For five years while in college, I worked nights and weekends at a local cafe. Not only was I a barista, but also a baker, janitor, team lead, sandwich artist, business adviser and customer service guru.
The skills I gained from years of multi-tasking in a fast-paced environment prepared me for the jump into the professional world. I not only learned how to make the perfect latté, but I also developed excellent time-management skills.
Forbes has published a list on how to Manipulate Time With These Powerful 20 Time Management Tips. From my experience, here are my five tips on how to effectively manage your time and stay sane doing it.
Check your Bake List
Every morning at the cafe I took inventory of all our baked goodies. I’d jot down what we had and what was needed, prioritizing my list based on how low we were on a certain item, how popular the item was and how long it took to make. I’d adjust the list per our sales as needed throughout the day.
As an account coordinator at SHIFT, I do the same thing. Before beginning my day, I jot down my tasks. I reassess my list throughout the day—crossing out completed tasks and adding new ones.
I’ve learned that if you have to put things off until the next day to prioritize other tasks, it’s not a sign of failure or inefficiency, it just means there is more pressing tasks for the day.
Go with the Flow
When pressing items arise, you need to be able to go with the flow. In the service industry, you often get a rush of people lining up for your attention. At the cafe, I learned to not worry about all the items on my bake list while handling a line of customers. As a PR professional, the same rule applies. When you have a sudden change of plans, or a crisis that needs to be addressed, stop what you are doing and re-focus your attention completely. When the rush dies down, you can start worrying about your other tasks again.
Luckily, there isn’t a crisis every day in PR; sometimes, you have a slow day—don’t waste the lulls! Clean! Research! Practice! Organize! Take advantage of the slow flow to take care of all the tasks you normally put off.
Lean on Your Crew
Sometimes we feel guilty asking for help; everyone’s busy. But that’s what a team is for! If I was working the register with a line out the door, even if my co-worker in the kitchen had 10 sandwiches to make, I’d ask for her help to get me caught up. Yes, some people would have to wait an extra couple minutes on a sandwich, but all the customers felt attended to and happy and more importantly, no one walked out the door.
If your task list is running off the page, chat with your manager about pulling in a teammate for backup. Work together to see what items on all of your schedules need to be prioritized and how much you can hand off.
Clock Out on Time(ish)
At the cafe, I worked nine-hour shifts on my feet. Inevitably, right as a shift was ending, a customer would have an insane request which made me feel obligated to stay late.
However, after working multiple late days in a row, my ability to make a three shot, half caf, soy latte with 2.5 pumps of chocolate, a drizzle of hazelnut and a little whip was gone.
If you are working late every night, inevitably you are going to over-extend and turn into an ineffective shadow of yourself. We all have days we have to work late, or do a last minute task, but try not to make it a constant habit. You’ll be more efficient during your general working hours if you aren’t over-worked on a daily basis.
Chat it Out
Time management skills need to be practiced and cultivated. Over the years at the cafe, I learned to systemize my time and start a dialogue with my boss to gather feedback, advice and work collaboratively to learn to manage my time effectively.
Keep an open line of communication about how you are spending your time, what’s taking longer than anticipated and ways to become more efficient. The more you chat over time management practices with your team and coworkers, the better you will become at planning your day.
Originally published December 4, 2015; updated September 19, 2018.