Where does your time go!? Do you feel like you are frantically working all day, but at the end of the day, every day, there doesn’t seem to be much that got accomplished? You’re not the only one. It can be a STRUGGLE to keep up these days…
We all only have the same 24 hours in each day, but some people seem to get so much more done in a day… Why is that? It’s all about time management. For success and less stress, we need to manage not only our time properly, but perhaps at the root of it all is managing our attention properly as well.
Time Management Vs Attention Management
It’s a crazy, chaotic world. It’s hard to prioritize your list of tasks when everything seems to be of utmost importance. Actually, it’s hard to even make a list that needs prioritized because it seems that every time you check your email, something new has come up.
Our attention is constantly being pulled in multiple directions. We’re often distracted from our work by other work, even. We incessantly switch back and forth between tasks all day, which keeps us busy, but definitely not productive. In fact, recent studies show that more than a quarter of the time that someone switches tasks, it’s two hours or more before they actually resume what they were doing. If you’re like me, your desk is covered in sticky notes and you have lists everywhere so you don’t forget the newest task that’s popped up. It’s endless! In today’s modern, digital world, with new interruptions every few minutes, attention management skills are just as important as time management skills.
Attention management is all about being able to control distractions and engage in long, focused activities/tasks. With strong attention management skills, people can focus on single tasking instead of multitasking, which allows them to put more effort and a higher quality of work into the one task at hand.
Manage The Madness
Organization is key. Keep all files and folders neat and organized, whether it be on your computer or in your filing cabinet. If they are not organized, take time to do this! You would be amazed at how much time you can waste just looking for certain files or documents. In your email, you can set filters that send messages from certain senders, or messages containing certain words, to specific mailboxes. Then, you can spend less time looking through them because your inbox is already sorted and prioritized for you!
Find a way to track your daily activities. There are tons of free time-tracking tools out there, like Paymo and Toggl. Download one and determine how long it takes you to perform specific jobs. Then, see if there is anywhere you can make improvements. How many hours are you productively working in a day, and how many are you spending on other things, or on lower priority tasks? With time tracking, you can identify your most (and least) productive times of the day and week. Make sure you aren’t indulging in lower priority tasks during your peak performance hours, no matter how daunting the more important jobs may seem! Use those highly productive hours of yours to bust out the hard stuff.
Set time management goals for yourself, which will help you change your behaviors and bad habits. Start by eliminating your personal time-wasters. For example, your goal in the first week can be to not partake in non work-related texting or phone calls during your work hours. In the second week, practice saying no. Your time is precious! Don’t go on that casual lunch date you’ve been dreading if it doesn’t align with your mission/goals. Try saying “I’ll have to check my schedule and let you know,” so you have time to evaluate the offer. In the third week, find another personal behavior of yours that might be sucking time from your work day and focus on improving that. Setting smart goals and sticking to them will easily help keep you on schedule and stress-free.
You are the boss. You are in charge of delegating tasks out to employees and/or outsourcing specific jobs. There are places that your time is best spent; and wherever it is not being spent well, or wherever you find yourself struggling because it’s not your preferred skillset, consider outsourcing that task to someone else. Any simple or low-priority tasks can be delegated out to your employees as well. Find employees that enjoy doing those tasks, or hire people for the job. You need to let others help you carry the load. You are not a one-man show.
It’s important that we use tools to help us manage the madness. Sticky notes, paper lists, and flagged emails aren’t enough these days. Your business needs some kind of workflow methodology. You need a way to organize and track tasks. This concept of marking employees’ responsibilities down in a visual workflow, so it’s not just in their heads, tends to give them a tangible and actionable task that they are held accountable for and need to address. With a workflow methodology in place, individuals can be more focused on what they are supposed to be doing.
Do Not Disturb
Block out distractions. If you can’t resist checking those notifications when they pop up, use your phone and/or computer’s “do not disturb” function during your projects that require a lot of focus. Additionally, if you’re on a computer, close out all other windows and only focus on what you need open. Lastly, if you have a hard time focusing because of the noise around you, try closing your door, turning on light music, or investing in some noise-cancelling headphones.
What It Is
Schedule it so it happens! A time block is just like a meeting. It is a commitment you have made to show up and do a certain task for a certain period of time.
With strategic and well thought-out time blocking, you won’t be stuck taking your work home anymore. When the work day is done, you will be too, just as scheduled. Your personal hours are yours.
We are slaves to our calendars; our lives revolve around them. Our calendars allow us to make appointments and arrangements with others. They give us our entire plan for the day/month/etc. If it is on the calendar, it needs to be done. Therefore, time blocking is one of the most effective (not to mention the easiest) productivity tools out there. The concept is simple. Mark the time off on your calendar, and when the time comes, just like every other appointment on your calendar, you DO IT! (Also, getting the tasks out of your head and into your calendar will help free up your head space so you can focus on current work.)
Time blocks are meant for deep working sessions. This is time for you to get essential tasks done in order to advance yourself and/or your business! Don’t just give yourself 20 minutes to knock out a project that should take several hours; before you even get in a groove and become fully focused, your time block will already be gone! Make sure you give yourself the appropriate amount of time, or more than is needed, to complete (or put a good dent in) each task. And don’t wait for inspiration to strike; just get started! The motivation will follow. You will thank yourself when you are done. 😉
Don’t forget to block off time to check email and take care of small, random jobs. Give yourself two or three 15-minute blocks throughout the day to address email. Then, you won’t be thinking about it all day, or switching back and forth from task to email each time a new message comes in. You will get to the emails when it is time for them, and you already know there will be time for them because you’ve made time for them! You can remain focused on your current task.
A good tactic for a lot of people is to plan their most important and demanding tasks for the morning, when their minds are fresh. Also, accomplishing a big, high-priority task early in the day tends to give them great momentum to sail through the rest of the day. Another tactic you can try is to use Mondays for your in-office days, getting everything in line for the week, as well as for your low-priority tasks (if you tend to be sleepy and move slow on Mondays). Then use mid-week days as your creative days, and use Fridays for meetings, networking, and planning for the following week. Figure out what’s best for your flow and schedule!
Analyzing Your Calendar
Using time blocks allows for great record-keeping. As you complete tasks, you can update your actual time spent. This can be helpful for tracking clients and billable hours. This also might help you make certain revelations, like you might realize that you are most productive at certain times of the day. For instance, you might see that you create graphic images quicker in the morning when you have a fresh, creative brain, rather than in the afternoon when your juice is drained. Going forward, you can block your calendar accordingly for your graphic designing tasks.
Balance equals happiness. Don’t forget to schedule your own life into your calendar too. Certain things are necessary, and can’t be forgotten or put aside. Exercise, for instance, is essential for health, happiness, and your work drive! It helps relieve stress and improves sleep. So block off time for the gym, for your kids, for your lunch hour, and don’t let work or anything else butt its way into those blocks. These things are essential to your happiness and, in turn, your work productivity.
With proper implementation, time blocking has the ability to really free up your life. Don’t forget when you are scheduling out your calendar to mark off your personal getaways and long weekends for the year, even if they aren’t yet planned. Schedule them where you want them to happen. Then, if all continues to go as scheduled, it will happen because you will time block your schedule around them! 🙂
Getting Back on Track
If you’ve struggled with time and attention management and are currently behind in your work, it’s time to get back on track. And it’s not that hard!
- Focus on the now. Stop going in circles. You’re probably just getting little bits of lots of projects done, but never finishing any of them…
- Just slow down. Block out your time on your calendar for all of your tasks and duties, then forget about them. Get them off your mind. Focus on one task at a time. Do it correctly and do it well. Multi-tasking is not effective! Remember to have fun. Don’t obsess over checking off all the items on your to-do list. Rushed work is never as good of quality, and it creates stress. Plus, getting a ton of work done today is not worth being burnt out and unproductive all day tomorrow. Instead, work at a steady pace where you can do your best work.
- Complete a task, any task. Focus on it, and don’t turn away from it for any text or email that pops up. It will feel good to finish it and have put hard work into it! Checking it off your to-do list will motivate you to do more great work. So, pick another task to work on, even if it’s another smaller task, until you’re ready to focus on your higher priority jobs. All that matters is that you’re making moves.
Still asking, “Where do I begin?”
Focus! First, time block your calendar, optimizing it for your perfect work-life balance. Then, as you start completing tasks make sure you are tracking your time spent so that your calendar can be perfected going forward. Then, all you have to do is follow your calendar, making adjustments as needed (because we all know things never go quite as planned 😉 )! Now… get to work. 🙂
Thinking you need even more help? Our friend, Phyllis Khare has created an online course to help people just like you tackle the feelings of stress that come with “not enough time”. Check out her course Time Management to see how she can help.