The idea of time management is typically defined as one’s ability to use time productively and efficiently, especially in cases such as school and work.
However, David Allen, productivity consultant and the inventor of the “Getting Things Done” method, says time management is a misleading term. “You can’t manage time anyway. Time just is,” David said. “But you can manage yourself during time, so what you manage is your attention, your focus.”
Managing Ourselves During Time
Every single one of us has the same amount of time each day. There’s no way to store, to borrow, to save, or to increase time. The only thing we can do is to decide how to use it, and we all want to use time on activities of higher value rather than lower. What it all comes down to is that time management is a game of choices, or in other words, knowing how to manage ourselves during the time that we have.
We are continuously squeezing as many tasks as we can into our days, when in fact, it’s really about simplifying how we work, getting things done faster, and doing things better. By doing so, we’ll have more times for play, rest, and doing the things we love. Isn’t that what we all want?
Instead of working harder, try investing in working smarter.
Write Your Own Time Management Rulebook
Below, you’ll find five of my preferred and favorite techniques. They are a combination of principles, rules, and skills that allow you to put your focus on the things that matter. It will also allow you to get more done and help you be more productive.
But keep in mind that everyone is different. These are the time management or self-management techniques that I find useful in my life, but you might not. Adopt the ones that work for you and always seek to refine your own practices by regularly thinking about how to improve in managing yourself.
When you write your own time management rulebook, you’ll find out that there are really enough hours in a day for everything you’d like to do. It just takes a bit of rearranging and re-imagining to find them.
1. Plan Around Your Energy Level
You may not realize this, but productivity is directly related to your energy level. Get to know yourself and find your most productive hours. When you know that, plan your work around those periods. Schedule it in such a way that you first do the high-value and high-energy task, and then followed up by low-value and low-energy tasks.
For example, I’m a morning person, so I do my most critical work from 9 AM till noon. I know that after lunch, my energy level will crash a bit, so it’s a great time to clear my inbox, make some phone calls and read some articles or blogs.
It’s also good to know your energy levels by day. Some hate Mondays, just because. Tuesday may be your most productive day? Wednesday…, anyways, if you don’t have a clue, map your work and energy levels in a spreadsheet for a couple of weeks until you identified your productivity patterns.
2. Identify Your Most Important Work
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first,” Mark Twain once said.
That frog is your Most Important Task (MIT) for the day and it’s best to tackle that first, because your MIT should be that one task that creates the most impact in progression on your work. When you get it done, it will give you the momentum and a tremendous sense of accomplishment early in the day which sets up the rest of your day. That is how you can achieve big life goals, day after day, with continuous efforts.
Look at your “to-do” list and decide which tasks help you get closer to your goals and make progress in meaningful work. Put these at the top of your list so you can focus on them first and resist the temptation of tackling the easiest tasks at the start of your day.
3. Set Time Constraints for Yourself
Learn to set deadlines, because you become more productive when you allocate a specific amount of time to complete a specific task. Parkinson’s law states: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. So, in other words, if you reduce the time you have to complete a task, you force your brain to focus and complete it.
Set deadlines even when you don’t need to. What happens is that you force your brain to focus. This way, you create a sense of urgency that pushes you to focus and be more efficient, even if you end up having to go back and add more time later.
For example: When I edit an article or a blog, a task that normally takes me around 60 minutes, I reduce the time available to 40 minutes. I create an urgency for myself, so I can increase my focus to work as hard as I can to beat 40 minutes. Also, knowing I only have 40 minutes to complete editing will ensure I don’t waste 20 minutes on checking the feed on social media.
4. Eliminate Distractions Around You
Get rid of all potential distractions, because they will hurt your productivity and focus. A study from the University of California Irvine found that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task after getting distracted.
In addition, let’s say that you have found your focus, but you got interrupted, it can take you twice as long to get back into the rhythm. Half an hour completely focused on a task is more productive than two hours switching between tasks. Let that sink in for a bit. That’s nuts, right?
Meanwhile, eliminate distractions from your work to avoid switching tasks.
5. Work From a Calendar
I have recently picked this one up: to work from a calendar instead of a to-do list. What I find useful is that a calendar forces me to rethink my work from tasks to time units. It is a small change, but it increases the chance of getting things done.
Basically, a to-do list is where you list and define “what” your activities are, while a calendar is where you identify “when” you’re going to do those things and how much time is needed to complete them.
Here’s why it works: the more you plan and schedule your time with purpose, the less time there is for others to take over your schedule. Do this mindfully and leave enough room for unexpected tasks that require immediate attention. There’s no way you’ll get it right immediately, so move things around and reschedule when needed as you progress.
By: Ye Chen