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5 ways to manage your time more effectively at work

Success is all about finding time to create the biggest benefits for yourself and your organization, according to business leaders. Here's how to do it.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
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The modern workplace is anything but straightforward. The level of pressure to get tasks done quickly and effectively means as many as 89% of employees have felt moderate to extreme stress during the past 12 months, according to research.

Add in growing workplace demands from fast-changing business conditions, along with almost-constant technological transformation, and it's easy to see why many employees feel like they don't have enough working hours to get everything done.

Also: 5 ways to be a better manager: Best practices every leader should know

How can you grab some of that time back and focus on things that create big benefits for you and your organization? Five business leaders give us their top tips.

1. Focus on high-value tasks

Hari Ramamurthy, technology fellow at The Home Depot, says the key to managing your time effectively is using your working hours wisely.

"Make sure you deliver to the maximum extent possible and that you're always focused on high-value tasks," he says.

Ramamurthy recognizes that concentrating on the areas that bring the biggest rewards can mean making tough choices. "That sometimes means consciously not chasing every trend that comes your way," he says.

The simple message, says Ramamurthy in a one-to-one video chat with ZDNET, is to think very carefully about how your time will create benefits.

"I think part of that approach is being as proactive as possible on the high-value tasks because sometimes the most valuable task is not the most urgent," he says. "So, ensuring that you can spend more time on the high-value tasks before they become urgent is typically a recipe for success."

2. Block your day into two areas

Michelle Smith, program manager at UK charity Barnardo's, says strong time management is all about boxing your day into two separate compartments: planning and problem-solving activities.

"As a professional, you've got planning elements for your projects, and you've got your manager on your case to make sure you've delivered everything. That block is about dealing with the project elements that you need to deliver -- the actual building and testing of things," she says.

Also: 5 practical ways to separate work from the rest of your life

"Then you need to block out time for the problem-solving activity, which is about trying to find a solution to a problem before you can then deliver that solution back to the business."

Smith says in a video interview with ZDNET that it's crucial to make space in your working day for both blocks.

"For me, they take up different spaces in my head. If I jump from one to the other too frequently, I get nowhere and have no efficiency," she says. "So, break your day out if you can into those two blocks -- the more boring planning elements, and the more exciting problem-solving areas."

3. Get on the technology track

Birgitte Aga, head of innovation and research at Munch Museum (MUNCH), says it's important to think about how IT tools can boost your efficiency -- and that includes using emerging technologies such as generative artificial intelligence (AI).

"I think there's some really good AI-powered tools," she says. "One of our biggest challenges is allowing people enough time, so they can innovate and think. Technology can help people to be empowered, make decisions, and be in control of their tasks."

Aga is exploring how generative AI tools can act like a secretary, helping professionals summarize and structure information quickly and efficiently.

Also: 6 AI tools to supercharge your work and everyday life

While the potential productivity boosts from AI are significant, she says to ZDNET in a one-to-one video chat that professionals must focus on security and ethics.

"I don't put personal information in there. I don't put confidential MUNCH information in there. I use the technology carefully," she says.

"And it's super-interesting to see how a tool like ChatGPT continues to evolve. There's huge progression all the time to help you work more effectively and productively."

4. Find fresh routes to inspiration

Pascal Wolf, security engineer at food-processing company Lamb Weston, says busy professionals can establish a work cadence that sometimes prevents them from exploring other opportunities.

"If you work in IT for a long time, you can get used to doing things in a certain way," he says. "And then it becomes normal to say you don't have time to do new things because too you're busy."

While every professional will recognize the problem of a packed schedule full of day-to-day concerns, Wolf says in a video call with ZDNET that it's critical to make time for fresh areas of inspiration -- and that's where technology can help.

Also: Why IT growth is only leading to more burnout, and what should be done about it

He's using Vectra's specialist Managed Detection and Response service to manage cyber threats proactively, which gives his team more opportunity to move beyond time-intensive cybersecurity measures.

"You get time back because the tooling is working correctly, it's configured correctly, and it makes your day-to-day work easier. Then you can think, 'Okay, so I don't need to spend half a day on all the admin stuff I was doing before and I can do it in an hour,'" he says.

"You can use that extra time to focus on a project or to do some personal training. Now, because of these technology products and configurations, I have the time to train myself and my team on all the new stuff that's coming."

Also: 5 ways to say no to pointless meetings

5. Develop your personal strategy

Ben Elms, chief revenue officer at connectivity specialist Expereo, says professionals who climb the career ladder encounter a broader range of issues that take up their working day.

To stay on top of these demands, Elms has a time-management strategy that he's refined during his time as a business leader.

"I'm very structured," he says. "For the things that really matter for the performance of the business, I will have regular meetings scheduled."

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For two hours on Tuesday, everyone on his sales team comes together to go through business issues. He also runs weekly one-on-ones with key direct reports for no more than an hour.

More generally, Elms says in a video interview with ZDNET, he speaks to everyone in his department at least every two weeks. He also makes time to think at a personal level.

"I carve out space every day in my diary -- two-hour blocks," he says. "I make sure I'm either learning, being curious, or I'm spending time phoning people who I've not heard from. Mentally, I've had to get used to the fact that it's okay to do that."

Also: 5 ways to step outside your comfort zone at work, according to business leaders

Finally, he asks everyone on his team to send their highs and lows for the week every Friday afternoon.

"Three highs, two lows," he says. "I have a long list, I can sit with a glass of wine, read it, and get a real sense of what's happening in the company. And that process then triggers my agenda for where I need to focus the following week."

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