6 ways to use your time more effectively at work

By Felicity Dwyer | Career development

Feb 04
Overwhelmed at Work

It is common to feel overstretched or even overwhelmed at work. Our culture often seems to value busyness and expects us to be always switched on. If this affects you, there are steps that you can take to regain control of your time.

It is vital to keep your values and priorities in mind, and either find space for them in your life as it is, or find a way to change jobs or careers so that you can do more of what you love everyday.

Here are six strategies that I have used successfully to overcome overwhelm and be more effective at work.

One main focus

Try to keep to one main focus or objective each day – decide on the most important thing to get done, and fit other tasks around that. If this seems unrealistic, choose a focus for the morning and one for the afternoon. This doesn’t mean you throw away your to-do list. But if you give absolute priority to one objective each day, you’ll go home with a sense of achievement, and probably find you get a lot of other things done too.

Group similar tasks together

I try to allow a solid hour or two at a time for more complex tasks such as writing blogs or proposals, because it takes less energy doing it that way that picking up on odd bits here and there. This works well for phone calls too. Experiment with different patterns. If you have a blog or report to write, does it work better for you to spend a solid two hours on it. Or does it suit you better to start with a rough draft and then come back to it later in the day or week or work on it in small bursts.

Follow your energy as much as you can

If your energy levels are low, then it can make sense to switch to basic admin tasks, if you are feeling energised and creative then tap into that as much as you can. But don’t let low energy be an excuse for delaying an important piece of work. If you are struggling to get started then…

Chunk it down

If you have a big and possibly daunting task, then break it down into a series of small ones. Keep breaking down a task until you have an action that you can do now. Even if it’s the first action is just looking up a phone number, or a quick piece of internet research, or sending an email, or even just scheduling the next step into your diary – DO something to make a start.

Sorting your emailsHave a system for emails

Keep on top of emails. Once I’ve opened an email I either delete it, move it to a suitable folder for future reference, action it now, or flag it for future action.

If you get a lot of email newsletters you can use software like unroll.me to collate and organise them for you. If you find yourself regularly deleting the same newsletters before opening them, it’s time to unsubscribe.

Tidy up to get unstuck

When I feel stuck or unmotivated at work, I tidy my office. I find it easier to think with a tidy space, and it provides a sense of satisfaction that can then motivate me to tackle my other tasks. Nigel Risner has said that space management is even more important than time management. This makes sense as working in a mess slows you down and brings your energy levels down. But one person’s idea of tidy is another person’s clutter – you will know what works for you. For me, it’s about having a clear desk, and organising my project work in tidy piles or magazine folders.

I’d love to hear your tips, please share in the comments box below.


About the Author

Felicity is a career coach. She help people who want to change career, start a freelance business, or build their confidence. Felicity writes about career and business development, leadership and personal effectiveness.

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(7) comments

Laura Mansfield 9 years ago

Thanks for sharing these great productivity boosting tips, Felicity. I find tidying up to be a great way to feel more in control of my day (not to mention my work environment) and to gain clarity on my priorities as well as determine what to tackle next.

Mike Clayton 9 years ago

Thank you Felicity – some brilliant suggestion.

I think the key to dealing with overwhelm is to recognise that it is a subjective state of mind; a stress reaction to a combination of your objective workload and your emotional state. As such, dealing with overwhelm needs to recognise that when we feel that way, we are not wholly rational.

So, following any combination of your tips will work, because it bypasses the need for rational thought and allows us to just get on with it. Once we make progress, we start to feel in control, and our stress response will start to subside. Then, we can act rationally and feel less overwhelmed.

Great tips. Thank you.

Felicity Dwyer 9 years ago

Thanks Laura and Mike for your comments and insights and yes, anything that shifts our state into doing something productive, however small, can help us to feel more in control.


Thanks for the productivity boosting tips Felicity – I use a couple of them already (tidying my desk, shredding unwanted paperwork etc. and stick to one main objective per day) but will certainly try the others over the next week or so. I also find it useful to send myself an email at the end of each day, listing my priority tasks for the next working day.

    Felicity Dwyer 9 years ago

    On the subject of emailing yourself tasks – another tool I find quite handy is Wunderlist, which is an online to-do list, you can use it to note tasks when you’re out and about and it synchs with your phone and desktop.


So simple, yet so effective! Thanks I will share with some people that I know can do with the reminder too 🙂


    Felicity Dwyer 9 years ago

    Thanks Mags. 🙂 Wishing you a productive week!

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