Last week I was focusing heavily on the notion of having a major emotional Spring clean, and it makes a lot of sense that once you have found the space in your head and in made some room in your life, to then follow it all up with using your time effectively.
When we start moving towards goals, it’s pretty easy to get sucked into the “busy” trap, stuck in a constant state of catching up. Spring time is a great time to start recognizing how to make the very most out of those 86,400 seconds that we have available each day.
“Lost time is never found again.” —Benjamin Franklin
Time is a key resource that we simply cannot replenish. Here are a few research-backed suggestions that can help you make the most of the time you have.
1. Write down what needs to be done:
We often know what needs to be done and think we have the day’s tasks all mapped out in our heads. However, our memory is fallible and we are subjected to distractions throughout our day and can end up veering in the wrong direction if we are not kept in line by an effective to-do list.
Writing down what needs to be done at the start of the day, ensures that you have a record to refer back to and this is typical advice given to many when starting a to-do list. It also allows you to see how many tasks there are to be done and delegate accordingly. Seeing things written down can help to focus the mind.
There are some other benefits of having a to-do list. Research suggests that those who write down their personal values regularly seem to be healthier, experience fewer illnesses, and have better energy and attitude than others.
For me, the most effective way to go about your to-do list, is to set it at the end of the day. That is, before you finish for the day, you write up and plan the following day. I have a flash card stuck to my office light switch that says “is tomorrow planned?” and I do not leave until the next day is fully planned. Then you do not need to think about it that night, and you stroll into your office with everything mapped out and ready to go – you do not spend any brain power planning. You use your fresh mind to get productively working on your tasks at hand.
2. Don’t allocate 100% of your time:
When you’re scheduling meetings or planning your day, make sure that you allow time for the unexpected. Things happen that you haven’t planned for. For example, your children get sick (don’t I know this one?!), you can have emergencies at home, and there can be IT problems. All of these things are not regular occurrences but can be disruptive when they happen. Therefore, allow time for them. Take control of those situations, don’t let this become stressful by not having the desired time available when necessary.
3. Learn to say no and to remove more fluff from your diary:
If you’re constantly attending meetings, it can leave you with little time for any actual productive work. Organisations often adopt the culture of regular meetings e.g. weekly team meetings, but often these don’t need to be as frequent as they are. Look at the meetings that you regularly attend and work out which of them are vital. Also look at the frequency and adapt this as necessary to allow you to manage your time more effectively.
I’ve used meetings as one example of the way that people can find more time and make use of it more effectively. I learned a great deal from the work of Cal Newport and what he refers to as ‘Deep Work’ – the work you do which is important, whereby you make notable progress toward important goals and projects. ‘Shallow work’ is admin, meetings, stuff you have to do to function, but does not necessarily help you progress towards your goals. I talk to many of my mentorees about how they spend their time and so many of them are simply not spending enough time on important projects and are not saying ‘no’ to enough distractions.
When I have written a new book, or written, produced and released new audio programmes or training materials, I have cleared the decks, removed all distractions and allocated that time to getting my ‘deep work’ completed before I tend to other elements of my business. The results are that you get your meaningful and important goals completed.
4. Manage your emails:
Constantly checking your emails can eat into your time and disrupt your concentration. Set yourself specific times to check and respond to emails. Also turn off email notifications so that they don’t pop up at the bottom of your screen, tempting you to read them straightaway.
Tune in once or twice a day, and certainly get out of the habit of checking emails first thing in the morning. That time when your brain is fresh is for more important things than emails. If you do check them, simply work through the most important stuff that you can reply to immediately and then tend to the rest in another window later that day. I tend to work on my emails later in the day and work through them for a specific period of time, most important first.
Importantly though, have your emails switched off until your allocated email time is upon you.
5. Try the dripping tap principle:
Sometimes it’s hard to find an hour but we can often find 15 minutes. Therefore, allow 15 minutes each day for learning something new, or to do a task that you don’t seem to be able to get done. You will find that by the end of the week, you’ve really achieved something.
For example, I listen to audiobooks on my journey to and from the gym each morning or when out running. I learn new things and what I learn often informs my work and my life. Sometimes I’ll listen to fantasy novels or sci-fi epics, but most of the time I listen to Audible’s “Great Courses” for example and get my fill of psychology and philosophy which I enjoy thoroughly. There’ll be opportunities and ways for you to learn and be stimulated and my 15 minute journey each morning (30 mins there and back) works out to 3 hours of learning new stuff a week, 12 hours a month, which is a full audiobook a month just thanks to my gym journey. I run for more hours and find pockets of time in other ways too.
6. Start the day off with a plan:
I’m making this point again.
Plan the following day at the end of your current day. You will have more of an idea of what needs following up on. Also if you have an emergency the next morning and can’t make it into the office until later, your staff can cover your tasks by following the plan you have already drawn up.
The reason I mention this again, is because planning and scheduling your day is a ‘shallow work’ task, and you don’t want it contributing to decision fatigue earlier in the day.
Decision fatigue has been of great interest to neuroscientists. In a recent study (Danziger, Levav & Avnaim-Pesso, 2011) the researchers showed that in criminal cases, the rulings made by judges were influenced by a number of things, including the time of day. Judges gave a favourable ruling 65% of the time when made in the morning and as the judge became drained from ongoing decision making, the chances of the criminal getting a favourable ruling dropped dramatically.
Everybody’s willpower gets effected as a result of making decisions all day every day, and we tire as a result. Your brain gets tired of making so many decisions.
Therefore, plan each day as much as you can the night before, so you have less and less to think about when you begin your day – it is laid out and planned for you. Major productivity heroes like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein famously chose to wear the same outfit each day so they could devote their mental energy to being creative, productive and worthwhile.
7. Use your diary to plan ahead:
Plan for future events by putting them in your diary/calendar. Put staff holidays, upcoming events and important deadlines in there. This will ensure that you don’t have to deal with too many unplanned eventualities. Get into the habit of planning ahead and use reminders in your calendar to allow you to do this.
If you have goals, and have set an effective action plan in place to achieve those goals. Then have daily actions diarized to ensure that you are making solid progress and prioritise those tasks. Make sure your goals have a plan, a tangible, diligent plan that you adhere to and stick to. If you can’t stick to it, then reassess it and tweak it accordingly.
There are many apps to use to help with this as well as good diary management.
8. Schedule enjoyment!
You will be better at all that you do when you get to regularly play, laugh and enjoy your time. If you do not get much chance for play and laughter within your work, then schedule time to go and ensure you get to play. I often block out a couple of hours in my diary, and take my surfboard out in the VW day van and feel like I’m a million miles away from it all. Here are a couple of articles that will explain the value and importance of these notions:
However, you probably also don’t want to simply fill your time with being busy – you’ll burnout and be far less effective. Therefore, scheduling some time out and away from it all is advisable too, have a read of this in that regard: Solitude – The Importance of ‘Me Time’ and How It’ll Make You More Successful
Likewise, having some quality time with your family is important too, have a read: The Importance of Quality Family Time.
Be aware of not just scheduling aspects of your life that are goal focused, ensure you work in time for pleasure, recreation, enjoyment and the importance of your own well-being.
9. Focus on the right things:
This is a topic I cover greatly in another article that I strongly recommend you go and have a read of:
How to Be Incredibly Productive.
Understand your priorities and plan your day accordingly. Ensure that you use your time effectively to get the results you need. There are tons of things lying in wait to distract you from your ultimate goal. While these distractions have become an accepted part of work life, they can wreak havoc on our levels of productivity. When we’re in stop-and-start mode all day, we find ourselves repeating tasks, losing our place, and spinning our wheels. In fact, it can take 20 minutes or longer to re-focus after an interruption.
As I alluded to earlier, there’s a case to be made for thoroughly enjoying your time off by not doing a damn thing. Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing you can do for your productivity. You know that regular breaks are important when you’re focused on a task. You have to get up and shift your mind a little bit so you can come back to the task with a fresh perspective, reenergised. For that same reason, it’s important to take healthy breaks from your day-to-day routine. It’s crucial to self-care and self-care is an important part of the process because: It prevents “overload burnout.” It reduces the negative effects of stress. It helps you refocus.
We dream of making our ideas happen. Then another year passes while we find all sorts of reasons why we can’t start yet or time seems to have evaporated and little progress has been made. “The fear of beginning is bigger than the actuality of doing,” says artist Michael Atavar. “The only way to start is to start.”
So begin working on it, even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day. You will be amazed where it may take you in days to come! Though if it is incredibly important to you, then work out how to be able to spend quality time doing that ‘deep work’ to get it completed.
Start to rethink how you can make the very most of your time on this planet in this life to reap the most from it.