Because of all that I do – work with clients, speak, write books (just to name a few things on my plate), I’m often asked “Do you ever sleep?” The answer is yes – at least 8 to 9 hours a night. And I have a decent amount of leisure time to relax with my husband, family, and friends. My secret to having productive days is active time management.
Now, true confession here – I can’t say I use every technique every single day. No one is perfect, right?
But when I do use my system, tasks take less time than they would without this discipline. I’ll share my tips with you, and you can pick which ones work for you. For tools, you can use an old-school planner, cell phone, pen and legal pad, or poster board and crayons. Make your own system.
Here we go:
Track your Time
Do an experiment. For a week, log all your activities. What time did you start your day? How many calls did you make and how long was each? How much time did you waste on Facebook or Instagram? Be honest!
Time tracking is like budgeting – you have better control once you know where those minutes or pennies are being spent.
When the week is over, review your time log. When were you most productive? What distractions got in the way of your progress?
Plan the day ahead the night before
While you can try to do this in the morning, remember that you will probably wake up to 15 emails and 20 text messages. Chances are, these new messages will distract you and keep you from planning with a clear head. Think about:
· What absolutely has to get done no matter what?
· What tasks would you like to finish tomorrow?
· Do you have appointments or other commitments?
Group the tasks by priority, using the letters A, B, and C.
· Your must do tasks are As. Try to have no more than 3, or you will get overwhelmed.
· B tasks are things that you would like to complete, but can be postponed if time runs short. Again, keep the list at 3.
· C tasks are low priority. You have flexibility on when you can complete them. If you are ahead of schedule and have finished your As and Bs – great! Start tackling the C list.
Create Time Blocks
I keep mine at 50 minutes. Your blocks may be longer or shorter. Again, do what works for you. Pick a task, set the timer on your phone, and GO! If a task is longer than your interval, you will have to break it up to fit into several slots. Once your interval time ends, treat yourself to a break. I suggest no longer than 10 minutes. (Set your timer again.) You want to refresh without losing momentum. Use that break to grab a snack or check you IG feed. After break time is up, reset the timer and start a new task, or get back to the one in progress. (Hint: if you finished your task early, reward yourself and add the extra minutes to break time. 😊)
Of course, if you have commitments that day, you will have to schedule your blocks around them.
Eliminate or Minimize Distractions
During my task blocks, I do not take unscheduled phone calls, check email, respond to texts, or waste time on social media. I am focused on my task and this means I get through my to-do list faster. When I do respond to an email or text, I do so with undivided attention. The same is true with scheduled phone calls.
For those of you who work with others, I know that avoiding interruptions is a lot harder. However, this is an example of teaching people how to treat you. Use your judgment, but if you can, say to an unexpected visitor, “may I come see you in 10 minutes, after I finish this task?” Don’t look up and keep working. Let people know they can’t get you off track whenever they feel like it, especially if it is to have a non-urgent conversation.
You can also turn off your phone ringer, disable email notification, and log out of your computer’s instant message program. Many companies are now offering alternative spaces to work away from your desk. Take advantage of them, and at least get through your As for the day.
Today’s uncompleted Bs become tomorrow’s As. The unfinished Cs become tomorrow’s Bs. This assumes you completed ALL of today’s As. If not, then you will have to reschedule tasks, while keeping your list for any given day at 9 items total. Or figure out other ways to get them all done. Delegation, anyone?
Maintain a Parking Lot
If you are like me, your brain is constantly coming up with new ideas or finding subjects to Google. That’s great, but a positive distraction is still a distraction. If a random thought pops into your head, write it down. Schedule time to brainstorm later or do it during your free time.
Forget about being a superhero. We all have days when we are tired, aren’t feeling well, or thinking about an upcoming holiday. You won’t be a perfect time manager every day, but if you structure as many days as you can, you will be a more productive entrepreneur.
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