Many people believe time management is key to success. Well, I believe utilizing ‘lag time’ is key to time management. Lag, or idle, time can range depending on the industry you work in, your role in the organization and the technology afforded in both. I’ve worked in different types of environments and held positions at various levels. But for each job, some degree of lag time was present every day. I get it, as millennials, we want to feel empowered and fulfilled when it comes to work, but that might not be the case every day or in every task that we do. One thing is for sure, how you feel at work greatly affects the work you produce.

Regardless of the environment or the type of job I held, how I felt each morning when I came in and when I left made a huge difference. So I’ve come to the conclusion, whether you love or hate your job, maintaining your space and creativity sustains your productivity. Once I figured out how to leverage my lag time to my best benefit through setting daily introspective goals, my entire perception of my job and the role I played) in the bigger picture changed.

Here’s the how
On a Monday morning when you first get to work or the first day of your workweek, divide a paper or notebook page into 5-7 sections, one section for each day of work. Make a list of the goals you want to complete for the day.  This ‘Goals List’ should be a doable number of goals to achieve within my work schedule, somewhere between 7 and 15, and be compiled of both work-oriented goals (e.g., research a new course that your organization offers/funds, prepare a new individual development plan that better aligns with your career endeavors, network with a colleague from a different department) and personal goals (e.g., outline a new blog post, sketch/doodle  a new concept for a painting, read 30 pages of your book) that must only be completed during your lag time. You will be tracking your completed goals and rating your overall goal accomplishment performance for each workday of the week.

You have to have balance
I normally choose at least 11 goals each day so I can ensure I have more work-related goals that cater to my career and professional aspirations than personal goals that indulge my interests and curiosities because, quite frankly, 11 is my favorite number! Then I get creative!  Think, “What do I want to accomplish today?” Get your brain thinking about new ways to get in touch with your purpose and challenge yourself. Every day is a fresh start filled with a new batch of opportunities. Expound on this notion and keep track of your achievements, striking-through/checking them off as complete them.  

Mental breaks are important
Listen to music or work on a hobby for small increments of time throughout the day. As an artist, I always have a notebook and pen nearby. Once I complete a project or come across a work stressor, I normally do a quick 10-minute sketch or free write. This frees space in my mind and gives me a fresh start on my next deliverable. Meditating is also a great stress reliever and mental stimulus. There are many free apps for guided meditations that walk you through breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. I currently use the Headspace app for smartphones. You can use this app anytime and anywhere, and play sessions on your computer as well. It helps me refocus and center myself for both work and my ists.

Reflect with some positive reinforcement
Before your workday is complete, take at least 10 minutes to reflect your ist and the goals on that you completed during the day, keeping in mind that it’s okay if you didn’t finish them all. After all, you’re at work and things happen. The goal is that you took time for yourself and completed some of them today. Calculate your percentage of completed goals and use this as your baseline for efficiencies on the rest of your workdays moving forward. How does this make you feel? For instance, on Monday, I had 11 goals on my Goals List, 6 of which were work-related and the remaining 5 were personal. I completed 5 goals, making my completion rate and baseline for the week at 45.5%. So for the rest of the week, I aimed to hit at least 45.5% of all my Goals List.

Celebrate your small wins
I like to treat myself when I reach and/or surpass my weekly baseline by Friday,  whether it be ordering the most expensive meal at a new restaurant, purchasing a spontaneous deal online, binge-watching a new show, etc. You have to celebrate your wins. Reserve that time for your mental health and stimulation, as well as your creativity. It keeps you on your toes and can improve your mindset. They say, “A happy worker is a productive worker,” and I aim to embody that sentiment as much as possible.

Don’t take work home
Once you log off and/or your shift is over, immediately log off mentally. Once I start my commute home, that ‘work switch’ in my brain goes off. My job is no longer part of my day. That’s one aspect of my life that I simply cannot control, even though I wish I could! I’m still mastering this notion and sometimes struggle, but the point is to make an intentional decision to turn your work switch off and only reflect on the personal goals you can complete at home. The commute home sets the tone for the remainder of your day or night.

A job is what you make it. 
Personally, I feel my best and most productive when I have goals written out and completed each day, both for work and my personal endeavors. This makes me feel powerful. Not only do I strengthen my time management and organizational skills, I actually get to see that my efforts are not unnoticed, even if they’re only noticed by me. Also, your time in that position or role is limited. Dedicate your lag time for enhancing your personal and professional skill sets, as they often intersect. Being well rounded, multifaceted, and able to manage adversity are favorable skills in any job. You, your organization and potential customers will benefit when you are a more grounded you.

As such, don’t lose yourself in meeting the expectations of others without first meeting the expectations of yourself, which should be higher anyway. Burnout is real. Every job has challenges, but more importantly, every job is a stepping-stone into reaching your career goals. Give yourself room for mental space and creativity within organizational reason. And if/when that no longer is possible, in the true spirit of a millennial, utilize your lag time, create a goal (an exit-strategy perhaps), and leave on your own accord when the opportunity presents itself.