in the backpack and propped my laptop against the steering wheel. With no internet to drag me away, I began to type this article.

The car park became a more regular office last summer when the missus was out surfing. The rain and wind would set in, the cafés were too busy to get a table and I couldn’t head home. With the heater on my feet, I'd crack on. It's the ‘work smarter, not harder’ attitude.

Try these five techniques to use your time more efficiently

1: Caught in a web

What: Notice when you turn to social media or go online for a little distraction. Is it when you’re trying to wake up or during that post-lunch slump? Do you quickly scan your feeds, check the news and get back to it? Or find that 20 minutes later you’ve read IMDB’s trivia for each Buffy episode you’ve watched so far, found the perfect but over-budget Norwegian cabin holiday and watched otters holding hands as they float?

What else… If you’re in the mood to be online, stay online. But use it for research, inspiration, to make valuable connections or share sector news.

2: Know your zone

What: Are you at your desk when you’re making headway through your emails and lists? What about when you’re creating solutions or forming ideas? Maybe you're in a breakout space, on the sofa or working from your bed.

What else… When you need to get into a specific way of working or thinking, take yourself back to that space to help your mind refocus.

3: Coffee shop stop

What: If you find that your colleague catch-ups, client meetings or coffee breaks with freelancer friends are impacting on your working rhythm, schedule them in for a time when you know you’ll be ready to switch tasks.

What else… If you regularly struggle to sit down and focus around a specific time, make that your collaborative time.

4: Power off, not through

What: You’re trying to force an idea, struggling to write, can’t concentrate. But deadlines! Pushing through it might seem like the quickest way to get to your end goal. It isn’t.

What else… Stop trying to force an outcome. Give your mind the space to drift elsewhere and you’ll feel more refreshed. Try these for a quick break:

  • Close your eyes for a few minutes
  • Take a moment away from your desk (there’s always paperwork to file - always)
  • Fill up a fresh glass of water and drink it before you head back to your desk
  • Stare out of the window
  • Tidy your workspace
  • Go for 5 minute walk
  • Meditate for 5 minutes

Your thoughts might just settle and allow new ideas to come to light.

5: Notepad not iPad

What: Having tech on hand makes life so much easier. But if you don’t have the creative freedom to easily scribble, sketch out or work through concepts that come to mind then you risk trying to recall them later. And if your device is out of power then you’ll miss those moments when you’re powered up.

What else… Carry a small notebook and pen with you. Keep another out at home too so you can capture those washing-up and teeth-brushing epiphanies as your mind wanders.

These techniques are how I manage my days. Do you have your own ways of using your time more wisely? Or do you work well somewhere that you’d have never expected? This is all typed up so it’s back to the otters for me.