It can often feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. Reclaim your precious time by working smarter, not longer, with these helpful time-saving tips for work.
UK workers are under more time pressure than ever; according to a 2021 survey report by Simplehealth, many UK workers skip their lunch breaks because they have too much to do or have to deal with unexpected, urgent tasks.
But work doesn’t have to be (nor should it be) so intense that you can’t take a lunch break. Here are 10 tips to save time at work and be more productive – use these time-saving hacks to give you more space and energy to focus on the priorities that really matter.
1. Give tasks (and people) your undivided attention
Human attention is a limited resource – not a finite one. When we widen our attention to focus on multiple things at once, we are less able to absorb the detail of all the things we are trying to listen to or read. So next time you’re working on a project, attending a meeting, or on a phone call, do your best to limit other distractions – particularly email, social media and the internet – and focus only on the task or conversation at hand. You’ll complete tasks more quickly, and be better able to contribute to discussions or learn valuable information – preventing you from needing to go back and ask questions later. Over time, learning to focus your attention on tasks and people could really enhance your productivity.
2. Adjust your working hours
With more and more formerly office-based staff working remotely, there’s more scope for you to flex your hours to suit your working preferences and lifestyle. If you’re a ‘lark’ who likes to get things done first thing in the morning, why not adjust your working hours to suit – starting as early at 8am or even 7.30am, depending on your commute and any core working hours your organisation requires? Similarly, if you’re more of a night owl who prefers a morning lie in, consider starting work at 9.30am or 10am. Offsetting your hours to a time that’s more suited to your preferences could really help ramp up your productivity levels. If you’re based in an office, you might also find you suffer fewer distractions by working flexed hours, enhancing your productivity even further.
3. Cut down on your commute
The daily commute is one of UK workers’ biggest causes of wasted time. According to data released by the TUC in 2019, workers’ annual commutes are up 21 hours compared to a decade earlier. The average daily commute (to and from work combined) was nearly 59 minutes per worker, with Londoners suffering the lengthiest daily commute of 1 hour and 19 minutes. As well as being a waste of time, a source of stress, and, for many commuters, being a significant cost, commuting is also bad for employee engagement. A 2017 study by the University of the West of England found that every extra minute travelling to and from work has a negative impact on job satisfaction and mental health – with an extra 10 minutes of travel each way estimated to be the equivalent of a £340 fall in monthly income.
4. Automate as many tasks as possible
When you’re got a lot on your plate, it’s a smart idea to let technology take as much of the strain as possible. Whether that’s setting up rules to filter your email inbox, or automating time-intensive admin tasks through HR software, it’s always worth exploring if you’re using your existing digital tools to the full, or if there are more advanced solutions on the market that could make a significant difference to your workload.
5. Be ruthless with your to-do list
When managers and colleagues ask for your help, it can be difficult to say ‘no’ or ‘not right away’. You have to be ruthless when it comes to organising and prioritising your to-do list. Use an app, such as Trello or Evernote, to keep on top of projects – setting deadlines, checklists, milestones and reminders to keep you on track if necessary. Also regularly review all the tasks on your to-do list; are they all still valid? Could any be delegated to someone else? Are any no longer required? When considering a task or project, think: is it urgent? Is it important? If the answer to both those questions is ‘no’, then you shouldn’t be working on it.
6. Take breaks to keep your energy levels up
It might seem counter-intuitive to recommend taking more frequent breaks to save time at work, but taking regular breaks will help to keep your energy levels up and your attention focused on the task in hand. Take too few breaks and you’ll probably find yourself slipping into bad habits – such as browsing social media – anyway, so why not allow yourself a break and do something more helpful or healthy, like enjoy a fresh piece of fruit, check-in with a colleague, or get a breath of fresh air outside?
7. Don’t attend meetings for the sake of them
What proportion of the meetings you’re invited to do you actually need to attend – honestly? One great way to unclog your calendar and save time at work is to start pushing back on the meetings you genuinely don’t need to attend – the ones where your input isn’t needed, or the ones that could, honestly, just be an email rather than a meeting. If you’re calling a meeting, make sure that there is a genuine purpose and agenda; not only will this help you save time, but you’ll also show that you are respectful of other people’s time, too. Another tip for saving time spent on meetings is to change the default meeting length in your online calendar – often, this is 30 minutes, but perhaps most of your appointments could be completed in just 20 minutes? Try experimenting with different lengths of meetings, and don’t always start them on the hour or half hour, and see what difference that makes to your productivity.
8. Designate ‘flow’ time and ‘collaboration’ time
We’ve already seen that human attention is finite. Take further control of your time at work by designating time in your calendar to get ‘in the flow of work’ and concentrate deeply on projects and tasks, and other periods of times when you’re available for collaboration and conversation. This is particularly important when making heavy use of communications tools such as chat functions – with your Slack or Microsoft Teams window open all the time, it’s really easy to get derailed by a colleague, line manager or direct report who ‘just has a quick question’ – and then 30 minutes later you’re struggling to remember where you left off. Defining your boundaries, and really sticking to them, is hard work – but in the long run, should pay dividends in terms of your ability to do more in less time.
9. Tidy files, tidy mind
Is your desk – either your physical one, or your virtual desk(top) – conducive to working? Do you have the tools and information you need at your fingertips? If not, you could be wasting valuable time every day searching for files and data. It’s an unenviable task, but investing a couple of hours setting up a robust digital filing system (for both your documents and emails), and then tidying your digital ‘paperwork’ according to these systems, should set you up for future success. For such systems to work, they should be simple to follow: make them too complicated and it’s very unlikely that you’ll stick to your new system for long. You should also think about how you name files, paying close attention to version control – there’s nothing more frustrating than searching for the current version of a document only to find lots of old versions instead.
10. Finish your day with a plan
If you want to start your working day with a set list of goals for the day, then the time to make that list is the night before. Take five minutes at the end of the work day to note down anything important that you might forget (or endlessly mull over) before you next open your laptop, as well as some key priorities for the following day. This will help you hit the ground running straight away, and you’ll be able to focus on what you believe is important rather than being side-tracked by any emails that might have arrived in your inbox in the intervening period.
This article was first published in February 2014. It was updated in June 2020 for freshness, clarity and accuracy.