Throughout the last year, I’ve read and listened to a lot of educational material on how to manage time better. I’ve read and heard many pieces of advice from several knowledgeable sources : websites, life coaches, businessmen, and others.
And most importantly, I now apply them on a daily basis, with the result that my daily productivity has increased significantly.
But at the same time, I believe many of those valuable pieces of advice, coming from various sources, are scattered around the Net, so I’ve decided to write this article to list them together and also organize them better. Some of those time management tactics are mine, but most others come from other authors. Anyway, here’s what I’d advise anyone to do :
Before You Start : Prepare Your Day
Before you can spend your day in a productive manner, you need to prepare for it. Good preparation is the key to having a wonderful day of fruitful work – and it starts the day before. So remember to :
- Go to sleep early enough so that you get enough sleep (and therefore, enough rest for your mind and body) the next day. Don’t stay up until midnight or 1 AM. Unless you’re one of those few people who work best at night (the so-called night-owls), go to bed as early as possible, preferrably at 10 PM. Some people think they can hack away a few extra hours by going late to bed, but in fact, they’re just cheating themselves. If you don’t give yourself enough sleep, you will feel dizzy, tired, and have big trouble concentrating the next day from the very start. So always give yourself at least seven, and ideally eight, hours of sleep – at the time when you feel the most tired.
- But before you go to bed, remember to plan your next day. Think of everything you’ll have to do tomorrow and write it down on a piece of paper, in a planner or in an app on your smartphone or tablet (I personally prefer the TickTick app). That way, you won’t forget anything, and you’ll also sleep easy at night, knowing you’ve already planned everything for tomorrow.
And Now the Big Day Has Come !
If you’ve followed my advice above, you will surely be ready for the next day. Here’s how to effectively manage your valuable time so that it’s not a wasted day :
- Look again at that to-do list. There’s a lot of tasks on it, isn’t there ? Time to organize it by priorities using the ABCDE method (which I’ve learned from Brian Tracy). Here’s how to do it :
- Which of your tasks (in your private life or at work) are so important that failure to complete them would have serious consequences for you ? For example, financial losses, missed business opportunities, reprimands from your manager, or lots of angry customers ? These are A-class tasks; they are of utmost importance. They should be your top priority. If there is more than one of them, decide which is the single most important one, and designate it as A1, and the other top tasks as A2, A3, etc.
- Which other tasks have to be done today, but if not done would only have minor consequences (e.g. one angry customer or some other minor annoyance) ? That is, which ones have to be done but are nowhere nearly as important as A-class ? They are B-class tasks. Do them, but only AFTER you’ve done all those from the A group.
- Activities which are not obligatory, just good to do, are C-class. That is, you can do them and it would be good to do them, but there would be absolutely no consequences to not doing so. Examples include seeing your friends, playing pool, going to a cinema, etc.
- D-class tasks are simple, usually manual or repetitive, activities which you can delegate to others because they’re perfectly capable of doing them.
- E-class activities are time wasters : visiting Twitter and Instagram, reading tabloids and the gossip press, etc. Avoid them like the plague.
- Whatever task you plan, set a deadline for its completion, e.g. Aug. 16th at 3PM. That way, it’ll be harder for you to procrastinate.
- Start your day as early as possible. It’s simple : if you went to bed early enough the night before, you’ll get enough sleep, and then you can get up early in the morning and, after shower and breakfast, start your day early. Especially since most people’s peak performance time is in the morning, right after having several hours of sleep.
- Develop a morning routine of productive behavior. The first 1-2 hours of your day are the “golden hours”. The way you spend them will show how you’ll spend the rest of your day. So when you get up, DON’T start your day by checking email, Facebook, Twitter, or SMS on your phone. Start instead by some physical exercise, by meditating a bit, and by showering and eating a healthy breakfast (no processed junk food!). Then, spend 30-60 minutes by reading (or listening to) something educational or motivational to set you up for success. That way, you’ll have invested the first 1-2 hours of your day in your personal development, health, fitness, and hygiene instead of some garbage like social networks.
- Start doing your tasks one by one, beginning, of course, with the most important ones (A-class). Do only ONE thing at a time ; don’t try to “multitask.” “Multitasking” is a corporate scam which is a supposed ability to do several things at the same time. But in reality, human attention is like laser light : it can only be concentrated on one thing at any given time. A person doing several things simoultaneously will not do any of them well. So do only ONE thing at a time and concentrate 100 % on it, and that way, you’ll complete that task faster than you think. Block any distractions that might disrupt your work : put up a “do not disturb” sign, turn off your phone, turn off email notifications in Outlook, and close all web browser windows not related to this current task. If you work at a corporation and have to use a corporate IM like Lync, switch your status to “do not disturb.”
- Don’t fall for the temptation to start by doing the easiest tasks first (the so-called low-hanging fruit). Many people fall for this, and once they finish those trivial tasks (which usually takes them long), they mentally masturbate by congratulating themselves : “I’ve forwarded this email with attachments from Bob to Sue, yay ! Task completed!” If you want to be really productive, start with the HARDEST tasks (which usually tend to also be the most important, and the most rewarding, tasks) and don’t stop for a moment until you finish them. As Brian Tracy says, “Eat that frog!”. Because when you finally complete them, you will feel a surge of satisfaction (called “flow”) that will help you perform even better during the rest of the day !
- If any tasks are long and complex, requiring more than an hour to complete, break them down into multiple chunks of 1 hour each.
- Every hour, or after completing each of your hardest tasks, take a 5-minute break – just 5 minutes – to rest, drink some water (or coffee), and prepare for the next task. You’ll then find it easier to continue working. Don’t work 8 hours nonstop.
- Make sure that the environment you work in is optimal for you. If you’re like me and can’t concentrate in a noisy environment, find a quiet one. If you work at a corporation, ask your manager if you could work from home. If not, and if it’s your colleagues who make noise at the office, ask them to behave more quietly, as this will benefit everyone, not just you.
- Organize all your documents (in both paper and digital version) into folders in locations you can easily find. Every document you have or use needs to have a specific, easy to find thematical folder, which in turn should be in a location easy to remember. Organize such a system both at work and at home – for your paper documents and on your computers. According to Brian Tracy, it’s estimated that the average person wastes 30 % of his or her time daily looking for misplaced items.
- Time spent at airports, onboard planes, trains, urban public transport, and at waiting rooms (e.g. at the DMV or the dentist’s) does not have to be lost time ! Use it to your advantage. You can either work on your laptop (if there’s an electric socket or if your battery has enough juice) OR read something and thus educate yourself (which is why I take several books wherever I go). If you spend lots of time driving, turn off the radio and listen to educational audio programs while you drive.
- Learn to say “no” : many other people will ask you to do something. Indeed, if you rise to any position of power, the demands on your time will be enormous. Refuse to fall into this trap. Learn to delegate tasks and don’t let others distract you with petty issues. If others want something from you, it better be important.
I acknowledge that I’ve not always followed the above advice myself, but when I have, I’ve been far more productive than I’ve been otherwise. These tips can help you become much more efficient at anything you do. You’ll now have enough time for anything you need to do.