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Modern technology has transformed when and how we work. It’s created a way for people around the world to work together, but it’s also redefined the workday. The traditional 9-to-5 no longer exists — we all have constant access to our work.
The ability to connect with people globally is incredible. My company has a team in Ukraine, which is in a time zone six hours ahead of where our main office is located. We also work with a number of freelance designers and web developers who set their own schedules. Using technology that didn’t exist 10 years ago, we easily assign tasks, communicate, and triage any issues that come up on a day-to-day basis — and all for people working in different times and places.
Integrating separate workflows means we’re not tethered to a set workday. However, this flexibility comes at a price. Many people with “flexible” hours end up working more hours, as the boundaries between home and work blur. A 2017 study determined that, on average, employees spend eight hours each week answering work emails after they leave the office. Even when we leave the office and head home, it seems, our devices make us perpetually available.
Finding Time to Get More Done
Our increased ability to work anytime, anywhere can make time management a challenge. For those who set their own schedules, it can be even harder to wake up focused and ready to work, but mornings are a critical part of setting a productive tone for the day.
Research shows that we’re sharper in the late morning. We complete tasks with enhanced speed and increased accuracy. This may not be true for everyone, but it’s compelling evidence that prioritizing those first few hours after you wake up will result in higher productivity and better results.
No matter what time of day it is, finding your best time to work and the best way to work is a huge part of being productive. Nontraditional workdays increase the risk of distraction or procrastination, so it’s critical to form habits that help make the most of your time.
“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.” – Bruce Lee
Here are three ways to use the time-management tools needed to address your “always on” obligations effectively:
1. Filter Tasks by Importance
Organizing your workload into smaller tasks and ranking them by importance helps reduce your chances of feeling overwhelmed and identify which jobs are urgent and which can wait. As you filter tasks, consider why your contribution to the company matters and what passions are driving your work.
This will help you determine priorities and renew your motivation. There are always new challenges to overcome with a business, but staying focused on your purpose can keep you motivated to rise early and get to work.
As you organize tasks, plan to tackle the most important work in the morning and leave more straightforward tasks for the afternoon when you’re not quite as sharp. You’ll make the most progress early in the day, which will feel great and let you relax more as the day wears on.
2. Start With the Big Projects
When you have the power to control your own schedule, don’t push important client meetings or more difficult tasks off to the afternoon. Preparing for a meeting earlier in the day will give you more motivation to get up and move with purpose.
Establish uninterrupted time to get certain tasks done during the day, too. Maybe this means blocking off time from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. or 10 a.m. to noon on your calendar. Regularly setting aside time early in the day can free you up to work on projects that need special attention. Then, move on to things that require slightly less attention in the afternoon.
Your clients or team members are also more likely to be happy in the early hours before they’ve been bombarded with massive amounts of work. People tend to wear out as the day goes on, especially if they’re working long hours in startups or trying to finish a project before a major deadline.
“Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.” – Dale Carnegie
3. Outline Rules for How You’ll Work
With a flexible workday, it’s helpful to set boundaries around how you’ll work. Start by setting a time each night to turn off your computer and mute notifications. It’s almost impossible to unwind if you’re constantly being Slacked and emailed in your downtime. Blocking off parts of your schedule so others know not to disturb you during certain times allows you to focus all your energy on maximizing productivity during your peak hours.
As the CEO, it can be hard to ensure that I’m available to people when I need to be. I have to be flexible enough with my own schedule to fit in everyone else’s schedules. When I’m not scheduling client meetings in the morning, I’ll often work from home in those early hours to get work done.
Then, I will spend collaborative time with my team members in the office later in the day. Realizing where, not just when, you are most productive will help you determine the boundaries you should set to do your best work.
Whatever time limits you set, communicate them to your team members, as well as any freelancers or partners who might need to get in touch with you. When you’re working with teams overseas and the time difference is drastic, let them know that you won’t see the communications until working hours. That way, they can still send an email or message you on an app when it’s convenient for them without disturbing you in the process.
If you’re looking to make your workdays productive and your time balanced, you have the power to do it. Be willing to commit to these simple changes, and enjoy the benefits of a well-managed day, no matter your schedule.