Time is our most valuable asset. Unfortunately, we waste time every day; in all kinds of ways. Think about how you spend your day. What do you wish you did better? Are you making progress toward your goals? Does negative thinking eat up your time and keep you in the same place?
“The key is in not spending time, but in investing it.” – Stephen R. Covey
My biggest tip for success? Mindset.
Switch the focus from the negative to positive. Instead of seeing an unmet goal, see the goal as something to work towards. Instead of looking at a looming to-do list and seeing all of the things that “cannot be done,” look for those things that “can be done.” Invest your time to move forward.
Despite the popularity of the phrase, there is no such thing as time management. We can’t create time, we can’t delete time, we can’t make time go faster or make it go slower. What we can do, is manage how we choose to use the time that we have.
The two most common complaints about time are:
- “I don’t have enough time.” and
- “I’m too busy.”
“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” – William Penn
We all have 168 hours in a week. The average person spends:
- 56 hours sleeping (8 hours a night)
- 40 hours working
- 35 hours eating, showering, traveling
- 37 hours for everything else
We all have the same amount of time. We are all busy. And depending on our life situations we have different demands on what we do, but we do have some degree of control.
We simply need to prioritize and be intentional with how we spend our time.
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” – Zig Ziglar
Effects of Not Managing Time Properly:
- Mediocre results
- Falling short of goals
- Stress and/or anxiety
The effects of not managing time properly can be significant. At first it might not be too noticeable, but just like compound interest, over time it builds and builds and can become debilitating.
These are all things we are trying to avoid. No-one likes to feel stressed or anxious. No one likes being overwhelmed.
When you fall short of your goals, you become unmotivated to pursue them and find excuses to delay work. Procrastination leads to reaching even fewer of your goals, and it starts a vicious cycle that can lead to burnout. Stop the cycle. Instead of going through the motions, putting your head down and ploughing through, first make sure that you are headed in the right direction.
To make the best use of time we need to manage our events smartly and effectively in the allotted time we have.
We need to work smarter, not harder.
10 Essential Time & Productivity Hacks
1. Set Goals
Setting goals is one of the key components of managing time effectively. Goals outline purpose. They set the target to what you’re aiming for, and without them you may spend a lot of time spinning your wheels without ever getting anywhere. When you write your goals down look at them, get associated with them (visualize and emotionalize), and revisit them often, you are 50-100% more likely to achieve them.
Both short and long-term goals are important. What are you looking to accomplish a year from now? Six months from now? 30 days from now? This week? Today? Overtime goals may change, so it’s important to revisit your goals frequently and keep them updated and relevant to your overall vision. Be firm on vision, flexible with the plan.
2. Plan Your Day
Although almost all plans change, the planning process is essential. One of my high school teachers had two signs by her desk where we turned in our homework assignments:
- A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.
- Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.
These are great reminders that we need to accept responsibility for how we use our time. We are responsible for planning our time, and we need to recognize that our actions or inactions affect others too.
“He who fails to plan is planning to fail.” – Winston Churchill
According to Michael Hyatt, “What gets scheduled, gets done.” If there is something you really want to do, schedule time for it. Charles Buxton said, “You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.”
The best way to make progress toward a goal is to dedicate time for it every day, even if it’s just 5 minutes. Physically schedule it on your calendar and keep that appointment with yourself just like you would keep a commitment with someone else.
3. Make Your Top Three Lists
You can get everything on your list done, just not all at the same time. One thing that works really well for me, is using top three lists. On my whiteboard every morning, I write the top three critical tasks, the top three urgent tasks, and the top three important tasks I need to accomplish that day. My big to-do list is on an app on my phone so I can add to it when things come to my mind.
Three works really well for me because it’s not a huge number. It’s just three things. I know I can get three things done.
When I start working for the day, I do the critical tasks first. As I cross them off I work down through to the urgent, and then the important tasks. If I get all the way through my list, then I can look at my big to-do list and decide what work on. John Assaraf says, “Do less better to completion. Focus on progress, not perfection.”
4. Find Your Productivity Zone
Take some time to discover what your peak productivity zone is. This is your most productive part of the day. It’s the part of the day when you have your mental peak, work feels fun, you feel great, and it is easy to get stuff done.
For me it is usually between 9:00am-11:00am. My mind is alert, it’s quiet, and I can very easily focus. This time can vary, so if you don’t know when yours is, spend some time in self-reflection until you do. Once you know when it is, protect this time. Communicate to others your availability. You want to use this time to do the most critical and top priority work.
5. Activity Does Not Equal Productivity
Use the 80/20 Rule. Keeping busy is not the same as being productive. You can fill your entire day doing busy work and not make any progress toward your goals.
Not all of the things you need to do in a day have the same importance. Pareto’s Principle or the 80/20 rule says that 20% of the work you do will generate 80% of the results. Identify the highest impact and highest income generating activities. What activities give you the biggest return on the effort you put in? Those are the 20% you need to focus the majority of your time on.
For the non-critical work, try to use your time more effectively by outsourcing, delegating, or automating it. Make sure that at least 50% of your time is dedicated to the critical 20%.
6. Eat the Frog First
The frog is the most critical activity or task that you need to accomplish. You want to make sure that you are completing this activity during your peak productivity zone. Get it done first thing. This helps us avoid procrastination; and completing one task, especially such a critical task gets you motivated to tackle the next project.
7. Focus on Your Strengths
Spend your time doing those things that you do best. Find other people to help you do the rest. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Build a team, collaborate. You can always hire other people, barter for other goods and services, or partner with people who have strengths in areas that you have to work at.
8. Pomodoro Time
This technique simply breaks your time into chunks. You can determine the length of time that works the best for you. Generally, time segments are between 20-90 minutes. The time segments should be longer for your peak productivity time, with shorter intervals throughout the rest of the day. The key to this is to only work on one task or activity at a time. Do not multitask. Multi-tasking takes longer than if you were to have dedicated yourself to work on one activity from start to finish, then moved on to work on the next.
After the first chunk of time. Stop and take a short break. Stretch and yawn. Even if it is just for a few minutes. If possible do something physical, like getting up to get a drink or walking up and down a flight of stairs. Then go back and do another concentrated work session completing a task from start to finish or at least working on it continually for 20-30 minutes. Then take another break.
Breaking up your work time using these shorter concentrated segments of time followed by a little break helps boost productivity because your body does not get as fatigued and tired. It helps you step back from your work, reflect on what you’re doing, and can help generate better quality ideas.
9. Two-Minute Rule
The two-minute rule is a great way to quickly pick the low hanging fruit. David Allen’s “two-minute rule” essentially says that the moment you realize that you have to do something, if it will take you less than two minutes to complete the task, just do it. Get it done. If it will take more than two minutes, schedule a time to complete the task later so you don’t interrupt the flow of what you are working on.
10. Break Work into Small Tasks
Take a big goal and break it into smaller goals. Then break down one of those goals into actionable tasks. This allows you to work on fractional goal achievement instead of having to finish a big gigantic goal all at once. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
This is one of my favorites because it has worked wonders for me. Sometimes we try to tackle goals that are too big without a plan for how to get there. Our goals are much more attainable when we break things down into bite sized pieces.
If you sit down and look at your to do list and see a huge project it’s easy to feel overwhelmed simply because of the enormity of it; remember, you don’t have to finish the whole thing at once.
Bonus. Plan for Contingencies and Obstacles
We need back up plans. Murphy’s Law states that “whatever can go wrong will go wrong.” And while you may not experience everything going wrong, I have found that plans rarely go as planned. If we can troubleshoot potential problems before they happen we can be prepared and ready when opposition comes.
Backup plans protect our time so that we can keep our forward momentum when we hit roadblocks.
A thought-out plan helps identify what you will do and what you will say when “life happens” and plans change. It really helps to already have your priorities identified so that when the situation arises, there is no question about what you are going to do.
“The essence of self-discipline is to do the important thing rather than the urgent thing.” – Barry Werner
Take Back What’s Yours
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “lost time is never found again.”
I have found these techniques very helpful as I have worked to balance being a single mom, an entrepreneur, a volunteer, and obtaining my advanced education. If we don’t determine our priorities someone or something else will do it for us.
Take back control of your time. Manage the tasks you do in your day and more fully enjoy the time that you have!