As business leaders evaluate their hybrid work models, employee productivity is top of mind. They’re trying to understand how to balance organizational needs for productivity with employee needs for autonomy, flexibility, and work/life balance. In my role as Google’s Productivity Advisor, I help organizations and employees realize that being productive means working smartly and efficiently — not overworking. And one key to productivity is developing strong time management skills.
Recent research found that 82% of workers don’t have a proper time management system, however. Instead, they rely on making lists, referencing their inbox, or simply winging it. And the result is telling: 21% of people say “their work is never under control or only under control one day per week.”
Everyone works differently, and one of the best things about hybrid work is that it empowers people to work in their own way, at their own pace. However, if your employees are managing their time inefficiently over the long term, their risk of burnout increases — which can be bad news for employee wellbeing, morale and productivity.
In order for any hybrid work plan to be effective and your teams to be healthy, your employees need to build their time management muscle. You can help them do so with a three-step process:
Understand how your employees are currently managing their time
Encourage your employees to identify time management strengths and areas for improvement
Empower your employees to maximize their time management practices
Step 1: Understanding your employees’ work habits
Before you can help your employees manage their time more effectively, you first need to understand how they spend it. To start, identify habits that might be preventing your employees from establishing productive workflows. For example, some employees might be working too much outside of business hours or spending the majority of their working hours in meetings.
While observation may help you glean some of this information, it’s best to go straight to the source. To find out if your employees feel they’re managing their time efficiently, simply ask them! You can distribute an anonymous questionnaire using a survey tool, like Google Forms, with questions like:
Are you having trouble getting all your work done?
Do you feel like you have enough independent working time?
Do alerts and notifications interrupt or enhance your workflow?
Which productivity and collaboration tools do you find the most and the least useful?
How do you communicate best with your coworkers when working on- and off-site?
One major hurdle to effective time management can be too many meetings. To learn if meeting fatigue is plaguing your teams, include a survey question asking employees if they feel like they devote too much time to meetings. Help them get specific by encouraging them to use a tool like Time Insights. With this feature, employees can see exactly how much time they spend in meetings and how much focus time they schedule each week to accurately answer your survey.
Fielding an anonymous questionnaire is a great way to start your time management audit. The learnings that emerge can help you identify patterns in your workplace and among your teams — but they won’t reveal how individual employees work. For that, you’ll need to reach out to them directly.
Step 2: Identifying individual strengths to harness and areas for improvement
Once you have a general idea of how your team works, you can dig deeper into your individual employees’ time management methods and working styles. With this information, you can then help them identify the practices that work — and don’t work — for them.
Suggest to your employees that they spend a week observing their productivity patterns and time management methods. You might encourage people to look at:
Their level of energy at different times during the day and/or on different days of the week
The different types of work, such as strategic or administrative, they like doing and when
How much time they spend doing work versus communicating about work
How they feel during and after group meetings
The amount of time they spend in deep-focus versus time spent switching among different tasks
If your organization uses digital timesheets, your employees can consult built-in, automatic time-tracking insights to see where they’re spending their time. Otherwise, you can easily create a custom time-tracking app using a no-code solution like AppSheet to help your employees measure the time they devote to their various responsibilities.
Once everyone has completed their weeklong study, set up dedicated meetings to review your employees’ observations with them individually. Armed with this new understanding, you and your employees can clarify when and how each person does their best work, identify areas for improvement, and start adjusting accordingly.
Step 3: Empowering your employees to flex their time management muscle
Now that you have clarity on how your employees spend their time, you can work with them to develop personal time management practices. To set them up for success, look for opportunities that take advantage of their strengths and offset their challenges — no matter how they like to work.
It’s important to remember there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to using time productively. Some workers love to tackle the most difficult tasks first thing in the morning; others feel more energized at the end of their day. Some people think best in conversation while others prefer to be alone with their thoughts. To help your employees develop time management practices that fit their working style, they need to feel empowered to decide how they can use their time and tools productively.
When it comes to time management, calendars are your best friend, so encourage your employees to take advantage of simple features. Google Calendar lets everyone see availability; by glancing at a shared calendar, coworkers will know when to reach out to someone (and when not to). You can also prompt your employees to block off quiet time during windows when they feel most productive, and use tools like Focus time to protect the time they need for heads-down work.
Email and chat are important, but they can also become a distraction if not used intentionally. Most people open email first thing in the morning, leave it open all day, and check it often. Instead, when you and your employees need to focus, try closing the email tab or using Gmail features to snooze and star emails to stay on task. The same approach applies to chat: check it strategically and turn off notifications when you need deep focus.
Finally, be intentional about building and maintaining trust with your teams as they develop new time management skills. If you decide to use Google Meet for regular check-ins, partner with your employees to develop meeting agendas directly inside Calendar invites to ensure your shared time will be used efficiently.
Valuing impact over output
Hybrid work offers an opportunity for business leaders to rethink their perspective on employee time management and what it means to be productive. Remember, the goal of building effective time management skills isn’t always to become more efficient so one can take on additional work. Often times, taking a step back helps us simplify how we work in order to deepen our impact. When you empower your employees to create a personal time management system, I think you’ll find they will be happier and healthier, with more to contribute to your organization.
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