Disclaimer: This is not going to be about beating procrastination, but just some tricks that could be helpful for managing your time and making the best of it.
I consider myself a good time manager, and can — at least on most days- be as productive as I plan. Some of the habits that help me with that, I’ve developed unconsciously. But for my Office Tales interview for Baron Magazine I found myself having to think about those habits more clearly to answer some of the interview questions. And this made me want to actively think about them more, understand the habits and tricks better and research what science and other people say about them so that I can hopefully perfect them even more.
Here’s what I found out so far:
Life gets messy and lists add some order and sense to it.
I’ve expressed my love for lists before and I don’t think I’ll stop any time soon. Whatever works for you; digital list, checklists, to do lists, bucket lists.. as with me.. all those lists at the same time is an option too.
The main idea is to get all those thoughts out of your head and onto “paper”, to un-clutter your mind to help you focus. Once they’re written down somewhere I can trust that I won’t forget them (please don’t lose your lists) and I can concentrate on actually getting things done.
Plus of course the added joy of crossing things off when they’re done, but more on that in nr. 10.
2. Break it down
Our to do lists can be extremely intimidating though and probably not very helpful if the first item on it is something like “go to the gym everyday and get fit” — not happening. Break it down, make it specific, and spread the parts of several days within a plan. Smaller tasks are easier to start and complete.
Instead of thinking you need to write that blog post, maybe decide you’ll write one section every day. Instead of cleaning all the house in one day, divide the rooms over a few days.
3. Start with what you like
Forget priority for just a second and instead start with whatever you’re excited about the most. There’s usually at least one thing about a task that’s either more exciting or even just easier than others. I like to start there.
Starting with something you’re excited about is obviously easier than things you’re dreading or that you don’t really know how you will do. So this can actually help get you going and motivated to do more. Additionally it helps in getting me into the right mindset, focus my energy and slowly tune out distractions.
4. Get small things out of the way
It’s probably up to you to decide what a small task for your schedule would be. Some people recommend a 2 or 5 minute rule: " If it takes less then X minutes just do it."
But it probably really depends on the nature of your tasks. The thing is, if it can be done quickly and easily, don’t let it stay a burden for too long and get it off your list.
Of course the day shouldn’t be spent on a million small tasks — but it’s probably very motivating to plan a limited time for the smaller tasks to feel productive and get some quick achievements.
Speaking of limited time….
5. Time block tasks
After breaking down the tasks, it helps to define specific time blocks for them- could be over weeks or over hours. But making a conscious decision about how long you will spend on a specific task creates the urgency of the deadline that we all know can get magic done.
Time slots also help to avoid trying to multitask. It’s so tempting to start thinking about that other thing you have to do, especially if it’s a task you’re dreading. But when you know that you will start working on it in 3 hours exactly, it’ll be much easier to ignore it and not let it distract you. Time slots will also help plan healthy breaks in between tasks, for quick snacks or some stretching.
Of course there are sometimes those inspiring sessions when you find your flow and just want to keep going. It’s probably not a good idea to interrupt that, so there’s a level of flexibility with your schedule needed (and I wish there was a formula for that, but unfortunately it’s something you’ll have to learn to assess for yourself).
6. Visualize your time
Visualize the time blocks, use colors, use words, whatever helps you get a good picture of your day and time and what will happen in it. The clearer the picture the more control you have over it.
My google calendar works for me but there was a time I loved my physical weekly planner more. Whatever medium works for you, the more personalized and detailed your planner is, the more in control you can be over your time.
7. Do more
“If you want to get something done give it to a busy person” — Benjamin Franklin (really?)
I find that a healthy level of business can be extremely helpful in being productive. The slight stress of feeling that you have so much to do can sometimes initiate the same motivation and rush that can make a person write a 10 page paper the day before the deadline.
Sure it’s important to realize when it’s too much and when you need to say no. But just know your limit and don’t leave much time to slack off. The more time we have the lazier we get. Days that are already full somehow tend to be more productive. Use that.
8. Know your habits
Some people work better in the morning, some are night owls, some prefer to focus for longer periods, others need breaks every 30 minutes. Everyone has their habits. Understand them, and work your schedules around them.
If you are most focused in the morning, then- as much as you can — schedule your meetings afterwards when you’re ready for more collaborative work and discussions. Using meetings to create the time blocks is also a good trick to minimize wasted time.
9. Lose the guilt
That’s one I’m guilty of — a moment to appreciate the irony — but I constantly need to remind myself not to beat myself up about off days.
Sometimes I can plan well and understand my capacity for a specific day, other times I’m way off, and I’m over-ambitions in what I plan. Even more often days just don’t go as planned. And that’s ok!! Because there are also days where I can get a lot more than than I expected.
"It’s normal to have days where you can’t work and days where you’ll work 12 hours straight "— Alain Paquin
There’s just no point feeling guilty about it, and unless you’re bound by a tight deadline you’re better off doing some other activity that takes your mind off the stress of the task.
10. Celebrate accomplishments
If your goal for the day was to get those 4 things done and you did them. You’re done! Even if you have time to spare, don’t force or squeeze a 5th one into the day.
Celebrate your productivity and reward yourself. Be satisfied, go watch that show or eat some Nutella. It often helps to plan that “reward” ahead for extra motivation for going through that list.
BONUS ❤ Here are some of my favorite productivity tools