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Increasing your personal productivity with time management software

A group of coworkers sit at a desk and work on their laptops

Time is every professional services firm’s most valuable asset — yet too many firms fail to properly manage or track this critical resource. To add to their challenges, firm leaders are also facing unprecedented staffing challenges: They’re scrambling to hire professionals to fill engagement needs and drive efficiencies on every task, while at the same time, professionals are reporting record levels of burnout, with some choosing to leave the profession entirely.

Professionals working in this demanding industry are often busy and exhausted. But were all their hours spent working truly productive? Did they create irreplaceable value for their clients using their time and talent? Were the tasks they engaged in well-prioritized and mission-critical? One way to answer those questions is by using time management software that automatically captures how professionals are spending their time during work hours.

A distracted society

In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport explores the science of productivity, arguing that professionals today are inundated with administrative-focused microtransactions — what I call “paper-pusher” activities — and spend a majority of their time servicing these “low-impact” activities, thereby taking time away from, and losing sight of, their most “high-impact” activities.

Sadly, we don’t always realize how significantly these microtransactions are affecting our productivity and daily workdays — unless and until that information is served to us. We may think we’re spending less time on low-impact tasks than we really are. Enter time management software, which can gather and present detailed data on how we’ve actually spent our days.

Automated time capture

If you’re a busy professional and you want to harness your time better, an automated time capture tool — one that’s visible only to you — can quickly help you identify how microtransactions are impacting your focus and productivity. It can spotlight the many daily distractions you deal with — that FYI email that arrived right in the middle of your high-risk transaction review; those courtesy updates that kept popping up in Microsoft Teams; that impromptu video call that could have been a memo. These relevant but untimely interruptions don’t help when you’re in the middle of deep work on important deliverables.

Without automation, you don’t have the same visibility into how cluttered your day was — and you just have to see it to believe it. An automated time management software solution will provide objective data about your day, and can prompt you to take a cold, hard look at your task choices.

Understanding a problem is the first step to resolving it. Once you see how much of your focus time is diced up by less-than-critical emails and messages, you’ll realize what a disservice you’re doing to your clients and yourself by not committing to your most important work with your full attention.

Tips for better time management

With time management software that captures your day’s activities, you can take steps to address distractions:

  1. Get a summary of your day. Track everything you do to understand how you really spent your time.
  2. Block “focus time” on your calendar. This practice will help you stick to your schedule and let others know that you should not be disturbed.
  3. Create “administrative” time. Use this time to focus on clearing out distracting but still necessary tasks, like responding to emails and completing paperwork.
  4. Update your instant messaging status. Change your status to “do not disturb” during focus time. Give yourself scheduled “blank space” to think deeply and creatively.
  5. Set up auto-responses in email. When you’re working on a time-sensitive deliverable, set up an automatic response in your email system to let others know you won’t be able to respond right away.
  6. Add disclaimers to your email messages. In addition to an auto-response, you can set expectations in your emails that you’ll respond at a time that works for you given your work hours — and be sure to show understanding and grace with others when they don’t respond right away.
  7. Continue to reflect on your digital activity to keep improving. Regularly review your summaries in your time management software to stay on track with your productivity efforts.

A digital time memoir will not only serve as a functional job aid to help you keep track of time spent but will also serve as catalyst for behavioral change in how you manage your time. As Cal Newport says in his book: “Less mental clutter means more mental resources available for deep thinking.”

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