The demands of the modern workplace often mean blurring the lines between work and personal time. Whether you're an entrepreneur or a corporate professional, you may find yourself answering emails, taking calls and completing projects long after you've left the office for the day.
While some thrive on this "always-on," workaholic schedule, too much of it can lead to burnout – which means that though you're constantly working, you're not getting much accomplished. If you want to make the most of your working hours (whenever they might be), here are three ways to plan your time and maximize your productivity.
[Need to identify your most productive work time? This Business News Daily guide can help you plan your tasks more efficiently.]
Have a (flexible) plan for each day
Starting each day off by writing out a "plan of attack" can help you get through your to-dos and stay focused throughout your work hours, said Bradley Anderson, a software engineer at MyRadar.
"Do your best to spend the day working through the list you have made," Anderson said. "If you find yourself being interrupted or sidetracked, make a conscious effort to get back on task as soon as you are able."
However, don't let your plan get so rigid that you're not able to accommodate for changes or unexpected situations that may arise. Kameron Frugoli and Taylor Gallanter, co-founders of mobile barbershop The Hot Towel, said flexibility is the key to their success.
"Knowing how many hours I'm going to work and how many customers I'm going to see in a day are important things to consider in my planning, but I always try to take a step back and make sure that my planning doesn't get too granular," Frugoli told Business News Daily.
"We need to know when to follow the script and when to be ready to act on the fly," added Gallanter. "Whether it's a flat tire, parking ticket, broken window or an electrical malfunction, you have to learn how roll with the punches and not let these things stop you from having a productive day."
Prioritize meeting invitations and decline when you can
Meetings and a full calendar are often hallmarks of a busy employee, but "busy" doesn't necessarily equal "productive." Dennis Collins, senior director of marketing at West's Unified Communications Services, advised declining unnecessary meetings whenever possible to free up your valuable time.
"When it comes to meetings, businesses too often live by the 'everyone's invited' mantra," he said. "Our own research found only 36 percent of all workers actively contribute in all the meetings they attend, indicating a real productivity problem for businesses."
How do you know if you should accept or reject a meeting invitation? Collins said to evaluate if your presence is necessary and determine if you can afford to put other priorities on hold. If you feel a meeting offers a low return on your time investment, you shouldn't feel compelled to attend, he said.
"Excuse yourself from the meeting and, if appropriate, recommend a co-worker who is better able to contribute to the conversation," Collins added. "Another option is to only attend part of the meeting, and then excuse yourself when the meeting has moved on to tasks outside of your workload. Just be sure to discuss and arrange the timing beforehand with the meeting organizer."
Stop trying to multitask
Many studies have shown that multitasking isn't the productivity boon many people want to believe it is. Stanford University research, for one, found that people who constantly try to multitask "cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time."
Another study from the University of California, Irvine that found that once a person is distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task. Therefore, single-tasking is the way to go if you want to keep your day on track.
"Multitasking may make it feel like you are getting a lot done, but in reality, the time added from context switching is actually slowing you down," Anderson said.
Collins agreed, noting that it's wise to limit distractions by blocking off sections of your calendar for specific projects – which may mean going "offline" and informing your colleagues you'll be less available for a short period.
"It is much better to focus on one project for a few hours and produce quality work than to risk working on multiple projects at once and get lost in the mix," Collins said.
And if you think "working through lunch" is going to help you accomplish more, think again: The disadvantages of multitasking come into play here, too, and you'll only burn yourself out if you don't schedule breaks into your workday.
"(Working through breaks) is common within companies today, especially the startup community," Gallanter said. "I use my breaks as little moments throughout my day to think and relax."
"It's not only good for my body since I'm in a job where I'm on my feet for most of the day, but I find that it also helps clear my head and stay focused," Frugoli added.