Do you always feel busy? Time management can be particularly difficult for social workers, who need to balance case management, counseling, and record keeping. And let’s face it: Something unexpected always seems to come up. Social workers who better manage their time experience greater work-life balance while improving their performance. Here are five strategies to help you stay organized and manage your time.
- Use your calendar wisely.
It’s no secret that your calendar is your strongest tool to help manage your time, but could you be using it more efficiently? Before your calendar becomes full of meetings and appointments, make sure you block off some time for yourself. Start by adding recurring blocks of time to do your individual administrative work without any disturbances. If you’re not sure how much time to devote to certain tasks, consider keeping a “time diary” for a week or month to better understand your habits.
You may find it helpful to set specific time aside to check email and phone messages, such as first thing in the morning, after lunch, or at the end of the day. And as you start better utilizing your calendar, don’t forget to also set chunks of time aside when you have big projects coming up that could use your uninterrupted attention.
- Become an email warrior.
Is your inbox full of unread or unorganized emails? It doesn’t have to be this way! Email systems have tools to help you stay organized, such as folders and triggers that you can set. For example, you might create a folder labeled “Referrals” and then set up an email trigger to send all referrals submitted by a web form there. This way, you can review all the referrals when you’re ready to instead of being distracted throughout your day.
Most tasks start and end as emails, so rather than thinking of your email as a catchall, think of it as a to-do list. As soon as you are finished with an email, archive it by placing it in a folder — or delete it if you’re sure you won’t need to refer to it in the future. Then, the only emails left in your inbox will be those that you need to follow up on, and you’ll be able to visualize how much you have left to do.
- Stay focused.
It’s easy to be derailed when speaking with your colleagues and clients, which is why every meeting, appointment, and phone call should have a clear objective. Establish the purpose beforehand so everyone knows exactly what to expect and do your best to keep everyone on track. If the conversation starts to deviate from that purpose, remind people why you are meeting.
Inevitably, there are times when meetings really start to go off the rails. When that happens, it’s not rude or unprofessional to suggest that you convene another meeting for discussing the off-topic subjects. Wrap up each meeting by recapping what you discussed and any next steps — and don’t forget to add any tasks you need to complete to your to-do list immediately, so you don’t forget.
- Make small tasks part of your process.
It’s true that no two days are the same for social workers. Do you find that you often push the same tasks off until tomorrow? If so, try to incorporate them into your routine instead. For example, if you tend to let your record keeping from client appointments pile up, make it a habit to finish this task immediately after the client leaves. Better yet, add time onto your calendar after each client meeting to accomplish this task.
You can also employ this trick to add some enjoyment to your routine. Slowly drink a cup of coffee while you check your email first thing in the morning, or if you tend to catch up on emails at home, do it while walking on a treadmill.
- Find your zone.
Have you ever noticed that at specific times of the day you have a laser-like focus, while at other times you’re feeling sluggish and distracted? Paying attention to your internal clock and adjusting your work day accordingly can help you better utilize your time. For example, if you tend to feel more energized and alert in the morning, schedule your counseling sessions then and save those administrative tasks for when you have your afternoon slump.
Studies have shown that for most people, their zone is in the late morning or around noon. This corresponds closely with our circadian rhythms, which tend to peak twice each day: once in the late morning, and then again in the evening. Once you find your zone, use your calendar as a tool to stick to it: For example, schedule your client appointments in the morning and then block off your afternoon for recording keeping.