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Work smarter, not longer

When I was at the annual Virginia Press Association awards banquet in Richmond on April 14, I asked seasoned journalists how I could be better at my job. The consensus was simple, obvious and absolutely true: be more organized.

That’s been the biggest challenge for me so far. The work gets done, but not always in the most efficient way possible. Sometimes that means that I lose just an hour in my day, and other times it means I’m leaving the office at 10 p.m. with more work ahead of me at home.

I’m a nerd for organization and time management tips, which is why I enjoyed the Forbes article by John Rampton titled “Manipulate Time with these Powerful 20 Time Management Tips” published on May 1. Rampton is the founder of the productivity company Calendar.

Nothing in the article is particularly groundbreaking. Making use of your time while waiting, saying no to too many projects at once and replacing bad habits with positive ones are all overworked lessons. I didn’t suddenly become a well-oiled machine after reading it, but I did enjoy some of his tidbits.

He cited author James Clear on the dangers of “half-work,” as in those moments of complete focus on assignments that are shattered when I let my mind wander to my phone, email or whatever else gives me immediate satisfaction as opposed to the longer task ahead of me.

“Regardless of where and how you fall into the trap of half–work, the result is always the same: you’re never fully engaged in the task at hand, you rarely commit to a task for extended periods of time, and it takes you twice as long to accomplish half as much,” Clear wrote.

The lesson is to put your phone down and other distractions in front of your big task and completely devote yourself to it for the amount of time you’ve budgeted.

Personal time limits are another step. It’s extremely difficult and frustrating when you don’t reach those marks, but it also trains you to work smarter for faster times, just like running.

The article goes on with more specific examples, and I recommend reading it. But most of all it just comes down to simply planning ahead of time for the next day, whether it’s before you leave work or the first thing that morning.

More importantly, don’t criticize yourself too much when you struggle for time. Time management is a muscle, and like any other workout routine, the first repetitions are clumsy and awkward.