Twenty-somethings are starting to understand that work-life balance is a myth and we need to figure out better ways to utilize our time. Sure, we can all take some tactical steps to improve, but what if we’re trapped in the office? How do we make the most of our time in the workplace every day?
We want more “me time,” so here are some steps that could help us get out of the office quicker and with less guilt.
1. Prioritize what we really need to be doing
With a laundry list of things to do, how do we know where to start? There are plenty of models people train on to help this process, but one of my favorites is the Eisenhower decision matrix (below) of urgent versus important. This model helps us sort our work by urgency and importance, as shown in the example below.
Another way to prioritize our work is to consider what will happen if we don’t get each of the things on our list done. Whichever item has the biggest downside to not getting done, we start there. As employees, we should always speak to our managers if we’re unsure of our priorities, but the biggest thing I recommend is just knowing where to start. So often people try and do everything on their list without considering what would have the biggest positive impact on them. Don’t do just to do — work deliberately.
2. Delegate what we can
In that same vein, if there is certain busy work that we can automate or delegate, do that! Whether it’s using an app to more efficiently complete our expense reports or asking for someone else on the team to take over a client call, this is a big one. We can make so much time in our days by doing the work that we can have the biggest impact with. For the items that are not in our realm of greatness, we can try and think about a third route where we can move it off of our plates all together. In that vein…
3. Learn to let go
Many people struggle to delegate because of patterns we’ve learned in the past. If we receive praise for always being a team player, for example, it’s understandable to pick up some bad behaviors. Especially in this day and age where many people answer the question, “how are you doing?” with “Good, but so busy,” that it’s somewhat become a status symbol. This leads many professionals to feel like we have to take on every task and can’t ask for help out of fear that it won’t be done to our calibur. Perfectionism runs rampant in the work world, but really when we refuse to delegate we’re not only hurting ourselves, but also hurting our teams. We’re taking opportunities to learn and grow from someone more junior who would love the experience, so we should try delegating one thing and seeing how much of a win it is. We’ll free up time in no time and be able to focus on the work we can contribute to the most.
4. Think before accepting
Instead of immediately accepting any work in a group setting or from our managers, we can take a moment to consider what we have on our plates. It’s in everyone’s best interest for us to say yes to only what we can handle. One tactic I always employ is creating a list of everything on my plate. If a big new project comes up that I know I can offer a valuable contribution to, I’ll often share my list with my manager and ask her what I can de-prioritize to focus on the new task. We can’t have 10 top priorities!
Along with thinking before we accept, we can also give other people the opportunity to consider the same. With high-achievers, we often immediately offer our help in a group setting when there’s even a moment of silence for volunteers, and then resent it later. We wish we didn’t take on the task, but didn’t think anyone else would offer. As tough as this is, it’s important to wait for other people to step up. In the past I’ve employed the idea of counting to ten in my head before offering up my support to give someone else a chance to step up.
5. Set up habits to hold us accountable
We must do our best to force ourselves to leave by a certain time, and respect it as a non-negotiable item. I used to always schedule a 5 p.m. workout class so that I would be forced to leave the office. Even if I had to get back online later, the workout allowed me to clear my head and come back to my list of to-dos with a bit more perspective. I’d typically be able to cut my list down from five things that needed to be done that night to two items.
6. Set up mini-sprints
Give ourselves breaks when needed. We can set our work up as mini-sprints and put the pedal to the metal during those work sessions. One tactic I’ve read about and employed successfully is the Pomodoro technique. It recommends we determine our tasks for the day, set a timer for 25 minutes, and work uninterrupted those 25 minutes. Mute our phones, silence our slack notifications, and don’t click out into random emails. Then, we get a 5 minute break! This sounds simple, but when I started using this tactic I realized just how much time I was wasting by jumping around on items. Focused mini-sprints allows us to do our best work so we earn our breaks.
7. Log those hours and ask for help if needed
Last but not least, keep track of our overall time and how we’re spending it. We must start having conversations with our managers if we feel like the amount of work we’re being asked to do is too much for a single person and warrants another hire. If we’re getting serious about it or feeling like we may burn out, it’s our responsibilities to talk to them and make it known. We can log our time and come to them with a business case to get the ball rolling. Maybe they’ll surprise us with approval.
With all the tips above, 20Somethings must start having the conversations and putting the tools in place to respect our own time at work. Once we’re freed up to do the things we love, work-life balance won’t feel so impossible.
If you’re ever feeling stuck, look towards communities. With the help of social media, people around the world are able to connect and help each other. I started the group Career Development Junkies on Facebook as a community of women who are focused on growing their careers and getting better every single day. If that sounds like you, join us! Whatever you do, be sure to find yourself the support you need to make the most of your time and be the best version of you in the workplace.