Time is one of our most valuable resources. Yet it seems to be the one thing that easily escapes us, so sometimes we fall short of achieving our goals in life.
We live in an era of perpetual busyness at a hurried pace, so getting the most out of our schedule is among our top priorities. Yes, working hard is important, but working smart is the key to productivity and a healthy work-life balance. If you measure your daily successes by how much you accomplish in a day, here are 20 time management tips that will maximize your productivity and save you an hour each day.
Think about how much you can do for yourself for pleasure with 60 more minutes a day.
Get familiar with your internal rhythms and how you function. When are you at your best? When do you start to drag? Which tasks on your to-do list require the most energy? Rearrange your schedule so that you get your most important work or most difficult tasks done when you are at your peak.
Block out time on your schedule to do nothing. Doing nothing might sound counter-productive, but research shows that we are more creative when we are in a relaxed state. As our days progress, our minds become cluttered with life’s demands and all that we need to accomplish. Someone with a cluttered mind is more likely to take a short-cut that may create more work down the line rather than address a situation optimally. So, doing nothing will actually help you develop more creative solutions and reclaim your time.
The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity method that recognizes that our brains are not wired to work for extended periods of time on a task. The method calls for working for a focused 25-minute period followed by a five-minute break. Working for a short period of time allows you to maximize your focus on a task without burning out. This method can be used for all kinds of tasks that might normally overwhelm you or cause burn out like cleaning your home, organizing your desk or handling writing assignments. Make sure that you shut off anything that might distract you like your phone’s ringer, social media apps or text dings.
Time debt is accrued when you engage in work that you believe is productive, but actually generates more work down the line. For example, you respond to an email to clear your inbox, but that email generates an email exchange that requires more replies in the long run. Before you schedule that next meeting or reply to that email, consider whether you are inviting more work as a result. Instead, consider how you can balance your time assets — work that reduces more work in the future.
If you’re like me, you’re often juggling multiple projects at a time. Go beyond the simple to-do list and develop a roadmap. Before you begin a project, consider the various components, each of the necessary steps you will need to take to complete the project, and approximately how long each step will take. Developing a roadmap and doing your planning in the front end allows you to kick into autopilot once you begin your project, rather than wasting time figuring out what your next step will be as you go along. You will save tons of time in the long run.
Review your to-do list and determine what items can be delegated or outsourced. Can someone attend that non-essential meeting on your behalf and send you a written report? Can someone else on your team write that memo? Can you have a maid service clean your apartment? Can you utilize the drop-off service at the laundromat? Can the kids help with some of the household chores? Think about items at work and your everyday life that can be passed to someone else and free up some of your precious time.
As our smartphones get smarter, we can benefit by utilizing apps that can make our lives easier. Here are just a few you can consider: Wunderlist manages multiple to-do lists; OneNote develops multiple online notebooks; Zoom hosts online meetings and video calls on your computer or mobile device; Cisco Spark sends you an email each morning with your schedule and to-dos for the day; FocusList tracks the time you spend on a task to keep you focused.
Why spend an hour shopping when you can use that hour to connect with your family or enjoy some downtime? Most major shopping outlets and supermarkets have apps now. You can purchase everything from your groceries on Peapod to a full wardrobe selected by a personal stylist with MMLeFleur to almost anything else on Amazon. Forget the mall and put your smartphone to work.
Unless you are a speed-reader, reading through a book can take time. You can reclaim some of that time by listening to audio books during your commute, as you prepare dinner or when you go for a run. Audiobooks are a great way to maximize your time.
The average American watches 32 hours of TV a week. Can you imagine what you can accomplish with an extra 32 hours?
Who says a meeting needs to be a full hour? It is possible to achieve more in your meetings with less time. Consider the subject matter of your meetings and try scheduling meetings for 30 minutes or less. You’ll be surprised how efficiently people manage their time during a meeting when they know they only have 30 minutes.
Some meetings are scheduled to address items that can be easily taken care of with a simple phone call or an email exchange. Review your schedule each week and determine whether the meetings on your calendar are necessary at all. Cancel those that aren’t and get those precious hours back.
Research shows that people who work in clean workspaces out-perform those who work in cluttered ones. Not only does clutter prevent you from focusing on the work at hand, but you also waste tons of time shuffling through papers and finding the information you need. Reclaim your time by developing filing systems and staying organized.
If you do work that requires deep thought and analysis, breaking up your day with meetings can be distracting and unproductive. Not to mention it can take up to 20 minutes to regain your focus. To increase your efficiency throughout the day, try chunking your time. Chunking allows you to group types of activities or certain types of information together.
Rather than multi-tasking, which requires that you shift your focus (which can waste time), chunking allows for an easier transition between activities. For example, instead of checking your emails as they come in, answer them all in one chunk of time. If you have several errands to run this week, chunk them all into one day. If you have three memos to write, chunk them into one afternoon. Plan your meals in advance and prepare them in one chunk of time. You get the idea. Chunking will save you time and increase your efficiency.
Time is precious. You can’t be all things to all people, and there are only so many hours in a day. Learn to say “no.” To what should you say “no”? Very simply, if the time-consuming activity is not aligned with your highest priorities or goals, just say so.
Have you ever found yourself getting to the office an hour early or staying late to complete a project because your day is filled with meetings? Some people only add meetings and conference calls to their hourly schedules. Consider also adding blocks of time on your schedule to work on projects that require “thinking time.” This will help you to schedule meetings around your projects rather than the other way around — and then you can actually start meeting your deadlines. While you’re at it, projects typically take longer than you anticipate, so schedule some buffer time, as well.
We walk around with the never-ending to-do list that lengthens our day. Do away with the endless to-do list and try identifying the top three items you want to accomplish in a day. Complete your top three items and then reclaim the rest of your day.
Research shows that people who exercise have increased energy levels and a more positive outlook on life — two essential elements for productivity. Adding an exercise routine to the start of your day ensures that you get it done. You will also benefit from having an extra pep in your step throughout your day that will keep you from dragging. Less dragging equals more minutes in your time bank.
Need I really say more here? Checking social media apps too often can become a real distraction and a major time waster. Take control of your time — make it easier to stop checking by removing the apps from your mobile devices.
Burn out and stress do not lead to your best. When you’re tired, malnourished and ornery, your days drag on longer than they should. Get proper rest, eat wholesome nutritious foods, drink sufficient water and stay physically active. You will accomplish a lot more in less time when you at your best.
There isn't much time in the day. This how-to guide should help you prioritize and find ways to earn a little extra time for yourself.
Ellie Nieves, JD, MBA, develops webinars, seminars and coaching programs to help high achieving women show up, speak up and step up in their careers. She is also the host of the Leadership Strategies for Women Podcast where she shares success tips to help women achieve more both personally and professionally. To learn more, go to www.EllieNieves.com.