If you feel like there’s never enough time in the day to get everything on your to-do list done and you’re regularly plagued by the sense that important items are going undone, you probably need to change the way you’re thinking about how you spend your time. Here are five tips for reorganizing your days – and maybe your life!
1. At the start of every morning/week/month, get clear on what would make the day/week/month a success. One of the reasons people fail at managing their time is that they don’t get clarity about what the most important things are for them to achieve in any given time block. As a result, they then get sucked into spending time on things that are less important, and realize at the end of the day (or week, or month) that the things that would most powerfully move their work forward still aren’t done. If you’ve ever spent an hour in a meeting that wasn’t crucial for you while your to-do list was filled with high-impact tasks, you’re guilty as charged here.
To avoid this, figure out what one or two items are most important to accomplish on any given day/week/month, and make those your top priorities. Whenever possible, do them first before other things have the chance to intervene. The other items will fill in where there’s room.
2. Schedule time for your own work. If you let it, your calendar will fill up with meetings and other obligations to the point that you won’t have any time left to work on your biggest priorities. Rather than just hoping you’ll find the time, deliberately schedule two- or three-hour work blocks into your calendar, so that you’ve carved out some protected time to do your most important work. Then, treat them just as you would any other important obligation on your calendar; don’t schedule over them, and don’t let people interrupt you during that time. (You might even go into a conference room or another location where interruptions will be minimized during that time.)
3. Don’t be afraid to protect your own time. Work blocks won’t serve their purpose if you let them get interrupted. If someone interrupts with something that isn’t urgent, don’t be shy about saying, “I’m in a work block right now, so can we talk later?” or “I’m on a deadline so I’d love to save that if we can, unless it’s urgent.”
4. If you’re a manager, spend your time in the areas where you’re far better than your staff. Most managers don’t delegate enough and instead hold on to projects that someone else could do because the work feels comfortable or they don’t trust anyone else to do it right. But refusing to delegate means that you won’t free yourself up to take on bigger and more important pieces of work. The principle of comparative advantage is key here: It says that you should be spending your time in the areas where you’re much better than your staff – not just a bit better – because the pay-off will be greater. So while you might be a bit better than your staff at doing client intake, your experience and role means that you’re probably far more effective than they would be at developing new business, and as long as they can do those initial client screens well enough, your time should be spent on the pieces that only you can do.
5. It doesn’t matter what time management system you use – just pick one you can stick with. There are loads of time management systems around – from David Allen’s popular Getting Things Done to tons of apps that promise to revolutionize your organizational systems. The secret to all of them is that it doesn’t matter which you choose; it only matters that you choose something and stick with it. Most systems fall apart because people stop using them, or only use them halfheartedly. So if you’re serious about getting organized, resolve to stick with whatever system you pick religiously for at least four weeks – after that, it should be ingrained as a habit.
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