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4 Ways to Take Control of Your Workday


The typical American worker is stretched too thin. We have more to do in a day than anyone could possibly accomplish. We feel besieged by an ever-evolving list of action items that drain our intellectual and emotional resources, and our time. Here’s how to reclaim control of time at work, as well as work smarter and maybe not so darn hard.

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(Photo Credit: Wiertz Sebastien/Flickr)

1. Be clear about priorities.

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Go into work in the morning with a solid understanding of the most important priorities you want to give time and attention to that day. Things will still come up that will distract you from your goals, but try to keep your eye on the prize as best you can. The key here is to pick just a few tasks to focus on, not a dozen. It’s really the only way for those tippy-top priorities to get the attention they deserve.

2. Learn to say, “No.”

It’s difficult to turn down a request, especially when it’s presented to you by a higher-up or someone who could really use your help. However, it is OK to say no when you’re being asked to pick up additional responsibilities, projects, or even small tasks when you truly don’t have the time.

Often, we feel we have to accommodate requests and give other people’s projects our time. We don’t. When you tell your co-worker, boss, etc., that you can’t make it work, explain that you’re excited to do a really good job with everything on your plate and that if you take on one more thing, it will divide your attention more than you’re comfortable with. Be sure to emphasize how enthusiastic you are about everything that’s already on your plate when you turn down their request. They’ll survive, it turns out, and so will you.

3. If you can, hash out an i-deal.

An i-deal, (short for idiosyncratic deal), is an informal agreement, arranged with a supervisor, that allows an employee to customize their job in some way. Some people arrange their hours differently or are directed to a project or task of their design. Some arrange professional development opportunities that are particularly appealing to them.

Researchers have found that employees who are able to work out these kinds of deals with their managers reported feeling less stress and more excitement about their jobs. Consider having a conversation with your employer and discussing some of the needs and wants that will keep you happy at your job. You might be surprised by the flexibility you’re able to leverage for yourself.

4. Keep track of how you spend your time.

At Forbes, Lisa Quast recounts advice she gave a friend who was struggling with time management and desiring more control of her time at work. She asked her to keep a record of how she spent her working hours for a week and then use that data to adjust and set priorities. You might find that you spend more time on email that you thought, or that the informal chats you have with colleagues are taking longer than it seems. Chances are, you’ll find something surprising if you keep take stock of your time in this way, and you’ll probably be able to make an adjustment that will help you feel a little more in control of your working hours.

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