START YOUR DAY WITH A PRIORITY LIST
Lists are always a good idea.
Everyday, I create a list of the most important items that must get done within a workday. I always try to do this the night before so that I wake up already knowing what’s on deck. Making this list at the end of the day gives me peace of mind. It lets me unwind and decompress because I know that I’m organized before going to sleep. I’ll fall asleep easy because I know that I can hit the ground running in the AM.
The number of to-dos can vary.
There are plenty of productivity/time management articles that will tell you to always write down a certain number (often 6 or 7), but I think it’s silly to fixate on that. Your list is unique to you and your job. Just try to strike a balance between pushing yourself to get the most out of your day, and being realistic about what you can reasonably accomplish. You don’t want your list to become discouraging because it’s too overwhelming. For me, this list most often varies between five and ten items.
I always organize my list with the most important or hardest things first.
This works wonders for motivation. More on this below, but checking off the scary things first makes every subsequent task seem easier and more manageable.
TIME BLOCKING AND CALENDARIZING
Time blocking and calendarizing are arguably the two most critically important time management strategies for me.
With time blocking, you give all tasks and activities dedicated, uninterrupted blocks of time so that you achieve them efficiently.
You’ll understand this if you’ve ever taken an hour to write a simple email because you keep getting interrupted by other things. Give yourself a dedicated block of time for each item on your list. Then, during that dedicated time, only focus on completing that one task.
For me, that even includes a 15 minute chunk in the morning and afternoon to check my texts. Then another chunk of time to check the news. I’ve found that one of the biggest game-changers here is time blocking emails. I don’t check my emails as they come in throughout the day. Instead, I give myself a block of time in the morning and in the afternoon to read and respond to emails. Everything that comes in during the interim has to wait. Of course, if a particularly urgent email comes in at another time, my assistant knows to alert me to those types of emergencies.
Once you come up with a list of tasks and the dedicated chunks of time needed to achieve them, it’s time to put everything into your calendar.
Not just the “big things” that involve other people (like meetings, calls, etc.), but also the “solo” projects and even the small, mundane tasks. Email correspondence, invoice processing, going to the gym, checking your bank statements, etc. If it’s on your calendar with dedicated time, (a) you’ll actually get to it and (b) you won’t be in a constant mental whirlwind of “wait what else was I supposed to do this afternoon?” Designating time frames for tasks ensures they’ll be completed, and not simply fall off the list.
When it comes to structuring your day and organizing your calendar, think about when you’re most productive.
I’m most productive in the mornings, so I like to get my “solo” work projects knocked out first. These are the items at the top of my priority list, and they’re typically what I’d consider the “hardest.” As the day wears on and I get tired, that’s when I love to do meetings, calls, etc. because talking to people energizes me. So, when my own natural energy is diminishing, I get external stimulation from those activities which provides a pick-me-up.
We all know how easy it is to get distracted or fall down an instagram rabbit hole. So you have to build in safeguards against that. I not only turn off phone notifications during the day, but I actually turn my phone on airplane mode constantly, so there’s no temptation to even look at the screen and see a barrage of listed notifications.
Team management and communication also needs to be efficient.
I might write an entire post on team management and communication. Still it’s worth noting here that it’s good to let your colleagues know that you work best by time blocking, calendarizing and turning off notifications so you effectively manage team expectations. If they know this is how you structure your day, they’ll know not to interrupt you and to either (a) hold questions until later, or (b) send you questions etc. on Slack, but not expect a response until the time you’ve allocated later in the day.
Of course, this is not always possible or practical.
There are always days where something urgent will arise and you can’t be so rigid that you aren’t able to jump out of your routine and address something that is time-sensitive. But, I’ve found that 90% of interruptions are not truly time-sensitive. It’s just something a colleague has on their mind at the time or an email that randomly comes in when you’re in the middle of another task. For the 10% of actual urgent issues, be flexible and address them, but if you follow these methods, you’ll find you regain control of your life and your time during the other 90% of your workweek.
STAY CLEAN AND ORGANIZED
This seems obvious, but it’s one I have to work hard at. I’m not naturally someone who finds innate joy and satisfaction in having a perfectly immaculate home or workspace. I’m no Marie Kondo/Monica Geller, and my idea of a fun Saturday does not involve a label maker or a trip to the container store.
I have to work at it, and make a conscious effort.
I’ve learned how essential organization is not only to mental clarity and productivity, but also time management. The amount of time I wasted in high school, college, etc. because I couldn’t remember where I saved a certain file or couldn’t find that one dress that I wanted to wear—sheesh, it makes me dizzy just thinking about it. It takes 30 seconds to put something away in an organized fashion, but it takes 30 minutes (or more!) to tear apart your home or office looking for it when everything is in disarray. Remember this every time you don’t feel like putting something away.
Are these time management tips helpful?
Overall, these are really positive changes you can make to your day-to-day to feel more in control of your time and productivity. Recognize that not everyday will be perfect, and there’s no need to get discouraged if you miss a to-do item or your time blocking gets out of whack.
The critically important thing to do is to use these tips as a framework and start to build these habits. Even if it doesn’t go seamlessly, you’re still going to be far better off than you were otherwise. Over time, you’ll start to feel like you have more control. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, because this is meant to be helpful. You should never feel like you’ve “failed” at this to the point where you give up on the whole system. Take it a step at a time, a day at a time, and you’ll be glad you did.