10 tips for time management at work

Pablo Herrera

Pablo Herrera
Head of SEO & Content

Time management is essential in any job. Of all the soft skills, it is probably the most necessary regardless of your sector of activity.

In an increasingly fast-paced world, it is very easy not to get everything done. In sectors such as our digital marketing sector, we also find that there are always things to do.

There are always new SEO guidelines to apply, optimisation options in a piece of content, new articles to read to keep up to date, etc… It can get overwhelming.

Couple that with routine tasks like answering emails, managing invoices, leading teams, etc… and time management can become a problem.

Personally, I think I am a very organised person at work. I could say strict. In fact, I have never been late for a deadline in my life, and I watch with amazement as delays are the norm.

So I thought I’d tell you my tips for managing my time properly and arriving at the right time. In my case, these tips are the product of my experience and are marked by my own personality.

I have never needed to read an article like this one and when I have read several to see if I could find something I didn’t do and be able to tell you about it, I realised that I had already integrated it.

That’s why I’m not going to talk about time management methodologies. There are some and maybe they can help you.

But, personally, I think that the most useful thing is to assimilate certain routines and ways of working, without chronometers or fixed times set in advance, because before I start I’m going to tell you my main key: adapt the workflow to the particular conditions we have that day, both in terms of rest and concentration, unforeseen events, etc…

Here we go.

1. Prioritise, yes, but not always.

Un equipo priorizando tareas

Let’s not kid ourselves, prioritisation is important. Obviously, if you have ten tasks to do in a day, it’s better to do the most important one as soon as possible. It will save you stress and you will have a clear conscience.

If you fail in your time management that day, at least you will have finished what you needed to finish.

Many people – and many tools – label their tasks in order of priority. High, medium and low is the most common, but you can adapt it to whatever suits you best. In my case, ranking doesn’t work for me because I have pretty much internalised what is most relevant, but it can be a good first step to start with.

However, I think it is even more important to manage the small secondary tasks. I read a while ago that it is called the “two-minute rule”. Officially, the rule tells you not to procrastinate on an incoming task that costs you no more than two minutes.

I’ll say it doesn’t matter if it’s two, three or five. The important thing is that if you get an email, a WhatsApp or whatever, asking you for a task that you can solve in a moment, get on with it.

Here I want to make a nuance. Never interrupt your work if you are in the middle of a major task. The point is, if you have already been interrupted by the notification of the new task, take advantage of that break to get on with it instead of going back to the main task.

You get it out of the way in a moment and avoid it piling up. And you get back to your priority task with something less to do when you’re done.

2. Plan for contingencies

Agenda, parte de un teclado y un café en una taza roja en un escritorio gris oscuro

Crucial. Make it a point to remember that there will always be unforeseen events when you plan your tasks. And because there will be unforeseen events, set aside part of your work schedule to deal with them.

The amount of time will depend on your job. For example, in my job there can be 20-30% of unplanned tasks in a normal working day. And there are always peaks of up to 50%.

When the pandemic started, for example, contingency management took up 90% of my working day. In that case, I had no choice but to put in more overtime than usual, but if you set aside some of your time to manage these contingencies, it won’t be a problem in your day-to-day work.

Again, the key here is adaptability. One day there may be nothing and another day it may take half your day. On the day when there is nothing, you can bring your work forward and on the day when you are at 50%, you add your percentage of that day to the percentage you had pending from the previous day. The result: you are on time for everything you have to do.

If you don’t take unforeseen events into account, it is impossible to be on time. Because in reality, unforeseen events can be foreseen. And you don’t need to foresee them in detail.

3. Using the right tool

que es el keyword research

Another key aspect of time management is memory management. The more tasks you have, the harder it is to remember them all. First, don’t try to remember everything. No matter how good your memory is, you will forget something at some point.

Second, use a tool to help you. If you don’t want to use a project management tool like Trello or Asana, you can use your own Google Calendar or even a diary and an analogue notebook.

The important thing is that you have everything in order and that your tasks don’t get lost, which is why virtual tools are the most recommendable. This way you can change the date, relate one task to another, establish collaborations with your colleagues, etc…

This is not to the detriment of using your own analogue tool. I, for example, work mainly with Asana and my analogue diary. The satisfaction I get from ticking task completed with my pen does not come from clicking on task completed with my mouse, so I live with both models.

I also have a notebook for conceptualising. Although there are tools for process and idea mapping, I personally find it much better to take my eyes off the screen for five minutes and put my thoughts on paper. Again, it’s a matter of choosing what works best for you. Whatever it is, it will help you.

Equally, I would say take advantage of process automation tools whenever you can. Initially it will cost you more time, but in the medium term it will be an incredible improvement. Take advantage of it.

4. Do not set impossible deadlines

Hombre preocupado por el cumplimiento de plazos

Another important aspect of maintaining work motivation is deadlines. Never commit yourself to a deadline that you cannot meet.

It is essential when defining SMART objectives that they are realistic and limited in time. Setting a deadline that you can’t meet will only work against you and your customer’s satisfaction.

When setting deadlines it is essential to bear in mind point two. Don’t do it with respect to your regular or routine work, also bear in mind that part of your effective time will have to be devoted to putting out fires or dealing with unforeseen events.

In addition, it is always advisable to have a little extra time. Being early is always better than being late, and often the only real difference between the two is your own planning.

Personally, I always try to have my fixed and routine tasks ready a week before the due date. It’s not always possible, but it gives me a wide enough margin to be able to manage various issues. From holidays, holidays or illnesses to absences of clients or suppliers…

In this sense, it is also important to avoid external interference. A client will always want as much speed as possible, but strategically, a certain frequency may be more advisable. At least in digital marketing, there is always a part of pedagogy that will also require part of our time.

5. Learn to delegate

Mujer de pelo rizado en traje de chaqueta blanco delega tareas en equipo de dos chicos y una chica

Learning to delegate is hard work, but it is necessary. The first thing to assume is that everyone has their own way of working. The work you delegate may not be done in exactly the same way as you would do it.

And that is absolutely fine. Think that you don’t do the work in the same way as the person who has delegated something to you before would have done it. The important thing here is to meet deadlines and objectives.

Depending on your position, there will come a time when you will even have to delegate those tasks that seem more important to you. It will be the only way to be on time with other priorities. Or, sometimes, the only way for the person to whom you delegate to learn and be able to take on that responsibility.

As in the case of automations, it may be that at first explaining how to do a task, solving doubts, etc… may take more time than doing it yourself. That’s OK, because it’s time that will be more than recouped in the future.

In order to be more effective, create written procedures or record a video tutorial with a screen recorder. This way you won’t need to repeat the process each time and it will work for more than one person.

However, questions will still arise. Build time for these questions into your task planning.

Once you see that I have got it right without you having to do it yourself, you will breathe easier.

6. Give a time frame for each task and stick to it.

Estrategia de contenido SEO

Tasks require time. Although the time for each task is never exact, we can predict it in advance. Take into account the amount of time each task requires when planning your schedule.

But not only that, also take into account the amount of effort involved and the best day of the week and time slot to do it.

For example, my most productive time is in the mornings. In the afternoons my performance is much lower. What do I do? First of all, I am lucky enough to have flexible working hours, so I start work as early as possible each day.

Flexitime also means I don’t have to rely on an alarm clock, so I wake up fully rested and ready to give 100%. (I haven’t added sleeping well to the list, but I could have, if you don’t sleep well, everything will go wrong).

I leave the heavier tasks for the first moment (with one exception that I will discuss later) and continue with the medium ones, to finish the day with the lighter ones: non-urgent emails, social media scheduling, work meetings, reports, etc…

For example, a normal day would start with writing an article, continue with designing an SEO content strategy or doing keyword research and finish with routine management tasks.

Likewise, take into account the energies of the week. I, like everyone else, am much more tired on Fridays. So I leave the more pleasant tasks within my daily complexity scale. If I have to write an article, on Friday I write the one I like the most, if I have to do keyword research, the one with the most interesting topic. On Tuesdays, the most difficult ones.

7. Analyse (without obsessing) the times per task.

Mesa de oficina en el exterior

Many automated clocking tools also allow you to keep track of your time by task. For example, I use an ERP called Holded. I set a clock to run when I start a task and stop it when I finish, assigning it to a client and putting a description of the type of task.

For example: article writing, SEO optimisation, social media, web design, reporting, meetings, etc…

This way, I can then analyse the time I spend per client and also how much each task costs me. This is important to ensure the profitability of the projects and also to know what can be optimised.

The results can be very enlightening. And not only when you see which aspects take up more of your time than necessary and need to be optimised, but also when prioritising tasks based on objectives.

You may, for example, waste a large part of your time working with a client in endless and unproductive meetings. Then, you have to explain, with pedagogy, that the project would be better off investing that time in tasks that will make a difference.

Internally, it will allow you to see which aspects require some thought in order to optimise the time you dedicate to them. For this we may need external help, as it is not always easy to know if we are working slowly or if it is the time that the task requires.

8. Take a break when necessary

Momento de descanso con café y charla en la oficina

Time management articles put a lot of emphasis on avoiding distractions. Of course, it is important, but it is also important not to obsess about it.

Nowadays, almost all smartphones and browsers have a distraction-free mode. You can activate it and not be able to use the apps or pages that entertain you during your working day.

As I sometimes have to use social media for work purposes, it is one of the exceptions I make to start with the hard stuff first. I take off the networking, put on the no distractions and that’s it.

Anyway, I wanted to emphasise the need to take a break when your body asks for it. It is physically impossible to have absolute concentration for eight hours.

Since I don’t smoke or drink coffee or coffee substitutes, for me it often helps to just take my eyes off the computer, get up and move around for four or five minutes. Or just close my eyes for a minute and take a deep breath. You oxygenate your brain and come back much more focused.

I think it’s important not to think of these breaks as wasted time. If you don’t have them, your performance and productivity will be lower than if you do. So listen to your body.

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    9. Discard unnecessary or irrelevant tasks.

    Hombre mirando el reloj con postits en la cara en oficina

    Another point is to know how to discard. Tasks can become endless, so prioritisation should also include discarding tasks that are not relevant.

    Sometimes the task may have been requested by the client. Here, again, we come back to the pedagogical work. The possible benefit or cost of doing the eliminated task should be conveyed and the task should be substituted for the task to be done.

    Time management is also related to cost-effectiveness. Of course, in the medium and long term. But if a task is not going to help profitability in any way or in a way that is significant for the time and effort involved, it is better to spend our time doing something else.

    Of course, profitability must be measured in a broad way, taking into account aspects of branding, talent retention, customer experience, etc… and not only pure economic profit from product and/or service sales.

    10. Be realistic

    Equipo de marketing

    Last but not least, be realistic. Maybe your problem is not time management but workload. If you have more workload than you can handle, once you realise that you cannot optimise your processes, it is time to look for a solution.

    Delegating work or redistributing it may be a first approach. So is the need for more talent within the department.

    If none of these options are possible, another option is to review pricing and coverage. You may have to raise your prices in order to cover costs or reduce the service. Another formula is to increase services to raise the price, but take into account the extra time needed to be profitable.

    If the price your service requires to be profitable is not profitable for your client, then there is a problem in your business model. Adapt it.

    And that’s my top ten time management tips. I hope they have been of some use to you and I take this opportunity to ask: what are yours?

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