The best part of instructional design for e-learning is the variety; you’re always learning about new topics and juggling different projects. It’s exciting, and you’re never bored or looking for things to do!
However, the downside of all the variety and abundance of interesting work is burnout. Having so many creative projects to juggle and deadlines to meet can leave you feeling overwhelmed and in a perpetual state of anxiety.
You might not be able to control the type of work or volume of work on your plate, but there is one thing you can master: how you allocate your time. Like it or not, better time management might be the key to alleviating a lot of your stress—especially when you’re able to manage your own project workload and schedule. Even better, effective time management boils down to lots of small choices throughout each day, which means you only need to make small changes in how you behave to realize big improvements in your productivity.
If you’re not convinced that time management is a factor in your productivity problems, ask yourself if any of the following statements apply to you:
- “When my phone rings, I always answer it right away because I hate when calls go to voicemail.”
- “I can’t trust anyone else to do the work, so I do everything by myself.”
- “I delay certain tasks because I know I’ll get them done faster when I’m under time pressure.”
Do any of those sound familiar? They might seem innocuous enough, but each one points to a potential pitfall in your thinking—and it could be one that undermines your productivity. For instance, not setting boundaries around how and when you’ll interact with co-workers can lead to distractions and backlogged work. Feeling like you can’t delegate even the smallest task to someone else is the perfect setup for feeling stressed out and overworked. And chronic procrastination is a recipe for rushed, low-quality work and missed deadlines.
If you’re dealing with any of these potential time management problems, where do you start? I recommend putting some time management tools and techniques to good use to help you track and monitor your productivity and keep yourself on task.
Let’s take a closer look at a few time management tools and techniques you might want to add to your e-learning project management toolkit.
Time Tracking Tools
I get it. The thought of tracking your time makes you cringe. But hear me out ...
Time tracking is an e-learning professional’s best friend. Not only can it help you spot trends in your own productivity, but it can give you a sense of how long it actually takes you to do the various types of work that you do. This information is helpful when you need to justify adding more time or resources to a project, or when you need to provide an estimated timeline at the start of a project. It’s also a great way to get out in front of unrealistic project timelines, as in: “Here’s what I can create with a turnaround time of two weeks, but here’s what I’m able to create when I’m given eight weeks …”
For time tracking, I recommend checking out Toggl, Harvest, and MyHours. I love that they’re all simple to use, which makes it much more likely you’ll use them consistently. And if you’re a freelance e-learning pro, you’ll find that tracking your time against project tasks or deliverables is an absolute must for your business.
Time Management Tools
One important aspect of time management we haven’t talked about yet is managing your workload. To understand if you or your team can handle additional work without exhausting yourselves, sacrificing product quality, or missing deadlines, you first need to factor in how productive you are, how efficiently you work, and how available you are for work. Without getting too far into the project management weeds, let’s break these down a bit.
Put simply, this is what you can produce from working on a project task. Your productivity varies depending on the type of task (e.g., building a lesson prototype vs. storyboarding an entire course) and your ability.
This is the amount of time you spend on project tasks. If you spend 100% of your day tackling project tasks, you’re operating at 100% efficiency, which makes you a case study in efficiency! The reality is that most of us need periodic brain breaks, days off, or we have other work meetings that pull us away from project tasks, thereby reducing our efficiency.
Tracking your time is one of the easiest ways to identify opportunities to work more efficiently.
This is the amount of time, in hours, that you’re available to work per day, week, or month. When calculating your availability, think in terms of your productive hours—those hours where you’re doing project work—rather than your entire eight-hour workday. Again, tracking your time can help you discern between project-related tasks and other tasks so your calculations are more accurate.
Whether you’re managing your own projects or an entire team’s projects, you’ll need to balance these three factors to reach some understanding of a reasonable workload. Following is a quick rundown of some project management apps with features that can make tracking all of these variables a little easier.
Task Management Tools
Another tool you might want to consider is a task manager. Task managers are often bundled in with time tracking apps, so many of the apps I’ve already mentioned will give you task management capabilities.
If you’re someone who’s always relied on a written to-do list, with reminder Post-its stuck all over your monitor or your calendar, a task management tool will help automate these repetitive processes, provide you with reminders, enhance collaboration, and help you stay better organized and, well, on task. That, in turn, will make you more productive and efficient.
If this sounds like something you need, here’s a quick rundown of a few task management tools:
Wrapping It Up
Obviously, there are hundreds—probably even thousands—of time and task management tools out there. I’m just highlighting a few standouts I’ve either used or heard great buzz about. Everyone’s needs are different, so I hope you’ll consider this a starting point for considering your time management habits (good and bad!) and then do your own research to find just the right mix of time management tools and techniques that work for you!
How are you overcoming your time management struggles? Share your tools, tips, and ideas with me in a comment below.
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