The trick to getting things done isn’t to work more hours, it’s to be more productive in the hours you already work. Use these strategies to boost your productivity so you can enjoy your time off.
Time management isn’t simply about managing your time during the work day. It’s about getting the most important work done within the amount of time you have allocated and enjoying your personal life when you’re not working. Hitting that sweet spot of productivity and leisure is what we really want when we seek out time management strategies.
Let’s take a look at the combination of strategies and techniques that can help us to have productive work days and carefree leisure time through successfully using our time well.
In order to get the most important work done you have to know what the most important work is at any given point in time. One of the simplest and yet most effective tools is a Focus List. Not your Master List which includes all your projects, tasks and ideas, but a simple list of the top priority projects you are working on in a day. It can be as simple as a handwritten index card with one to three projects you have identified from your Master List as the most important for the day.
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This is probably something you have heard before, but what I want you to consider for a moment is all of the tasks, projects and ideas that are not on the list. They are not on the list because you have deemed them as less important at this time than the top priority projects you are going to do. So, don’t interrupt yourself and jump back to any of these items during your focus list work. Commit to getting the three done and then if you have more time you can recheck your Master List for the next three items.
Blocking off time to do specific tasks can be as complex as scheduling appointments on your calendar for specific tasks or as simple as having two hour blocks of time allocated toward working on your Focus List work.
It is not possible to block off every hour of every work day for focus list work. Email does need to be checked, phone calls need to be made, meetings attended and colleagues communicated with. So don’t try to convince yourself that you have 8 hours a day to accomplish your priority items. Instead block one or two 2-hour time blocks for working on your Focus List. During this time close your door and put a polite but firm Come Back Later note on it, do not check email, and do not take incoming phone calls or make outgoing ones (unless these calls are your Focus List item). Everything else can wait for two hours. After all, these are your self-selected most important projects. Give them your full attention.
Focus Work Time
The key word here is focus. Start with the first item on your list and work on it. Work on only this project during your Focused Work time. You may be surprised at how often you interrupt yourself with non-priority things. You might say to yourself “I really do need to send a quick email to Susan about that meeting next week.” That email might take just 3 minutes to write and send, but it cost you momentum on your primary task. And if you do this more than once your two hours will be eroded, leaving you feel unproductive and like time got away from you.
Instead of doing the things that pop into your mind, write yourself a quick reminder about them so you can do them when your two hour Focus Work Time is over. You may find that over time this list will get shorter as you are able to just stay focused. Once you begin to trust that the other items on your list will get their own focus time, you’ll be less tempted to do them when you’re supposed to be doing something else.
When your time blocks are over, stop and take a break. Do the other things that are calling out to you and need to be done. Then you can dive back into your projects again if you haven’t finished. It is as important to stop focusing as it is to stay focused. Otherwise all the other things that you need to do will pile up and cause problems. It is OK to do them. Also, it is unrealistic to work in Focus Mode all the time. It is the contrast of the two work styles that makes Focus Mode so productive.
When the end of the work day comes, stop working. The reason that you want effective time management in the first place is so that you have been productive enough to feel good about walking away at the end of the day. So do it. Walk away from work and leave it there – mentally and physically. Not only will your life feel better and like you actually have time to enjoy it, but you will be refreshed and restored able to work fully the next day.
If ideas or things you need to do keep popping into your mind, that’s OK. It doesn’t mean you have to do them right now. Like your Focus Time at work, this is your Focus Time during your leisure time. So just write yourself a note and when you’re back at work you can do them.
Give Yourself Permission to Do Nothing
Lastly, in society today it is very easy to become overscheduled. Something to do every night, every weekend filled with activities and sports and events. No time to just relax and do nothing. Nothing makes you feel like your time needs managing more than having all of it filled up. Leave some blank space on your calendar. Make a firm commitment that you will have at least one night each week and one weekend a month with nothing on the calendar. If this means saying no to doing things with friends or un-volunteering for a committee or telling your kids to pick a sport that doesn’t have three practices a week and games every weekend, do it. This is your life. Enjoy it.
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