There are plenty of ways in which we can each improve our daily time management to eliminate distractions as well as become more effective and efficient!
Stop looking at your email
When we have our email open on our laptops as we are trying to write, analyze data, or perform other tasks that require focus, we become significantly more inefficient. Checking and responding to email gives us the illusion that we are getting things done when we may just be inefficiently and ineffectively working on more important tasks, without achieving them. By distracting oneself with email, we not only sacrifice the few minutes it takes to read and respond to an email, but we also sacrifice the time it takes to regain focus on the other tasks we need to do. Set aside a block of time twice a day to check e-mail, and then stay logged out the rest of the day. This also applies to other activities that we tend to waste time on such as social media.
Manage your energy
When are you most alert and effective? Are you a morning person? Are you a night owl? Start by tracking your energy throughout the day for a week to determine when you are at your best. Schedule activities that require the most focus for times when you are most alert. Schedule more mindless tasks (such as checking email) for times when you are more lethargic.
Get a planner
Schedule everything that is important to you in a weekly planner. This should include time you set aside for work tasks such as experiments or writing as well as activities related to personal wellness. By maintaining a planner, you can stay more on-top of your schedule and priorities. In addition, using a planner can help you guard your time. Are you working on a grant or manuscript that requires large blocks of your time? Schedule it in the planner and do not allow that time to be filled with meetings, fulfilling small requests or anything else that may seem insignificant but would steal a precious 15 minutes dedicated toward your larger task.
Be disciplined, yet flexible
In order to achieve our goals, we have to be disciplined and committed to them. Stick to your planner. However, the unexpected is inevitable and sometimes you may have to readjust. Make sure you allot “free” time in your planner to accomplish important tasks that suddenly become urgent. If you are using a paper planner as opposed to an electronic one, write things down in pencil. This will help you keep a flexible mindset. When the unexpected occurs, prioritizing becomes especially important (see “Prioritizing” tab for tips). Knowing your top priorities helps you stay on track without having to stress about meeting your goals.
Blanchard, Ken and Spencer Johnson. The One Minute Manager. HarperCollins Publisher Inc., 1981.
Blanchard, Ken et al. Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager. HarperCollins Publisher Inc., 2005.
Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Free Press, 1989.
MindTools: Time Management. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/main/newMN_HTE.htm
We would like to thank Peter Ubel for his time management tips (personal communication).