Do you feel in control of your time, or does the day take you by storm? The challenge many people face is in taking the day reactively as it comes, instead of proactively preparing for it. To get the most out of our working hours, we must be strategic in organizing our time, and of course vigilant in executing our plan.
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning and focused effort”. ~Paul J. Meyer
There’s no shortage of tasks, commitments and distractions shouting for our attention. Often we come to the end of a ‘busy’ day, yet how often to you come to the end of a truly ‘productive‘ day?
Organizing your time actually comes down to organizing yourself.
We’re all individuals. Time management is really about self-management and knowing how, when and under which conditions you work at your best.
While we can’t control everything the day throws at us, planning our time strategically has several benefits:
- You’ll see your time more realistically, which can help you to stay focused on important tasks.
- You’ll reduce the constant decision of what-to-do-next by having a structure in place to follow.
- You’ll gain an improved sense of confidence and control over your personal and professional life.
Here are 7 ways to organize your time.
1. Know what you’ve got!
How much time do you really have? We get in trouble when we think we have ‘a whole day’ ahead of us, or ‘all week’ to get our work done. On closer examination, you’ll find much of that time isn’t really there. Put pencil to paper and log the events of a typical day. How much of your time is spent on commuting, coffee or tea breaks, meetings, meals, interruptions, social media etc.
It’s easier to prioritize when you’re clear on how much time you really have. Better time management means better prioritization.
2. Allocate task blocks
Which of your tasks or activities don’t get enough attention, e.g. dedicated sales calls, content writing, business strategy etc? While we don’t need to plan for every minute, do schedule adequate time blocks for the important tasks.
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Treat the time like an appointment. If important activities don’t get scheduled, ‘anything-and-everything’ will fill the time. Remember, once the time is gone, it’s gone. Plus you’ll have peace of mind knowing the activity has a dedicated time and place in your schedule, which will free your focus for whatever you’re working on in the present moment.
3. Schedule a morning appointment with yourself
Before you start any work or launch into e-mail, allocate a few minutes to simply get a clear vision of the day ahead. Put the kettle on and review your plan.
Some questions to consider:
- What’s the single most important task you could accomplish by close of day?
- Is there an important project on the horizon that needs attention?
- What obstacles might get in the way today and how might you avoid them?
Sure, priorities may change, however, think of this as your morning ‘reset button’ to redirect your focus on the essentials.
4. Schedule your energy to drive your productivity
One common pitfall when it comes to time management (self-management) is not matching the task to our energy level. When is your ‘prime time’ energy? It varies person to person.
For you, it may be early morning while your colleague may not get into full swing until late-morning. We all experience natural energy cycles during the day. The key is to know when your peak level of energy occurs and where possible use this window exclusively for jobs demanding the most brainpower. This too plays an important in time management.
You’ll blaze through that detailed report quicker at 9am when you’re firing on all six-cylinders, as opposed to 3pm when you’re sinking into an afternoon lull. Avoid using high energy on low-level quick wins that you can knock out any time of day.
5. Treat interruptions on your terms
Emails and phone calls are a part of life and a part of business. However, constant interruptions pull us away from getting things done and cause our brains to repeatedly reset and refocus on the original task at hand. This eats up valuable time and energy.
Don’t allow emails and phone calls to be a constant source of distraction. When you need to get your head down on some important business, resolve to handle interruptions on your terms by minimizing them. Disable email alerts and place your phone on silent. Forward calls if you can so someone can answer on your behalf. Schedule email and phone processing intervals throughout the day.
This will allow you the concentrated work-time you need, while responding to missed messages in a timely manner.
6. Enforce Parkinson’s Law
Sometimes the challenge isn’t about having enough time for a task, but rather allowing too much time. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. For example, you may only need twenty minutes to do your expense report, but if you’ve allocated an hour for the task, you’ll likely use up the full hour. That’s forty minutes of lost productivity.
Start experimenting by halving the amount of time you usually estimate for various tasks. You’ll soon learn whether your time estimates are accurate, or if you could up the pace and increase your productivity. Same applies for meetings. Do you really need an hour or would twenty, even fifteen minutes, accomplish the same outcome?
7. Start tomorrow today
If you wait until tomorrow morning to start planning and mapping out your day, you’re already behind. Before you wind down your day take the time to prepare your game plan for tomorrow. Your time management for tomorrow always begins today.
Mark any incomplete assignments with a note where you’ve left off so you can resume work seamlessly. Adjust your master to-do list or task management software and determine your most important tasks for tomorrow. Include time estimates to ensure you’ve planned realistically.
Finally, arrange any needed documents or materials neatly on your desk, in order of attack. Yes, priorities can change overnight. However, the process of assembling a preliminary plan will save you valuable time by setting you up to hit the ground running tomorrow.
Plus you’ll be prepared mentally so you can truly switch off, relax and enjoy your evening.
PS: If you’re looking for ways to improve your productivity at work, take a look at this article: How to Adopt the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”
About the author: Cory Cook is a productivity expert based in London. She regularly works with clients across the UK, Europe, and the U.S. For more advice on productivity, time management and organizational success, follow her blog and her Twitter feed.