Man making notes at desk

We could all do with more time in the day. Between working and childcare, spending time with our partner, friends or family and having the opportunity for our own hobbies and interests, it’s not at all surprising that many of us feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount we have to fit into a day. It’s not always easy to manage our time but with careful planning we can all free up precious hours.

What gets in the way of making time for everything?

In short, it’s impossible to make time for everything! In fact, when we try, we’re less productive, more stressed and less focused. One way to manage your time more effectively is to first ask yourself what must be done and what can wait. It’s often the tasks that can be done another day that actually distract us from the more important things. But maximising the time in a day is easier than you might think.

Avoid taking on other people’s problems at work

If this tends to take up a lot of your time, you might want to explore why you do it. Do you feel responsible for other people’s happiness or are you only distracting yourself from more pressing issues in your own life? Help your colleagues by signposting them to the Retail Trust for confidential support around all aspects of wellbeing including emotional issues, and practical concerns.

Avoid unnecessary travel when you can

It’s not always necessary to travel to a meeting many miles away when you could look at other options such as a phone call or video call. Sometimes this isn’t possible of course, but you might find that it’s occasionally an option. Speak with your manager or HR team for guidance on your company’s expectations and policies.

Don’t lose time dealing with non-urgent emails and paperwork

If you find that you’re burning up precious time dealing with things that aren’t urgent, try a different approach. File all non-urgent emails on a weekly basis and have a quick scan through them at the end of the working week. Examples of ‘it can wait’ correspondence might be a request from a colleague to sponsor them in a charity event or an invitation to a meeting scheduled for a month’s time that doesn’t need a response immediately. You’ll usually find that you only have a cursory look at most before moving on to the ones you can quickly reply to.

A really helpful strategy at home is to set aside time once a week to deal with bills and other personal paperwork. It takes some discipline but keeping these non-urgent tasks to a set time helps you free up time for other things. And because you plan this time in advance, you’ll find that you’re more focussed on the task and ultimately, more productive.

Keep a list

Some people find keeping to do lists a real chore, but listing what you need to do every day saves a lot of time. Not only will you not need to rush around at the last minute but you’ll also be able to quickly identify those tasks that are urgent and the ones that can be put off to a less hectic time. Get into the habit of writing out your list first thing and you’ll soon find that your mornings are calmer and more organised. Check every list you do to see what’s urgent and what’s not. If something can wait on a really busy day, put it on tomorrow’s list.

At the end of the day…

When we’re surrounded by chaotic paperwork and files, it’s impossible to focus on what we need to do. Before you leave work for the evening, spend ten minutes clearing your desk or locker, putting files you’re finished with away and washing your tea mug. When you return in the morning, you won’t feel as overwhelmed by all that you need to do.

To learn more about managing your time both at work and at home, visit NHS Choices’ time management section.