“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”– Andy Warhol
We all experience feelings of being unable to accomplish everything we set out to do. Yet we each get 24 hours a day, all to our own. So, why do some days seem to whoosh past and we don’t know where they went, while on other days we feel very productive? We see others we think use their time more efficiently than do we, and we see some who seem addicted to the quagmire of busy being busy, yet accomplishing little.
What is productivity to you? For most people, it’s doing something that matters to them. How would you benefit from improving time-management skills? And, what if it isn’t a “time management” issue, but rather “you management” issues?
Time sometimes feels as if it slips away because we allow many things to become time thieves. In order to use time wisely, identify and eliminate those things. Making good choices is an important life skill. Despite what we think our best efforts, we don’t always manage ourselves sufficiently to gain the results and outcomes we’d like. Even people who know these things do not always use it to their best advantage. Knowledge serves us only when we actively and consistently implement it. So, some reminders:
Are you clear about what you really want? Not what others want for you, nor what others want from you. If you don’t know what you want, life’s a bit like planning a trip without having a destination.
Routines: Become consciously aware of how you use your time…all the time, not just “work”. Notice how and when you waste time and/or use it wisely. Are you using it the way you claim you want to? How do you waste most of your time? Routines leverage your time and free your conscious mind from having to think about what you are doing, and allows your mind to work more effectively, finding solutions to other more important issues. The more efficient, the more time you have for other things. Vigorously review your daily routines. They become automatic and save you time if they are solid and efficient. Are yours? How can you hone them further?
Make a plan: Many plan but don’t break it down enough. Be very specific. Like finding the lowest common denominator in math, break things down into their smallest bits. Write down the step-by- step “how” of things. Having a list will help you get back on track quickly when you become distracted, facilitates more easily organizing and assimilating what needs to be done, and creates less dread or over- whelm. Your focus will more easily and effectively move from task to task, and you can see what you’ve accomplished. The
larger the project, the more important this is, but it will make the steps clearer and your work go more quickly and efficiently on tasks of any size. Making very specific plans creates more clarity of processes required, frees up more mental space, and allows more efficiency. But beware over-planning. Keep it simple. Don’t spend all your time planning: you want to actually get things done.
Prioritize: Be aware priorities will shift because situations change. The important thing is to be able to recognize, juggle or shift as needed. What is not negotiable? Must everything on the list be done? What are things that make meaningful differences? Assigning priorities is an individual process, and can be approached in many ways. Only you can set your priorities. Studies tell us, on average, people juggle about 15 personal projects at any one time, but the brain can only process about half that information at once. Keep it manageable; list no more than 4-5 things per day. More will add pressure and distraction.
If you’ve listed too much or not enough, you can adjust it later. Break things down into categories like what must be done, what needs be done, what you’d like to do, or even as work, personal, fun. Set priorities for a day, a week, a month, a year, but ultimately, you need to deal with tasks “today”. If you choose to include a longer view, include what you need work on each day to also achieve your longer-term goals. Working a bit at a time, day by day, is less daunting plus you’ll be more likely to meet targets without full-blown last minute stress.
Some say priorities are best tackled by working first on what produces the greater result and to take on big stuff early in your day. Others say start with smaller, easily completed tasks that give an immediate sense of accomplishment to motivate you as you begin the day. Some start their day energetically gung-ho while others prefer to ease into the day. Which approach works best for you? If you work on only one thing today, what will it be? Ideally, if you tend highest priorities each day, you’ll be more productive. But when everything slams you at once, consider how all variables help or hinder meeting your objectives.
Schedule. There are always interruptions and distractions. Begin with ongoing, current commitments. Be realistic in projecting how long tasks, meetings, project completions etc. will take. There’s sometimes significant disparity between “work time” -something’s expected to take a couple hours- and “real time” – maybe it takes all-day or longer. While you need honor time of others, consider meetings and appointments carefully. What time of day are you most productive? Claim at least part of that time for tasks requiring greatest concentration or uninterrupted time. For peak focus, work for 30-45 minutes blocks of time whenever possible.
On average it takes about 30 days to form new habits. Ponder, tweak, and practice the above suggestions this month, and we’ll look at more considerations next month.