Do you wish you had an extra hour in the day?
Perhaps you struggle to get everything done – or you find that you only manage to get projects completed in a huge rush before a deadline.
Maybe someone’s told you that you have “poor time management skills”. Maybe you believe that’s simply who you are. You envy people who seem to be on top of everything – but you don’t think you could do the same.
The truth is, time management is a skill, and one which you can learn. There are a huge number of books, blogs, audio programs and seminars on the subject – and you probably feel a bit overwhelmed by all the information out there.
Here, I’m going to stick to the basics. These are all simple – but hugely effective – ways to improve your time management, starting today.
#1: Make a To-Do List
Your to-do list takes a lot of pressure off you. Instead of getting to 11am and wondering what the heck you’re supposed to do next, you’ll have a clear list of tasks which you want to complete during the day.
It takes less than five minutes to make a to-do list at the start of your morning – but it can save you hours of wasted time over the course of a day. Plus, having everything written down means you’re not wasting mental energy on “must remember to buy milk”.
Don’t get hung up on making your to-do list perfect. Just jot down, in a few words, any tasks which you want to get done.
You can write out your to-do list on paper, in an online calendar, or in a specific piece of software – whatever works for you.
Do it: What tasks are on your mind for today and tomorrow? Get them onto paper.
#2: Pick One to Three Important Tasks
Having at to-do list is a great start. But if you’re like most people, your list may well contain more tasks than you can get done during the day – especially if you end up getting interrupted (or distracted).
Our natural instinct is to prioritize by urgency: we make a start on whatever’s got a hold on our attention – probably something due today or tomorrow. It might not be a very important task at all, and it might not even be truly urgent. (Can’t that email wait a few hours? Do you have to answer all your calls as they come in?)
At the start of the day, decide what one thing is most important. Then, if you want, pick another one or two tasks. Get these out of the way first, and you’ll find that all the urgent stuff still gets done.
Do it: Pick one important task to get done today – something which will give you a sense of satisfaction when you complete it.
#3: Reduce Procrastination
A little bit of procrastination is probably inevitable – and healthy. Often, when you’re idling, your subconscious is still working away on a problem.
Too much procrastination, though, can be a huge problem. If you waste hours of the day because you can’t bring yourself to tackle the tasks on your list, you may well end up working late to finish everything. Procrastination isn’t particularly relaxing, either: you know that you’re supposed to be working, so you can’t really switch off.
If you find yourself wasting a lot of time, look for ways to avoid the distractions that lead to procrastination. Block websites which eat up your time. Turn off your internet connection while you’re writing. Don’t sit down with a book, telling yourself you’ll just read for ten minutes, when you’re planning to clean the kitchen.
Do it: Ask yourself what you’re wasting time on. How can you avoid procrastinating in this way?
#4: Work in Short Bursts
When you try to work solidly for hours on end, you inevitably end up getting tired and distracted. But if you work in short, focused bursts, you can get a huge amount done.
I know writers who’ll write, non-stop, for ten minute bursts at a time. It doesn’t sound like much – but their word count soon adds up. You’ll probably want to work in longer bursts (maybe 30 minutes or an hour).
There’s a well-known adage that work expands to fill the time available. When you know you’ve only got half an hour to clear your inbox, you work faster. You’ve almost certainly experienced this before: perhaps when you had a deadline coming up, or when you were trying to get something finished off before 5pm on a Friday.
Do it: With your next task, set a timer for 30 minutes and see how far you can get!
#5: Track Your Time
This is a slightly more involved technique, so I’ve saved it for last. If you’ve tried out the other tips on this list and you want to improve your time management even further, then try keeping a time log.
A time log is simply a record of what you’re doing when. It might look like:
- 8am – Started on emails
- 8.30am – Finished emails. Read online news site.
- 8.40am – Started big report
You can jot down your log on paper, or keep a spreadsheet.
Alternatively, if you work mainly on a computer, you can track your time using a software application like Rescue Time. This won’t be foolproof, but can give you a good starting point for seeing where your time is going.
Tracking your time can seem tedious – but it’s a great way to become more conscious of how you spend the day. The act of keeping the log itself often helps people to avoid procrastinating, just like keeping a food log often helps dieters lose weight without even trying.
Do it: For one day, write down everything you do. Are there any surprises?
If you’re new to time management, what is it that you struggle with most? And if you’re an old hand at this, what tips would you share? Let us know in the comments.
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How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.