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Remote Time Management Techniques During COVID-19

Remote Time Management Techniques During COVID-19

With the lines between work and home still blurred, managing time for employees and HR alike has become a common challenge. Even with the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, many workforces are continuing to work from home or shift to remote operations more permanently. This means that teams will have to invest in time and task management skills, techniques, and training, which can sound vague and arbitrary. However, with the help of a task management matrix, employees can learn behaviors to manage their responsibilities and stay on track from home. What should your team’s priorities be, and how can they effectively manage them?

 

What is Task and Time Management?

It’s easy to think of task management and time management interchangeably, but the difference between the two can help teams sort their job priorities and know how—and when—to tackle them.

Time management refers to planning how someone uses their time to get tasks done—how much time they spend doing certain activities and tasks. Task management focuses on planning not how much time to work on something, but rather planning which tasks need to get done and how to get them done. 

Task and time management can help employees be more effective when thinking about productivity because employees can sort their tasks by urgency and importance, rather than staring at their to-do list, wondering where to start.


How Can Employees Manage Tasks and Time Effectively?

One of the best tools for employees to use is the Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Time Management Matrix, which is a model for prioritizing tasks by urgency and importance that was developed by Dwight Eisenhower and further popularized by business leader and author Steven Covey. 

This matrix is divided into four categories: 

  1. Quadrant I: Quadrant of Necessity 
    Urgent, Important
  2. Quadrant II: Quadrant of Quality and Personal Leadership
    Not Urgent, Important
  3. Quadrant III: Quadrant of Deception
    Urgent, Not Important
  4. Quadrant IV: Quadrant of Waste
    Not Urgent, Not Important

QUADRANT I

Urgent, Important

Crises, medical emergencies

Pressing problems

Deadline-driven projects

Last-minute tasks for scheduled events

QUADRANT II

Not Urgent, Important

Preparations and planning

Relationship-building

Recreation and relaxation

Values clarification

QUADRANT III

Urgent, Not Important

Interruptions

Certain calls and mail

Certain meetings

Many popular activities

 

QUADRANT IV

Not Urgent, Not Important

Junk mail

Trivia and busywork

Escape activities

Mindless TV

 

 

According to Steven Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, effective employees should aim to stay out of Quadrants III and IV because they aren’t important, even if they seem “urgent,” like a coworker interrupting a project with exciting pop culture news. Furthermore, employees should work to shrink Quadrant I down by size by focusing on Quadrant II, because operating in crisis mode only with urgent and important matters can quickly lead to burnout.

According to Covey, “Quadrant II is the heart of effective personal management. It deals with things that are not urgent, but are important. It deals with things like building relationships, writing a personal mission statement, long-range planning, exercising, preventative maintenance, preparation—all those things we know we need to do, but somehow seldom get around to doing, because they aren’t urgent.” 

 

How Can Employees Practice Time Management?

The most effective employees spend more time in Quadrant II, try their best to reduce time in Quadrant I, and avoid Quadrants III and IV altogether.

While employees work remotely, it can be hard to avoid Quadrant III tasks, like a knock on the door from the mailman or a phone call from a neighbor. While urgent, it’s okay if you call the neighbor back after work (as long as it’s not an emergency) or gather your package from the doorstep on a break. Same goes for Quadrant IV tasks—it can be tempting to throw in a load of laundry or get distracted by something at home.

To help employees implement the Eisenhower Matrix, consider the following strategies:

  1. Divide tasks into the quadrants: Have your team list out their to-do list and tasks. Then, have them identify which of their job responsibilities, tasks, and behaviors go into which quadrant, especially when working from home. Their matrix might change as their projects and tasks change, so set expectations for employees to update their quadrants as needed.
  2. Plan during 1-to-1 meetings: Managers can spend time with employees during 1-to-1 meetings to review their own matrices and make any additions or changes to planning out their tasks and priorities. Guide employees to think about their tasks in the context of their role in the organization—how do their responsibilities fit into the goals of their team and the company as a whole? 
  3. Add to your Culture Guide: A Culture Guide should discuss how the organization tackles problems and communication norms, while also outlining expectations for the company’s work style under a “How We Work” section. Consider adding a section on work style and how employees should use and incorporate the Eisenhower Matrix into their day-to-day if your Culture Guide doesn’t include it already. For example, should employees be expected to check their email first at the start of the workday, or should they check their internal messaging system? Should they sort their tasks before checking email? Clearly outlining these priorities will help maintain company-wide consistency, compliance, and accountability for managers and employees alike.

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