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When you feel stressed, it can make you feel like you have less time to get your work done.Thinkstock

This is part of a series looking at microskills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at

Do you struggle to manage your time?

It's common for people who struggle with time to ponder how they could manage it better.

In some cases, time management training can be effective. In others, it doesn't work because it's not time management that's the issue as much as distraction management.

It's common for many employees' workflow to be interrupted repeatedly, and then the feeling of stopping and starting adds to their perceived work demand. When a person is stressed it's common to feel that they don't have much energy, and this negatively impacts their mental energy and focus.

This microskill focuses on state management: paying attention to your mental state. The better you're able to manage your mental state, the more hours you will be productive each day. This can help maximize your working time so you can enjoy your off time.

The first step is awareness: note the percentage of time you typically spend in each of the following five states and track it for one week to see what's impacting your time management.

Peak performer state

This is when you feel focused and on task. You're highly engaged and committed to getting the work at hand done efficiently. In this state you're using your time effectively.

Crisis state

In this state you're responding to an issue that requires your immediate attention and you have to focus on it at the expense of other tasks or work you need to accomplish. The longer you're in this state, the more likely you will feel overloaded and fall behind in your core work. The goal is to get out of this state as fast as possible.

Unbalanced state

This state is often the result of feeling stressed and overloaded. To relieve the stress, you look for distractions that help you feel better, both during and after work. The challenge is that some actions may not be healthy, such smoking or over-eating.

Trivial state

In this state, you feel overloaded trying to balance stress and save energy, and as a result you start focusing on small, easy, trivial tasks such as organizing files to feel a sense of accomplishment. The challenge is that core work and tasks are not getting your attention, and this may contribute to procrastination.

Numb state

This is where you look for activities that help you hide and forget the world for a bit. Common actions are searching the Internet, monitoring social media or texting friends as a way to tune out work.

The first state is the most productive and the desired state. The second is how we deal with daily fire drills. The other three are how we can elect to cope. The goal is to spend 80 to 85 per cent of your time at work in the first two states. The more time you can spend in the first state, the less likely you will feel the pressure of time.

So, once you've tabulated how you spent your time over the week, what can you do to make a change?


After one week, determine whether you believe you could manage your state better if you had more time. Accept that you have some control over how you use your time, become aware of how you're coping, and determine if you're motivated to improve how you manage your mental state.


· Set a daily target for the percentage of time you want to be in peak state and track it. It takes discipline but you may be surprised at how this may make you feel that you have more time in a working day and are less rushed.

· Create distraction-free work time in structured blocks as much as you can. Put your phone to voicemail and avoid e-mail for 90 minutes when you focus all your attention on moving something specific forward.

· When you get a request, don't assume you need to react immediately. Ask when it needs to be done and if it's okay if you finish what you're working on first. Asking if something is a priority can help set a boundary and help manage your workload.

· Practice focusing on doing one thing at a time. Doing five things at once often results in distractions, stress, and mistakes. Instead, do one thing at a time until all five are done right the first time because it will save you time and energy.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link: