How to Take Your Time Management to the Next Level

Image Credit: Photo by  Malvestida Magazine  on  Unsplash

Image Credit: Photo by Malvestida Magazine on Unsplash

It’s Friday, my favorite day of the week. I walk into my office with a piping hot Green Tea Matcha Latte from Starbucks and sous-vide egg bites, sit my things down at my desk, and open my planner to see what needs to be knocked out for the day — to my surprise, it’s about half of my weekly to-do list.

That’s strange.

I could have sworn I was on a trajectory to complete at least two projects this week.

Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you: You make an overly ambitious to-do list on Monday morning, only for Friday to roll around and you ask yourself, “What exactly did I accomplish this week?

It’s a terrible feeling to realize you may actually suck at time management. When this epiphany hit, I was in denial. I had a conversation with myself, “You get to places on time, you submit things before they’re due. How is it that you can’t make it through a to-do list?”

So, I decided to do some digging. And by digging, I mean Googling. I researched every project management software you can think of such as Asana, Monday.com, Trello, and Airtable to help get me on track.

Nothing worked.

I read just about every article on how to maximize time, reduce distractions, and become more efficient.

Didn’t move the needle.

At this point, I was wondering: what is wrong with me? I quickly learned that my lack of time management couldn’t be answered externally. I needed to go inside and figure out what the issues were. ‘Lo and behold, I found three.

Putting Too Much on My Plate

Monday mornings were the days I threw spaghetti at the wall — and my to-do list. It wasn’t unusual to find 20 to 30 items on my list covering various areas of my work and my home life. I didn’t realize that I was setting myself up for failure. Instead of putting everything down on my list, I decided to limit my priorities to three big items per day: this required looking at the week ahead, identifying my top three goals, and working backward. I know that if nothing else gets accomplished, those items will because they take priority.

Having three primary items per day on a to-do list can seem counterintuitive because you instinctively want to pile on as much as you can. But with three big items, you’re forced to focus.

You may look at this list and think, “So, what about answering emails or following up? Do you add that to your do-list?” No. In my mind, responding to emails is intuitive. However, if there is a particular ask that comes from a colleague, I make sure to communicate a deadline and add it to my list as a small item, but not part of my “big three.”

Spending Too Much Time on One Project

In addition to too many items on my to-do list, I have been known to invest a lot of time on one project in one sitting. If you’re anything like me, you like to do “deep work,” which is uninterrupted, intentional, and distraction-free. This is the type of work where you’ll catch a nice flow and not want to stop. While I wish every day had that type of energy, there are multiple things that need my attention at a given time. To help, I started using time-blocking. Timely writes,

Time blocking is a time management method that schedules your day into set, controlled units. Finite portions of time are pre-planned for specific tasks, so that you can go about your work day without interruptions or distractions. Instead of simply making a [to-do list] and simply ploughing through, time blocking maps out dedicated controlled spaces for your work.”

If one of my tasks is to find photos for video, I will block off one-hour to find photos or videos. If I don’t find what I need during that time frame, the task will get pushed to another day. If you’re wondering how much time you’re spending on a set of tasks, I recommend that you use a time-tracker software such as Toggl. As you begin the task, start the timer. When you have completed the task, stop the timer. You’ll be amazed to see how much time you’re investing in a particular area of your work.

Letting Distractions Reign Supreme

Out of the three issues listed in this article, distractions is one of the top two. Distractions are typically categorized as actions like watching Netflix, checking social media all day, and catching up with your colleagues at the coffee bar. I don’t think people realize that your email notifications going off every five minutes is a distraction; every time someone comes up to your desk is a distraction; and if you work in an open floor plan, overhearing someone else’s conversation is a distraction. Each time you stop to answer someone else, you are disrupting your workflow and hindering productivity.

According to Lifehacker, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task. Think about it. For every email you receive and respond to, it could take you 23 minutes just to get back into your workflow. Couple the emails with questions you may receive each time someone stops at your desk, and you could lose half a day.

To help eliminate a few distractions, I’ve implemented the following:

  • Turn off email notifications. I’ve decided to check my emails three times per day: when I get in the office, before lunch, and before I leave for the day. I figure if someone needs something done urgently or needs to discuss an important matter, they can pick up the phone and call.

  • Put on headphones when working. Sometimes wearing headphones works and sometimes it doesn’t. For the most part, it’s an implicit signal you’re focused, and don’t want to be disturbed. Most of my colleagues know that when my headphones are on, I’m in deep work mode, and they will usually follow up with a chat message or an email.

  • Put my cell phone in my work drawer. Our minds are designed to protect us through distractions, and my biggest one was my cell phone. As explained by Wired, “Researchers found that in between those bursts of attention, we are actually distracted. During those periods of distraction, the brain pauses and scans the environment to see if there is something outside the primary focus of attention that might be more important. If there is not, it re-focuses back to what you were doing.”

Time management looks different for everyone. I highly encourage you to think about where you can improve and look for things that are currently eating up your time. And, after reading the article, you find yourself thinking, “My job won’t allow me to only check email three times per day,” or, “It’s literally my job to answer everyone else’s questions all day. I don’t think these apply to me,” then you’re right: these specific examples might not apply. Instead of following the action items listed in the article to the “T,” use it as a guide to inspire you to get on the right track. Here’s to reclaiming our time!

Resources:

Here’s scientific proof your brain was designed to be distracted

How Long It Takes to Get Back on Track After a Distraction

What is time blocking and does it work?

The 3 Biggest Mistakes I Made as a New Social Media Manager — And How You Can Learn from Them

Image Credit: Photo by  Plush Design Studio  on  Unsplash

Image Credit: Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

stayed in the youth development field until March 2016. During that month, I decided to quit my job with the intention of pursuing a career in marketing and communications.

As I quit my jobーwith no back-up plan, but a good amount in savings and a whole lot of faithーI decided to brush up on my marketing skills. If there was a webinar, I would watch it. If there was an in-person workshop at the local library, I was there. During that time, I also had a mentor who allowed me to work with her company so I could build up my portfolio during the transition.

Within three months, I landed a job as a marketing and communications coordinator for a small nonprofit in Saint Louis. While I was eager to get this new chapter of my career started, I couldn’t help but have this sinking feeling that I didn’t deserve to be there. Even though I had the degrees, even though deep inside I knew what I was talking about, imposter syndrome reigned supreme. And because I let imposter syndrome trump my instinct and intellect, I made glaring mistakes with digital marketingーespecially in social media.

Whether you’re just graduating from college or looking to jump into a new career, I hope you’ll learn from the three biggest mistakes I made as a new social media manager.

Not asking how social media fits into the “grand plan.”

Very quickly, I learned that sometimes businesses and nonprofits will hire for a position and not have a deep understanding of the role. From a tactical standpoint, they know what your responsibilities are, but other than that, they may not have a clue about how social media impacts each department. That’s a catch-22. On the one hand, you expect an employer to know why they hired you. On the other hand, I believe it is the responsibility of any new member to a team to observe, ask questions, and make suggestions.

Looking back, I would have asked during my interview, “How do you think this role impacts the organization?” and “How do you see this role solving the problem of x,y,z?”

Asking questions is paramount because if you don’t have a clear picture of what’s expected of you, others will define your role for you, and you’ll fall under the weight of assumptions.

If you’re joining a team as the new social media staff member, it’s imperative that you ask the following questions:

  • Who executed the social media efforts of the company prior to my position?

  • What are the business objectives for the next one to three years?

  • What does successful social media look like to you?

  • What is your understanding of the social media landscape?

  • Other than deciding you need someone to manage social media, how do you think social media helps move the needle of the company?

Inconsistent reporting.

I’ll be the first to admit that my reporting was initially terrible: I would make mistakes such as not measuring the correct number of days when doing week-by-week comparisons and alternating between native analytics (ex: Facebook insights) and Hootsuite metrics. Why is this a problem? I couldn’t effectively prove where we were with social media, if any growth happened, or provide recommendations based on the data provided because it was inconsistent. I found myself duplicating reports, quadruple-checking my work, and eventually starting my reporting process from scratch after three or four months.

When creating a social media reporting system, incorporate the following practices:

  • Stick with one reporting system for a specific metrics. That’s not to say that you can’t use Hootsuite and native Facebook analytics in an overall social media report, but you shouldn’t jump back and forth to calculate one metric.

  • Develop a reporting template. A reporting template saves time and energy when pulling metrics month over month. To develop a reporting template, you need to have a clear understanding of the metrics you’ll be tracking.

  • Decide how often you’ll pull metrics. Some social media managers pull metrics week-over-week, others may do pull numbers month-over-month. Whatever you decide, stick with a consistent time frame.

Feeling ashamed of what I didn’t know.

There is an immense amount of internal pressure to be the “guru” of your position. You should come to the table with a certain level of expertise, but at the same time, don’t be ashamed of what you don’t know. My strengths as a first-time social media manager was that I was skilled at developing a plan and skilled at working the plan. I wasn’t as versed in Facebook ads, nor did I have a clear understanding of specific social media platforms like LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Since I wasn’t as well-versed in those areas, I had an overwhelming feeling of guilt that followed me everyday. I would ask myself questions like, “What if someone asks me about starting a Pinterest account? What would I say to them?” As I have grown, I now know that if I am asked something I don’t know, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Thank you for the suggestion/feedback. Let me do a little more research and get back to you.”

If you feel insecure about your knowledge base, I suggest the following:

  • Make a list of strengths and where you want to grow. There is power in creating a visual indicator that reminds you of where you currently are and where you want to be.

  • Make a professional development plan. Some companies want you to discuss your professional goals with them, and others may not have as much of an interest. Whatever the case may be, you need to create your own plan for your growth. Refer back to the list you created and decide what webinars, classes, or books you’ll read to address the growth column.

  • Check in with yourself. Sometimes, we all need a gentle reminder of how amazing we are. At the end of each day, reflect on where you excelled, where you grew, and what you’ve learned. At the end of the month, meditate on your progress.

While the mistakes I made at the time didn’t feel goodーand caused me to question my worth, value, and skillsetーI wouldn’t be the social media manager that I am today if I didn’t make them. Everything is ultimately a teachable moment.

And whenever you start a new endeavor, remember these words by Curlbox Founder, Myleik Teele“You don’t have to have it all figured out. You can start with no experience. Give yourself room to be a beginner. Every single person doing ANYTHING significant did what it is that makes them great for the FIRST time.”

Stuck in a Rut: How to Journal the Spark Back in Your Life

swaraj-tiwari-DBX2NGLSgN8-unsplash.jpg

Image Credit: Photo by Swaraj Tiwari on Unsplash


No one wants to feel stuck. When this emotion washes over us, it plays tricks on our minds, makes us think we’re inadequate, that we don’t have the skill set to reach the next level, or we that don’t deserve happiness in our lives. It’s a dark gray cloud that can seem to follow us everywhere we go.

How do we move past this funk?

As you browse online for articles to help you shift out of this moment, you may find responses such as, “Let go of the past,” or “Make tiny changes in your daily routine,” but they don’t take into consideration that even those grandiose suggestions can be difficult for someone who doesn’t know what immediate next step to make.

However, there is one practical solution you can begin to implement as soon as you finish this article — journaling.

Journaling has been scientifically proven to make a positive impact. According to University of Rochester Medical Center, “One of the ways to deal with any overwhelming emotion is to find a healthy outlet in which to express yourself, which makes a journal a helpful tool in managing your mental health.”

You may be wondering, “All I have to do is write in a journal and my motivation will come back?” Well, that’s only half of it. The other half is being intentional about what you’re journaling about.

To begin the process of journaling the spark back in your life, consider the following steps:

Step 1: Pick a journal you’ll enjoy using.

Humans are visual creatures. If you have a journal that doesn’t look appealing to you, you may feel less inclined to use it. Select a journal with an inspirational message, your favorite color, or something that makes you feel joy. Or, if you have extra notebooks laying around the house, create some art and change the front cover of the notebook; for instance, you can turn the front page of the notebook into a miniature vision board with magazine clippings.

Step 2: Schedule a time to journal every day for at least 10 minutes.

It’s easy to get distracted with the day-to-day happenings in our lives. When you set a schedule, you are making yourself a priority. Keep in mind you can always add more time as you see fit.

Step 3: Let go of perfection.

Journaling is not meant to be perfect. Let go of the idea that you shouldn’t have misspelled words, sentence fragments, etc. Your journal is for your eyes only.

Step 4: Use intentional journal prompts.

The key to bringing the spark back in your life is to have journal prompts that nudge you to think holistically about your stuckness. Here are four topics to write about:

What am I feeling in this moment? This prompt allows you to lay it all on the paper without judgement. Your writing may include your emotions, how you feel you got to this place, questions or scenarios that you play in your mind repetitively, your lack of understanding, your frustrations, etc. Don’t hold back. And if you go over the 10 minute timer that you’ve set, it’s perfectly fine.

What is my current state versus desired state? In your journal, create a “t” chart. At the top of one side, write, “My current state.” On the other side, write “My desired state”. Under the current state, list what is currently happening. On the other side, list what you would like for it to be. For example, under “current state” you may list, “I don’t have room to grow at my job.”

Under desired state, you may write, “Work for a company with the opportunity to grow and be promoted.” This journaling exercise helps simplify your wants and desires. It’s essentially showing you this is where you are, and this is where you want to be.

What am I grateful for? You may be wondering, “What’s the point of showing that I’m grateful, when I’m feeling like I don’t have anything to be grateful for? Psychology Today writes, “Gratitude improves psychological health…and reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret.” When expressing gratitude, I challenge you to think about things directly related to where you’re feeling stuck. For example, “Although I feel stuck at my job, I’m grateful to have a job.”

If you find that you are unable to express gratitude for the things directly related to your areas of stuckness, express gratitude for anything else in your life. Don’t discount the “little things,” either. For example, I’m grateful that there wasn’t a traffic jam on the way to work today.”

What can I accomplish over the next week? Make a list of three things that you will accomplish over the next week to move you towards your desired state. If you want to get out of a career fog, maybe you add to your list: Sign up for a professional development course, sign up for job alerts, and apply for three jobs. When you break seemingly large tasks into bite-sized chunks, it feels easier to tackle.

What can I affirm about myself? Write one to three affirmations that you will repeat to yourself. Affirmations are belief statements that rewire your brain to help you manifest a desired outcome. For example, “I am excited for this new job opportunity,” “I am ready to go to the next level of my career,” “I am skilled and qualified enough to get my dream job.”

Over time you’ll find that the feelings of lack of motivation, frustration, helplessness will eventually dissipate and you’ll feel empowered because you have developed an action plan to follow.

*Please note that journaling is not a practice meant to replace the guidance and treatment of a mental health professional.