Need help with prioritization and time management?
Life is busy. And crazy. And difficult. And incredible.
And with 24 hours in a day, sometimes it’s not possible to do it all, see it all, and be it all. I get it.
I’m a husband, a father of four young children, an active member in my community and my children’s schools, and the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of a health insurance company.
I sometimes think I have all the time in the world. Other times, I’ve wanted to beg for more hours, or minutes, in a day.
My hectic professional and personal lives demand prioritization.
That hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve made a concerted effort throughout the years to meet those demands.
Life is busy, but it can be short. So, it’s important to prioritize your time for family, career, passion(s) and self-care. Here are five ways that I’ve successfully manage my time at home and at work. Each of these tips can help you achieve work-life balance.
5 Ways to Prioritize Your Life and Time at Work
No. 1: Make Time for Work and Life
These days, separating work from home life gets complicated. It seems like there’s never enough time in the day, causing many of us to take our work home. And, often, people who work from home never really leave it.
It’s important to know how to prioritize your time, so you have a clear distinction between work and your personal life.
Whether your home life includes pets, a spouse, children or grandchildren, you need to know what matters to you and make them a priority.
Make a List of Your Top Priorities
One tactical way to do this is to make a good old-fashioned list.
- Identify and write down the top three to five priorities you have from a work standpoint that day.
- Then, make a second list outlining three to five must do’s (or “really want to do’s”) for your personal life.
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From a psychological standpoint, there are some tried-and-true mental benefits of making lists. Not only can they help you “combat avoidance” of the tasks at hand, but they can also “organize and contain a sense of inner chaos, which can make your load feel more manageable,” Dr. Carrie Barron wrote in an article a few years back.
Our personal to-do lists can vary.
Maybe your personal to-do list includes taking the dog for a long walk or calling your sibling instead of texting.
But making the effort to identify specific tasks for yourself on a professional and personal level gives you the opportunity to prioritize the hours in the day accordingly.
No. 2: Schedule Time for Yourself
Remember: You are a priority, too! Several studies confirm that we have a hard time putting ourselves first. But if we don’t prioritize time for ourselves, how can we take care of our team(s) and families? In the end, we are doing a disservice to those who rely on us.
Self-care varies by person and situation. Certainly, it includes physical health. But it can also include care of the mind, emotions, relationships, environment, time and resources, as an author and executive coach Amy Jen Su notes in an article she wrote for Harvard Business Review. You need to find ways to include self-care into your workday.
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Employees who do not practice self-care are easily distracted and have a hard time focusing on one thing, according to recent research from The Energy Project. So, find a way to prioritize time for yourself every day.
Prioritize Time for Yourself on Your Calendar
For example, so many fitness studios have apps for their classes, allowing you to sign up for a class. If you don’t cancel within a certain time frame, you’re charged for the class. Personally, this is a motivator. If I have the class on my calendar and know that I’ll be charged if I don’t cancel it by a certain time, I am that much more incentivized to go!
And at the end of the day, getting to that class and getting whatever workout is provided, combined with important “me” time, is a win-win because of the multiple benefits it provides.
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Aside from fitness classes and apps, there are other ways to purposefully prioritize time for yourself. Perhaps you schedule a monthly or a bi-weekly breakfast or lunch date with friends. Maybe you get a massage once a month or you go for a brisk walk early every morning. Alternatively, perhaps you read at least one book a month or you take painting classes.
Whatever it is and no matter what it is, prioritizing some time for yourself every day, week or month is incredibly important. It can be something little, and you can do it at different times. But do something good for yourself so you can continue to be great for everyone else.
No. 3: Minimize Distractions to Prioritize Time
I have a very deliberate tactic I implement in both my work and personal life: I use a flip phone.
I have a smartphone for my personal use when I wish, but my flip phone is what accompanies me most of the time. I bring it to work and may throw it in my pocket for meetings, but it doesn’t distract me. I’m not constantly checking email, text messages, sports updates or the millions of other bits of information at our immediate ready.
This allows me to be fully engaged in the task at hand, listen attentively to those I’m with, and give my undivided attention to work during the business hours and my family during my home hours.
Granted, this may not work for everyone. But the lesson I share here is to find a way to keep yourself engaged and attentive without outside distractions getting to you. With fewer distractions during the workday, you can better prioritize your time.
Turn Off Alerts and Notifications
Yet, when it comes to technology, there are several ways you can take back your time with its assistance. When you come home from work, turn off your email alerts. This keeps you from being distracted so you can prioritize your time for someone or something else.
Another tip is to set timers for certain tasks – professional or personal – so that you hold yourself accountable for starting and finishing something during an allotted time frame. Perhaps its exercising, meditating, reading or watching TV. Whatever it may be, that deliberate effort is bound to help you prioritize your time and enjoy quality time with whomever or whatever you please.
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Make Time for Your Loved Ones
Personally, while I don’t necessarily set a timer, I make sure that whenever I’m home at night with my kids, I spend at least 20 minutes with each of them to ask about their day, what’s on their mind and what they look forward to doing the following day.
Selfishly, I need this one-on-one time with each of them because they, along with my wife, are my greatest joy. Ensuring that I prioritize time each day to visit with all of them is a must for me.
No. 4: Take a Break
More and more, studies support the notion that taking breaks during the workday – for lunch, a quick walk or coffee – clear your mind for a bit, leaving you feeling refreshed.
Nearly 20% of U.S. workers are concerned that their bosses won’t think they are working hard if they take regular breaks for lunch, and 13% worry about judgment from their co-workers, according to a recent survey from Tork. Even more disheartening, this study found that 22% of U.S. bosses think employees who take a regular lunch break are less hardworking.
But the reality is that taking short breaks throughout the workday actually boosts productivity. Those who do take regular breaks – such as one break per hour – perform better than those who do not. Small breaks provide your brain with the space it needs to renew its energy and focus, which allows you to better prioritize your time.
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Set a No Meetings Day Each Week
From a work standpoint, another great way to take a break and prioritize your time is to specifically establish one day a week when you will not have any meetings. According to a study by Atlassian, 31 hours are spent in unproductive meetings and most employees attend 62 meetings a month.
This cannot be productive and certainly does not allow you to prioritize your time. So, take charge and make a concerted effort – for yourself and your colleagues – to establish one day a week, if possible, when you don’t schedule any calls or meetings.
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I know people who have “No Meeting Fridays.” This concept allows them to use the time in that workday to get through whatever tasks they have at hand and not be distracted by conference calls or meetings.
On the flip side, this can also help make the meetings you have scheduled that much more productive. Once you have prioritized the time and set it aside for those interactions, you can focus on key items. This keeps you from needing follow-up calls or sitting through “unproductive” meetings.
No. 5: Prioritize One-on-One Time with Team Members
There’s no better way for me to feel engaged with my team than to schedule one-on-one meetings with them for at least 30 minutes, at least once a month. I am incredibly fortunate to have a fun and talented team, so being able to connect with each of them individually is a gift.
Admittedly, though, it’s not always easy to schedule. But I make a concerted effort to ensure it happens because it is important for productivity.
And, in the spirit of promoting breaks, I find that scheduling lunches with team members, where we can get away from our desks and catch up on work and life, is a great way to prioritize my time with them. Plus, it’s one less meeting on their busy calendars.
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Employees who take a daily lunch break feel more valued by their employer, and 81% of those employees taking regular lunch breaks have a strong desire to be an active member of their company, according to the Tork study.
As an executive, a leader and a colleague, I absolutely promote the importance of the lunch break and any other break someone needs throughout their busy day. If these breaks can provide the mental, emotional and professional recharge our bodies need and result in people prioritizing their time better, I am behind it 100%.
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Again, it is not always easy to make a concerted effort to prioritize your time for various people, practices, and purposes, but doing so will help you, and everyone around you, in the end.
How do you prioritize your time?
More About Guest Contributor
Michael Z. Stahl serves as executive vice president of HealthMarkets—one of the nation’s largest independent insurance agencies in the Medicare, individual and supplemental health, life, and small group insurance markets. He has a B.S. in economics from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and holds the chartered property casualty underwriter (CPCU), associate in insurance accounting and finance (AIAF), and associate in reinsurance (ARe). An avid Kansas City Royals fan, he lives in Dallas with his wife and children.