Lost time is never found again.
– Benjamin Franklin
I never seem to have enough time to do the big things that I want. Those ideas that keep me up at night, my lifelong dreams and aspirations seem to stay just that. Yet somehow I have enough time to catch the latest episode of South Park or scroll through Facebook. Why? Because it’s easier to tune out on the couch. Sound familiar?
I’ve been researching time management practices to see if I can trade in some of my poor habits for good ones. Here’s the advice that I’ve come across that makes the most sense:
Define your priorities
We all have a variety of things that take up our day. Figure out which things are a must, should or want. Plan your day around the must, scheduling in the remainder with stuff from the should and want list. Just be sure to keep in mind what you need to accomplish in the immediate term to work towards your larger, long-term goals. This brings me to the concept of importance vs urgency.
Important vs urgent
It’s understood that people tend to spend most of their time in the left column. This makes sense for those things that are important and urgent, but what about those things that are definitely important, but have no urgency? How do you avoid them falling through the cracks? Ultimately it’s a matter of staying organized, and eliminating what is urgent and not important (bye South Park marathons!).
On a regular basis take a look at your responsibilities, tasks and hobbies and plot it all on this chart. It will give you a good idea of where you are spending your time, and help you visualize what needs to go.
Create a routine
Have you ever needed to start working on a new project, but couldn’t muster up the energy to begin? Sometimes starting is the most difficult part of the job. One way to combat this is to create routine. It’s a way to subconsciously let your brain know it’s time to work, and make that initial hurdle a little easier to jump over. Routines will vary greatly person to person, but they do work best if they truly become a habit. For example, you might start your day with 30 minutes of exercise, drink a cup of coffee while you review your schedule, and listen to the news. Whatever works for you!
Begin your day with the most meaningful work, end with the easiest
This one is hard for me. Especially after a night of crappy sleep, the last thing I typically want to do is start with the hard stuff. But this tip is grounded in truth. It’s been found that when people have outstanding things on their to-do list, whether it be mundane household chores or important project for work, thinking critically and focusing becomes difficult. So by getting your more challenging work done right of the bat in the morning, your brain can relax and focus on whatever else comes up. Also, the more you put work off, the harder it is to get started. The brain is so (too) good at making up excuses. This is why so many people have a hard time getting to the gym after work.
Work on your project every day
Whatever work you have prioritized, make it a point to do it every day. The work or learning that you do daily will add up significantly over time.
Develop a rhythm
Humans have natural rhythms. We have limited amounts of attention and need built-in breaks to refill our tanks. The actual time is different for everyone. You might do a great job of focusing for 90 minutes, or two hours. The trick is to experiment and find what works for you, and then schedule your work in these increments, with small breaks in between.
You’re not in the mood to work? Oh well. Show up anyway. This might be the harshest advice, but it’s definitely valid. If something is important to you, then you need to do it regardless of whether you want to or not. This creates discipline that will go a long way in helping you accomplish your goals.
Cut the distractions
What voluntary things do you spend your time on that suck time and energy? Social media or email? TV? Whatever it is, just stop. At least when you have scheduled your focus time for your work. People are not good at resisting temptation, so do yourself a favor and remove it completely.
Batch similar tasks together
It’s best to do similar tasks together to keep your brain from needing to switch gears. If you need to write or code for multiple projects, try doing them back to back instead of inserting other tasks in between.
Pinpoint why you procrastinate
Do you avoid working on a project because you are bored? Do you not know how to do something? Are you afraid of criticism? Think hard and really figure out what the issue is. Once you know, you can do your best to deal with it and move on. If you are bored, try and add something that will make it more interesting, or just get it over with. If it’s a lack of knowledge, try and expand your skills.
Learn to say no
We all are constantly bombarded with requests. Start aligning these requests with your priorities, and say no to the things that don’t have an impact on your goals.
What do you think of these tips? Do you have any you would add to the list?