If there’s one thing I could take back with me from the Harry Potter universe, it wouldn’t be a magic wand, or a flying broomstick, or even those delicious-sounding chocolate frogs. It would, without a doubt, be Hermione Granger’s time-turner. (For those of you who aren’t as big of geeks as I am, a time-turner is an hourglass-shaped device that lets you turn back time.) Just think of all of the applications it could have in the workplace: you could prep for meetings at a moment's notice, re-do that presentation you flubbed, and actually head home at a reasonable hour every day. Alas, this is the real world — and as wonderful as they sound, time-turners are just a work of fiction.
But while magical time-travel may not exist (at least not yet — get on it, scientists!), there are still a number of strategies you can use to get more time back in your day. We chatted with personal productivity expert Peggy Duncan to get some of her best tips. Try some of these on for size, and the results might just be magical.
“The biggest time management mistake people make is not realizing how much time they waste,” Duncan says. So before you go making radical changes to your day-to-day routine, make sure you take a look at how you’re actually spending your time. Duncan recommends that you “keep a time log and track every minute for a few days.”
Even if you catch yourself goofing off, “be honest with yourself about how you’re spending your time,” Duncan says. You might feel a twinge of guilt after seeing how much of your time is spent on non-essential items, but accurately recording that will only help you see where you can make improvements moving forward.
After you’ve conducted an internal audit of your time management, it’s time to see where you can shake thing up to streamline things moving forward. You can “get back weeks by not working the same way you always have,” Duncan says.
“Spend time figuring out better ways to get everything done,” she recommends. “What steps are unnecessary? Is someone else doing it a different way and finishing faster and with fewer errors? Examine everything you’re doing, write it down, move steps around, and eliminate all wastage.”
Searching through your drive for a document when you need it, or thumbing through the files on your desk for a handout you need to bring to your next meeting may only take a few minutes at a time, but those small increments definitely add up. And together, they can be a major time suck out of your day.
“Save hours a day by creating paper, computer, inbox, etc., filing systems so you can find anything you need the instant you need it,” Duncan says. “Purge what you don’t need, and create a system for the things you keep that puts like items together.”
Believe it or not, Duncan recommends that you start with your clothes closet. While that may not be directly related to work, it does have the potential to help you arrive at the office earlier and ready to tackle the day. Some notable entrepreneurs even go so far as to wear the same thing every day to reduce the chaos of getting ready in the morning — although for the average office-goer, you probably don’t need to go to such extreme measures: a tidy closet should suffice.
On any given day, you probably have a dozen plus tasks that you want to get done — but remember, not all tasks are created equal. While it might be nice to cross off all of the items on your to-do list, the reality is that there are probably some that you can hold off on until later. On the other hand, there are almost certainly some that are urgent or time-sensitive.
Because of that, one of the most important things you can do to make the most of your time is prioritizing your tasks. “You have to determine what your goals are so you’ll know how you should spend your time. The things you value and need (not want) will take priority,” Duncan says.
There are different ways you can figure out how to make this work for you, but I’ll offer my own little tip. On my to-do list, I list items from top to bottom in order of their priority. Bold means I need to work on them today, and an asterisk means they need to be done today. While I’m by no means a productivity expert myself, this has really helped me figure out where my time is best spent.
Most of us use a variety of software programs each day — but can you really say you’ve mastered the ones you use most frequently? While software is designed to make our lives easier, it may just be adding an additional hurdle if you haven’t learned how to truly use yours effectively. But “if you learn how to use the software you touch every day, you’ll finish everything at least six times quicker,” Duncan says.
No matter what software you’re using, there's almost always some sort of resource to help you get the most out of it, whether that's a series of blog posts, videos, webinars, etc. If you really want to go the extra mile, you may even want to reach out to your customer service rep to see if they can offer any hands-on training.
“You might have to give up a weekend or three to get this done, but you’ll get all that time back and feel better every day going forward,” Duncan says. “And unlike dieting or exercising, the results from all these things are immediate!”