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Protecting your time: tools to help you find more and manage it better

This is a guest post by Peter Kent who is Head of IT governance and communications at Jisc.

Working from home can be a double-edged sword.

On one hand, you save time by not commuting which you can use for a few extra minutes in bed, more time spent with loved ones, or for a walk around the block.

On the other hand, once work is underway, it’s easy for the hours to drift by. Back-to-back meetings, endless emails, and a stream of instant messages fill the day, leaving us wondering where the time went. The ‘work day’ can blur into our personal lives when our work space and home space are one and the same, and not having regular breaks or a structured day can be bad for us.

Help is at hand

As a migraine sufferer I have first-hand experience of how bad it can be. Using a migraine tracking app I’ve been able to understand what triggers my migraines – irregular eating and drinking patterns, too much continuous screen time, stress, and – worst of all – chocolate oranges.

It’s easy to say “take more breaks”, “get some fresh air at lunchtime”, “don’t get drawn into emails overnight”. But it’s also easy to fall out of these good habits, especially when work is busy or life seems a little relentless.

Fortunately, there are some tools which can help…

Where’s my time going?

MyAnalytics, part of the Office 365 suite, helps you figure out where your time goes and how to make best use of it.

For example, it can automatically book focus time in your diary, suggest key collaborators, and give you statistics so you can see your working patterns clearly. It also offers tips on how to make the most of your time.

I use MyAnalytics to auto-book two hour ‘focus time’ slots in my diary, which also sets my presence status in Teams so I’m not distracted by messages or calls.

Watch this video to find out more about MyAnalytics, or take a look at Microsoft’s guide on how to get started with MyAnalytics. There’s an adoption programme for using MyAnalytics across a team, too.

Great, I’ve found some time! Now to manage it…

If we’re honest, most of us could manage our time a bit better – especially while things are so different.

LinkedIn Learning has lots of good resources about time management. There’s even a course specially for time management when working from home. If you don’t have access to LinkedIn Learning, chances are that your institution’s staff training platform will have similar cources.

One popular time management technique is called Pomodoro. You split your time into 25 minute slots to focus on a task, followed by a five minute break. There are plenty of Pomodoro timer apps for your mobile phone, or websites such as TomatoTimer to keep you on track.

No more back-to-back meetings!

There’s an option in the Outlook settings called “End appointments and meetings early”. It automatically reduces any meetings you create by five or more minutes, giving you some time back in between meetings to make a cuppa, pop to the toilet, or just get away from your screen.

Leave work at work – it’s easier said than done

Mobile apps are great for keeping in touch on the go, but they can contribute to disturbed personal time. You can suppress notifications in some apps, including Outlook and Teams, so as not to disturb you beyond the working day.

In the Outlook mobile app, this feature is called “Do not disturb” and is hidden behind a bell icon. You can turn the feature on permanently, for a set period of time, during evenings, or during weekends.

In the Teams mobile app, this feature is called “Quiet hours”, and has a less extensive set of options.

Another way to set a boundary around your workday is to set up your working hours in the Outlook calendar, and put appointments in for lunch time and end of working day so they don’t get taken up with meetings.

Share your tips and tricks!

I hope these tips help you to get the breaks you need to stay healthy and productive. Let us know in the comments if you’ve found other technologies that help you!

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