Your cell phone buzzes. Another email pops up. A coworker stops by to say hello. You check Facebook — it will only take a minute. Oh, look at that cute video on YouTube! And with that an hour is gone, and you’ve got no work to show for it. Deadlines are looming, your boss is waiting and… how is it 4 o’clock already?

Faced with all this technology that should help us work more efficiently, just the opposite has happened. Time wasters are everywhere, and time management has become a lost art. What will it take to get the day back under control?

Where does the time go?

The time suck is all around us. Ironically, what many of us need to do our jobs — access to the Internet — is also what steals the most time. According to Forbes, 64 percent of employees visit sites that aren’t related to work on a daily basis. Social media is a major culprit, with 57 percent of workers wasting time on Tumblr, 52 percent on Facebook, 17 percent on Twitter and 11 percent on Instagram. Special events can draw attention, too — 86 percent of employees reported devoting work time to March Madness, says Forbes.

Though the Internet makes wasting time more tempting than ever, there are many other distractions around the office. Coworkers who want to chat, endless emails, unnecessary meetings and regular interruptions make it difficult to focus on the things that need to get done. The only way to break this vicious cycle is through a clear, decisive plan for time management.

Time management tips

Proper time management doesn’t come naturally to most; it must be learned. That means paying close attention to the everyday time suck that we so often ignore or believe just “isn’t that bad.” Here are several ways to wrangle the workday into submission.

  • Start the day with a schedule. Plan out the day before it begins. Schedule work by the hour, keeping in mind deadlines, project milestones and must-attend meetings. Knowing the daily plan cuts down on confusion and helps enhance focus.
  • Be accountable. Starting right now, keep track of how you spend time at work. Track every minute, even if it means carrying a stopwatch for a few days. Insight into where your time really goes can be an incentive to break harmful habits and wasteful patterns.
  • Tune out the gossip. Talking about the latest movie hype, a coworker’s upcoming wedding or other office gossip can whittle away time that should be spent doing more productive things. Save the chats for lunchtime and focus on the tasks at hand by ignoring water cooler discussions.
  • Lock away the cell phone. Personal calls, the occasional text, watching a funny video — it all adds up to time away from work. Put your cell phone in a drawer and leave it there. Check it only occasionally during the day, and don’t respond to anything unless it is an emergency.
  • Schedule email check-ins. According to the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, the average employee checks their email 36 times an hour. That’s about once every two minutes! Regain focus by setting email check-in times. Ten minutes spent on email every few hours is likely enough to handle important correspondence.
  • Block social media sites. The easiest way to avoid temptation is to take it away. Block social media sites on all work computers. Sneaking away to check Facebook on mobile? Block it there, too. If being on social media is part of your job, save time by never logging into personal accounts.
  • Plan time for work. Constant interruptions can steal productivity. Put a “do not disturb” sign on your door or cube for at least a few hours each day in order to get things done without being pulled away for something else. Send all calls to voicemail during this time.
  • Set firm work hours. It can be tempting to work into the late hours of the night to finish up an important assignment. But what if there was only a set amount of time to finish that project? Chances are the deadline would be met with time to spare. So stop allowing work to spill over into personal time; plan work hours and make a commitment to finish reports, projects and meetings during that specified time. The pressure of a clear “end time” can offer stronger focus.

The time suck vortex can be powerful. Effective time management is the best way to fight the pull. Start right now — today — by making a commitment to use time more wisely. A few weeks from now, you might be surprised to see just how much your productivity has improved.

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