A few weeks ago, I posed the following fill-in-the-blank request on LinkedIn: “My job would be so much easier / I could be so much more productive if ________.”
I wasn’t surprised that one of the first responses was about the need for improved time management -- there is never, and there will never be, enough time to get everything done. Hundreds if not thousands of books and articles have been written on this very subject. A whole industry of productivity apps has sprung up to help wring the most out of every possible second. But even reading these books or testing out different apps can be overwhelming and time consuming in their own right. To help you get started with time management, I put together this list of three simple strategies you can use to help you do more with, and make better use of, your precious time.
1. Learn to Love Chunks (Time Chunks, That Is)
We tend to be good at ensuring that events with strong external influences -- meaning their execution and completion involves other people or outside factors, such as meetings, calls, and deliverable deadlines -- make it onto our calendars. We are not as good about ensuring our own tasks and priorities make it into our schedule, so these internal items often get put off or altogether ignored. The solution? Treat your internal work items as you would your external items by blocking specific time off on your schedule. This practice is called chunking, since it involved allocating dedicated chunks of time to get these tasks done.
2. Take Your To-Do Lists to the Next Level
Many of us already keep some form of to-do list, whether you use a fancy checklist app or just scribble items down on the back of an old envelope. Whatever your method, your to-do list can be more than a simple list of tasks. You can organize items in different ways to help you use the list better; doing so will prevent the phenomenon we have all experienced when we waste time staring at the list and wondering which task to do next. For example:
- You can assign each item a priority status and organize accordingly, so you know to tackle the most important items first.
- You can estimate how long each item will take and include that on the list. This system helps when you have a 5-minute, 20-minute, or 1-hour block of time and can decide what to take on based on how much time you have.
- You can organize your lists based on when the items need to be completed (i.e. today, this week, this month, etc.) and add these items to your calendar, along with reminders.
3. Make, and Update, Your Schedule Forecasts
You know the saying, “take time to make time?” Well, here is how to do that. Get in the habit of setting aside 5 minutes at the start of every day and 10 minutes at the start of every week to look at your calendar. See what is on the schedule, check your to-do lists, and reflect on any new developments or status changes. Ask yourself “does this still make sense?” You may need to shuffle some items around to accommodate a last-minute high priority request. You may have set aside 2-hour chunk of time to do something that you now know will only take 1 hour. Move items around as needed, and use the practice of time chunking to add some items from your to-do lists to any open slots. If you go through each day and each week knowing what is in store for you with a freshly updated perspective on what needs to be accomplished by day’s end, you’ll be better able to stay focused and less likely to waste time or be caught off guard by your next appointment.
Get in the habit of using these three techniques and you’ll #dogoodworkbetter in no time!