The idea of time management is a bit misleading. After all, you can’t really manage time, can you? It just is. “But you can manage yourself during time,” says productivity consultant, David Allen. “What you manage is your attention, your focus.”
We each have the same amount of time in a given day. There’s no storing, borrowing, saving, or increasing time. What we can do, however, is decide how to use it, and that all comes down to the choices we make.
We can choose to squeeze as many tasks as possible into our days, or we can learn how to get things done faster and do things better. Below, you’ll find 5 tips to help you increase your productivity and efficiency. Adopt the ones that work for you and consistently refine the practices that work best so you can always be improving your self-management.
1. Maximize Your Energy Level
According to Maqtoob, productivity is directly related to your energy level. That’s why it’s so important to learn what your most productive hours are so you can plan your work around those periods.
Do the high-value and high-energy tasks first, and then move on to the low-value and low-energy tasks. For example, if you’re a morning person, do your most critical work from 9 AM till noon. If you know that you’ll start dragging after lunch, you can focus on clearing your inbox, make some phone calls, or check out industry related articles and blogs.
Plan your days the same way. If Tuesday is your most productive day of the week, plan to maximize your energy level on that day by filling it with high-value tasks.
“If you want to make good use of your time, you’ve got to know what’s most important and then give it all you’ve got.”
~ Lee Iacocca
2. Prioritize Your To-do List
As Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
These “frogs” are a reference to your most important tasks of the day—the ones that are best to tackle first because they’ll have the most impact in the progression of your work. Think about it. When you get that “first frog eaten” it will increase your momentum and heighten your sense of accomplishment early in the day, setting you up for success for the rest of the day.
Review your to-do list and determine which tasks will help you make the most progress and move you closer to achieving your goals. Put them at the top of your list to conquer first thing, then ride that wave of accomplishment through to closing time.
“The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.”
3. Give Yourself a Time Limit
Believe it or not, you become more productive when you delegate a designated amount of time to complete a specific task. That’s the concept of Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. To put it another way, reducing the time you have to complete a task will force your brain to focus and complete it.
Working on a project that doesn’t require a deadline? Do it anyway! When you set deadlines, you create a sense of urgency that pushes you to focus and be more efficient.
For example, if you need to edit an article and the task normally takes you around 60 minutes, reduce the time available to 40 minutes. You’ll be surprised how hard you work to beat that 40 minutes! Knowing you only have 40 minutes to complete your editing will increase the odds that your mind doesn’t wander and stays focused on the task at hand.
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”
4. Eliminate Potential Distractions
“Hey look, a squirrel!”
We’ve all been there and done that because unfortunately, our workplaces aren’t distraction-free zones. Whether your “squirrel” is a chatty co-worker or that tempting desk top game, distractions can significantly hinder your productivity and focus.
Consider this…according to a study from the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task at hand after being distracted.
Try to eliminate distractions from your workspace wherever possible. After all, half an hour of focused work is more productive than two hours of switching between tasks.
“There is no waste in the world that equals the waste from needless, ill-directed, and ineffective motions.”
~ Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr.
5. Use a Calendar
If you struggle with to-do lists, try working from a calendar instead. Using a calendar will force you to rethink your work in terms of time units rather than tasks. It may be a small change, but it’s one that will increase your chance of getting things done.
As you know, to-do lists define “what” your tasks or activities are, whereas a calendar identifies “when” you plan to get those things done and how much time you’ll need to complete them.
Why does it work? “The more you plan and schedule your time with purpose, the less time there is for others to take over your schedule,” says Maqtoob. Be mindful in your planning and make sure to leave enough room for unexpected tasks that require immediate attention.
“In truth, people can generally make time for what they choose to do; it is not really the time but the will that is lacking.”
~ Sir John Lubbock
It was once said that, “The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: “I did not have time.”
Fortunately, we don’t have to be the victims of wasted time. We each have the capacity to decide how to use it by the choices we make.
Use the 5 tips above to help improve your self-management, which will, in turn, increase your productivity and efficiency.
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