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5 ways to stop losing track of time at work

Сара Лаоян, фото автораSarah Laoyan
27 января 2024 г.
6 мин. на чтение
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It’s easy to lose track of time when we’re busy, but the downside is that it can cause us to miss meetings, deadlines, or other important appointments. If you’re finding that you’re constantly losing track of time, try these five easy strategies to help you manage your time more effectively.

Before you leave your house, you check your pockets for everything you need: phone, wallet, keys. If you can’t find one of those items, you retrace your steps until you find it. 

Losing track of time? That’s an entirely different problem. Trying to identify how you lose track of time is much harder than hunting down your keys or wallet. Here are a few steps you can take to identify where your time is going—plus what you can do to regain control of your day. 

Why do we lose track of time?

Losing track of time is a common occurrence. There are a couple of reasons why it can happen, both good and bad. 

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Good reasons to lose track of time

Have you ever gotten so in the zone of your work that the outside world melted away, and the only thing you could think about was the project you were working on? This is often referred to as a flow state, and it’s a very good way to get challenging projects done in a set period of time.

Flow state can become a bad thing when you start missing other project deadlines and consistently run late to (or even miss) meetings. To avoid this, try to create a good environment that encourages flow state. Block off your calendar and put your notifications in do not disturb mode. That way, there’s no chance of you missing anything and you can truly focus on the task at hand. 

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Bad reasons to lose track of time

If your days are stacked up with meetings and random correspondence, you may end up spending more time context switching and communicating with your peers than actually getting work done. Sometimes when you work a meeting heavy day, you may miss lunch and realize you’ve been on Zoom meetings for three hours straight. This is not sustainable—it’s important to set boundaries so you can take breaks and schedule focus time into your calendar. 

Here are a few other ways that can lose track of time at work:

  • Constant notifications: Notifications are designed to pull your attention away from the task you’re working on. If you’re a constant notification checker, disable notifications on apps like Slack or social media, or close out of them entirely. This can prevent you from context switching too much. 

  • Sporadic meeting schedules: If you only have 30 minutes between meetings, that’s not enough time to dive into a task or get into a good flow of work. This can cause you to lose a lot of time. A good way to combat this is by consolidating your meetings together so you can give your self larger blocks of focus time. 

  • Unclear project definitions: When you’re unclear about what you need to do for a project or task, you can spend a lot of time chasing stakeholders and figuring out what you need to do before you can actually sit down and work. This kind of work about work can eat up a lot of your time and cause unnecessary stress. 

Read: How to focus: Tips to get things done in a distracted world

Case study: The COVID-19 pandemic

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, your days may have started to blur together until you forgot what day of the week it was entirely. This type of time loss often happens when someone’s routine is disrupted.

As humans, we tend to create routines and stick with them. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all of our routines were disrupted. Office workers were sent into mandated lockdown which disrupted their work schedule. People were used to commuting everyday, having certain meetings on certain days of the week, and so on. These events served as anchor points that signaled to your brain what day of the week it was.

Weekends are a good example of an anchor point—the signifier being that you don’t have to work on those days. However, when the commute was taken away, weekends felt more similar to a weekday. Our perception of time was skewed because our weekend anchor point was taken away. 

5 tips for managing your time

If you’re having trouble managing your time, you’re not alone. It’s a common problem that everybody struggles with from time to time. To help, we’ve compiled a few tips to get your schedule back in control. 

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1. Create a routine and stick with it

No matter if you’re commuting to work or continuing to work from home, create routines and stick with it. Make rituals that are meant for certain days of the week so you can establish a concrete sense of time. For example, read a specific book during the weekdays, but save a more fun, downtime novel for the weekend. This can help your brain separate the work week from the weekend even if you’re working from home. 

Here are a few routines that can help you stay more grounded in time:

  • Wake up and going to bed at the same time.

  • Commute to the office on the same days every week.

  • Schedule your lunch break at the same time every day.

  • Physically put your work away at the end of the day when you’re working from home.

  • Establish a morning routine (making breakfast, going for a walk, meditating, etc.) before diving into work.

Read: Best morning routine: 21 steps for a more productive day

2. Use time management strategies during your work day

There’s no shortage of productivity hacks in the world—it’s all about finding the strategies that work best for you personally. If you consistently feel like you lose track of the time, here are a few strategies to help you get in control:

  • Time blocking: When you schedule a specific amount of time for one task. This can help prevent context switching. 

  • Time boxing: When you try to complete a specific task within a set time frame. Similar to time blocking, this technique helps by adding a sense of urgency to your tasks. 

  • Pomodoro technique: A common technique in which you work for 25 minutes with short breaks in between. This technique has breaks built into it, so it helps give your brain a rest between working sprints. 

  • Eat the frog: A productivity strategy where you work on your most challenging task first thing in the morning. If you get your most challenging task done first, the rest of the day becomes easier by comparison.

  • Eisenhower matrix: A prioritization technique that helps you strategize what to tackle first on your to-do list. If you have a hard time deciding on what to work on first, this technique can help you avoid decision paralysis.

3. Establish boundaries around your work

If you tend to lose track of time while you’re working, your work can bleed into your down time and affect your mental health. This can increase your chance of burnout if you’re not careful. The human brain is a muscle, and you need to give it a rest like any other muscle in your body. 

Create space between your work and your downtime by setting boundaries. For example, put your laptop away when you’re done working—like tucked away in a bookshelf or in a drawer—turn off notifications from your cell phone. If you’re not commuting to the office, this tells your brain when you’re working and when you’re relaxing.

Establish similar boundaries while you’re actually working by setting aside dedicated time for distraction-free focus hours. This can help you get into a more intentional focus and flow, helping you produce higher quality work without interruptions and distractions. 

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4. Spend a little bit of time outdoors everyday

Before we had watches and clocks, the only thing we had to tell time was the sun. The sun is the great regulator of our own internal clocks and helps provide us with vitamin D, which lowers stress. Getting some time outdoors and away from screens can help regulate your circadian rhythm, ultimately making it easier for you to fall asleep at night, maintain a more regular sleep schedule, and prevent mental illness. An easy way to do this is to add some outdoor time into your regular daily routine. Walking the dog in the morning before work or taking a stroll after your day is over is a two-in-one benefit—you get outside time and establish some boundaries around your working time.

5. Harness the benefits of your chronotype

Everybody has a different time of day at which their brain is working at peak performance. A lot of this behavior revolves around a person’s daily activities, age, and sleeping habits. This is known as a person’s “chronotype.”

There are three major chronotypes:

  • AM-shifted: This individual naturally wakes up early in the morning and is the most productive at the beginning of the day. 

  • Bi-phasic: These individuals focus best between 10am and 2pm and may have a little bit of a dip in the middle of the day. It’s common for bi-phasic individuals to have a “second wind” of energy in the evening. 

  • PM-shifted: This individual prefers to wake up later and do more brain-intensive work later in the afternoon and evening. For PM-shifted individuals, it’s best to ease into work with simple tasks and save the more brain-intensive work for the late afternoon.

When you understand your chronotype, you can schedule your work day around your peak hours. Organize your tasks and meetings around when you perform best. This helps you save your mental energy for important tasks that need it most. 

Never lose sight of your work with Asana

Your time is too precious to waste on unnecessary tasks and work about work. Instead, use a work management tool like Asana to help save time, keep track of your to-dos, and make it easy for you and your team to find information. 

Create a work log template

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