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Time Management 101: Finding Balance in the New Normal

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For many people, time management is a common issue that gets in the way of productivity—and that’s under normal circumstances. But we’re living in strange times. While working from home has become part of the new normal in Singapore, it has also introduced new challenges that make it even more important to manage your time effectively.

For instance, according to the report the Resilience of the Singapore Workforce, 36% of respondents have experienced a decrease in productivity since working from home after COVID-19. When asked to identify their main challenge when working from home under the pandemic, 61% said they were working longer hours than usual.

As you ease into your new job, internship, or traineeship, you may find yourself struggling with time management on top of the chaos caused by COVID-19. Here are eight practical time management pointers you can follow.

1. Choose your working hours
Depending on your work-from-home setup, you may have the flexibility to choose when to work and when to take rest days—provided you can put it in a set number of hours each week. This can be a blessing for some but it can also be confusing for others who are unaccustomed to setting their work schedules on their own.

It can be very easy to develop a bad habit of working when you feel like it. This leads to an erratic schedule that can hurt your productivity since your mind can’t develop a work rhythm—the emotional and physical drive to work.

Bottom line? Pick a work schedule and stick with it as much as you can.

2. Schedule breaks and use them

Try to maintain a consistent schedule, not just for work but also for things like breaks and house duties. Taking breaks on the fly can blur the lines between rest and work. This leads to problems like checking emails while eating your lunch or extending your hours because you took too many breaks.

Consider using time management techniques like the Pomodoro method, which breaks down work periods into 25-minute blocks punctuated by short breaks. You can use these breaks to meditate or perform quick household tasks, like taking out the trash or putting the laundry in the wash.

By setting specific times to be away from your screen, you can put yourself on a daily deadline and develop a steady work rhythm, making you more productive. Experiment and see what method works for you.

3. Do one big task at a time

Working from home means you’re multitasking by default. Your family, bed, and pet—they’re all vying for your attention. You might think that multitasking lets you save time and do more, but jumping back and forth between activities will only strain your already fragile focus. It also drains your working memory—the part of your short-term memory that holds information when making decisions.

To compensate, try to do one big task at a time and take regular planned breaks. You’ll be surprised by how much progress you make every day taking this slow and steady approach.

4. Embrace meetings as a part of daily life

With staff and team members no longer having the ability to have casual face-to-face conversations in the hallway and break room, companies have had to rely on both impromptu and scheduled meetings on Zoom and Google Meet.

This means that you’ll also have to schedule your daily routine around these meetings, rather than see them as interruptions. Consider setting aside 15 to 30 minutes of your day for casual catch-ups so you can control your schedule.

5. Use productivity apps to your advantage

Take advantage of the large selection of productivity apps and software at your disposal. Tools like Evernote for note-taking, Toggl for time tracking, Hootsuite for social media management, and Serene for blocking social media sites will help you manage your time and stay productive. These tools will also notify you to take a break, resume working, and wrap up the day.

Productivity software may not seem like a big deal, but as you spend more time working from home, you’ll realise just how difficult it is to concentrate and manage your time independently. These tools can be the push you need to avoid slacking off and procrastinating.

6. Build good email habits

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Working from home means you’ll be reading and processing a ton of email, which can easily eat up several minutes of your day. Research shows that on average, professionals check their mail 15 times a day—or once every 37 minutes. However, only 11% of clients and customers and 8% of coworkers expect a reply within an hour. In other words, you’re probably better off spending less time reading your email.

Other good email habits to develop include:

  • Clearing out your inbox. This prevents new messages from slipping through the cracks and piling up in your unread email.
  • Choosing specific times to check email. You can open your email an hour after starting work, once more after lunch, and a final time before wrapping up.
  • Triage your email. Create a system for sorting messages under categories like mission-critical, urgent, and less urgent.

7. Proactively manage your work calendar

Instead of plotting your to-dos on the day they need to be completed, try to fill up your calendar ahead of time so you know when to schedule deadlines as tasks arrive on your plate. For example, at the end of the workweek, you can plot next week’s schedule and identify blocks of time for focused work.

Even if you aren’t sure what next week’s to-dos are, plotting your schedule into chunks of time will make it easier to plug tasks into certain hours of the day. Besides, you can always change the scheduled to-do if something urgent comes along. The idea is to always set times for focused work in advance.

8. Talk to your supervisor about managing tasks

If you aren’t already doing so, we recommend taking a bit of time each week to check in with your immediate supervisor to talk about your tasks and how to prioritise them. If this is your first job or internship, you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of work on your plate. So don’t hesitate to ask for help from your supervisor. They might have insight as to which deadlines can be moved.

9. Have an end of day ritual

As you end the workday, it’s a good idea to have a ritual to mark the boundary between your work and personal life. For example, you can go on a walk around your neighbourhood, brew a cup of tea, or check online job portals for the latest jobs in Singapore. This is a little trick that helps you stay motivated throughout the day. Time is gold—know how to spend it

As you can see, you don’t need anything overly complicated to be effective at time management when working from home. If anything, it’s all about doing the little things that pay off in the long run.

By recognising the need to be more proactive at managing your time, you can build good habits and set yourself up for success when it’s time to look for jobs in the future. Learn more about these opportunities at Young NTUC’s Facebook Group and Telegram Channel.