Trying to earn a living while also trying to run a life (or lives - when you've got a family), can quickly eat away at the 1440 minutes you have each day. (Read all about it in Part 1.) So prioritizing your days, weeks, and months is a critical first step toward making the most of your time.
In this article, I provide examples and action steps that you can start taking today.
Making the Most of Your Time
Assuming you already know your most important things to get done each day, here's a guide to manage your time and maintain your focus.
- Deter Distractions and Take Advantage of Techniques and Technology
- Know Thyself to Work Efficiently
- Maintain Motivation and Momentum
Deter Distractions and Take Advantage of Techniques and Technology
App badges. Outlook new mail notifications. Calendar and task reminders. Phone alerts reminding you to drink more water. Your Fitbit telling you to Get Steppin.' These are all designed to help you get more done and forget less.
Unfortunately, the little tech-elves that live inside your gadgets don't know you've got a blog post due by 6 pm today. They don't care that you'll need every free waking moment to get it done because you've overbooked yourself with meetings. Nor do these guys care about any of your other so-called "priorities." "Look at me, look at me," they scream, just to make sure you get those 250 steps in in the next 10 minutes.
The problem, as I mentioned in Part 1, is the interruption. It’s a distraction from what you're doing, and then you lose focus. Your brain doesn't like that, and it slows you down. You lose momentum, and then it takes energy to change direction BACK to what you were doing.
So, you need to set yourself up for success and be intentional about changing these settings. If you don't, they can quickly derail your day. They change your brain's focus to whatever's beeping, dinging, or playing your favorite song. Those helpful alerts are stealing some of the most valuable things you have – those 1440 minutes!
Take back control so that you are taking action instead of being the victim of constant interruptions. Schedule small blocks of time (20-30 min) with yourself to check your phone, email, social media, etc. And STICK to just that block of time. Then turn off alerts and notifications on all your devices and applications like your phone and email. Maybe even put your phone in airplane mode... *gasp*
Personally, I set an alarm on my phone to go off three times per day to signal the beginning of a 30-minute block of time. I use this time to read, respond, and address anything that comes in via email, phone, or text. Using the PomoDoneApp as a timer on my computer, I set it for 30 minutes. When it dings, I close out my email, turn off my phone, and go back to my task list.
The timer also helps me work quickly because I know at the end of those 30 minutes, I have to be finished. Otherwise, I have to wait another 3 hours before I can check again. Also, it integrates with ToDoIst, and you can have a number of preset timer lengths for different tasks.
Other Techy Things I Use
- For Focusing: Brain.FM - I actually feel myself "wake up" when listening to the ‘Focus’ tracks after just 10 minutes. (Tip: Use headphones in your phone instead of playing through your computer for the best effect.)
- For Prioritizing: ToDoIst - The key is not to over-ambitiously assign too many tasks on one day. Otherwise, you'll get quite the backlog of overdue items and feel overwhelmed.
- For Sharpening the Saw: Lumosity.com - Who wouldn't want to improve their memory, speed, decision making, and critical thinking? And oh yeah, memory, too, by playing mini video games?
Know Thyself to Work Efficiently
We regularly engage in tasks that we enjoy, as well as some that we dread. Needless to say, the easy ones go quickly. And when we enjoy them, time seems to fly like we've been hanging out on a cloud. Not much energy is typically expended.
Now, think about the tasks you hate doing. For me, it's reviewing all the credit card transactions from last month, scrubbing burnt pans, and ironing my shirts. These things seem to take a long time, and I'll find any excuse to do something else just to distract me from them. They eat away at my energy and enthusiasm for life, even just thinking about them now.
"Some tasks take a lot of mental (or physical) energy, but they need to get done."
So, I try to do them when I have the most energy to spare. After a full day of work, I just don't have the mental energy to do them. Because of this, I always schedule these things for the mornings.
And even if I enjoy something like going to the gym, I schedule it in the mornings, as itrequires a lot of physical energy. The stuff that is easy to do, I typically schedule later in the day when I have less energy.
As our energy levels decrease, our brains go from a "creative" state to a more "mechanical" state where you don't need to think as much. This applies to things such as driving a car or walking the dog.
In other words, we don't need to consciously think about all the little things we need to do to drive the car. We use our feet to accelerate, brake, or shift. We use our hands to steer, making slight adjustments here and there to compensate for bends in the roads. That stuff can be done when we're tired, or at the end of day, as these are mechanical things. Because we've done them so much, we need less energy to get them done.
Other things, like creating expense reports or learning how to use a new WordPress plugin, however, require me to be in a state where I need to be more conscious, and thus, requires more energy. So, I usually do these right after a low-carb, high-fat lunch.
You can make the most of your day by figuring out when you have the most energy, and then assigning tasks that take the most energy to those times of the day. You'll find yourself working more quickly, more easily, and getting more done.
So, my suggestion is that as you go through your day (or maybe your week), make a list of all the things you do so you can then figure out which ones require the least and most energy. Then schedule them based on your energy levels throughout the day. If you're like most people with a typical 9-5 job, you'll have the most energy in the mornings. And then again right after lunch, assuming you're not loading up on carbs here. 🙂
- I have projects in ToDoIst called "Long Computer Tasks," "Quick Computer Tasks," "Planning Tasks," "Videos/Webinars to Watch," and "Email Cleanup."
- I add tasks to ToDoIst and assign them to one of these projects. This then assigns a level of effort to the tasks.
- I've scheduled blocks of time in my Outlook calendar that correspond to each of these projects. This is based on how much energy they typically require of me.
- "Long Computer Tasks" includes things like researching or writing. I have those blocks of time scheduled for first thing in the morning.
- "Email Cleanup" is 3 times per day for only 30 minutes. It's fairly easy, so it's sprinkled throughout the day.
- "Videos/Webinars to Watch" is usually very easy, so I do that later in the day.
Maintain Motivation and Momentum
The last point I want to make is to be good to yourself and not expect to have all your tasks done, even after spending a week or more setting up your time management system. I've made this mistake, thinking it should be flawless, and have let feelings of remorse make me resist using it.
I've realized that the theme here is "progress not perfection." No system will be perfect. The best system is the one you use, and you can always make adjustments to the one you've created.
"Progress not perfection."
For example, come Friday and Saturday, I don't want to go anywhere near my ToDoIst or Outlook calendar. So inevitably, things don't get done. I've come to accept that and have forgiven myself for it after realizing the world didn't end. I can now enjoy my weekends more, knowing that I'd rather work a little harder on Monday mornings to clean up and reorganize my tasks rather than try to keep up with them when I should be recharging.
Speaking of recharging, if you're going to start using timers, make sure you do take a break after they go off. I've often gotten into the habit of just resetting them after they ding because I’m in a state of flow. But before I know it, I've hit reset on my timer 3 times. Then, the task that I was supposed to get done in 30 minutes has turned into an hour and a half. What I don't notice, however, is how I've started to gradually slow down from lack of energy and loss of clarity.
If you're new to working with timers for tasks, be patient. It will take a while to figure out how much time you really need to get a task done, so just keep at it. Even if you completely over or underestimate, you'll soon gain the knowledge of how long something really takes. This will help you plan more easily and stress a lot less about everything else you need to get done in your day's 1440 minutes.
Want more? Feel free to reach out to me for any questions, comments or advice at Dan@SignificantlySuccessful.com!
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