Have you ever noticed some people seem to have the superhuman ability to squeeze more out of their allotted 24 hours than the rest of us? What secret power do they possess? I’m going to let you in on a little secret. There’s no mystic power at work here. No ability to stretch time or to super speed through the tasks at hand. These seemingly gifted people have adopted a set of habits that allow them to use their time more efficiently and with a little bit of practice, you can too.
Make a to-do list
It seems almost overly simplistic, but taking time each day to sit and jot down a list of all you must accomplish is a time management must. Knowing what lies ahead of you is half the battle. Once you’ve identified what needs to be done, you can put into practice the other life hacks that will keep you moving forward in admirable (and productive) fashion, as opposed to slogging through the day.
Allocate estimated time
Now that you know what must be done, take an educated guess as to how much time each task should take you. There’s certainly some wiggle room to bend a bit if a project takes longer than anticipated; but try to be as realistic as possible.
Some projects are simply more important than others and some are naturally less labor intensive. Perhaps a task needs to be finished by the end of the day, but it’s one of those things you can knock out in the last five minutes before you wrap up and leave. You can establish priorities accordingly.
Make a plan
Now that you know what must be done, roughly how long each component should take, and how urgent (or not) each task is, create a game plan. Here’s a hint: plug in the biggest project in at the start of your day. You may not consider yourself a morning person, but the truth is, for most of us, the most productive time of day is the start of it. Distractions and small fires have yet put demands on our time. We’re not yet feeling the pressure of the clock running down and, frankly, the coffee is fresh in our systems. Once you’ve completed your top priority and/or most labor-intensive task, switch gears and tackle something quick and easy. Then refocus and dive into the next big item.
Don’t load the day’s schedule
It’s tempting to jam back our to-do list and fill our daily schedule so that every waking moment is claimed. Don’t do it. Remember, even the best laid plans may be subject to change. You will end up feeling overwhelmed if you start to feel like you’ve got no room to breathe and no ability to change course midstream. What happens, then, when you are faced with a real-life game changer? A client has a last minute need that demands your immediate attention … A staffer is out sick and her priority projects find their way to your plate … Your son’s school calls and you have to go pick him up because the flu found him. Your daily plan needs to have open space to accept the unexpected in stride. If you don’t need to adapt, that’s okay too. That just means more time to fit in the stuff you didn’t expect to wrap up today. Awesome!
Take the easy wins
There are going to be days when deadlines are piling up and you feel the stress settle in before you even begin to think about how to get it all done. Take a different approach on those days. Remember those easy five-minute projects we were plugging in between the heavy lifting? Tuck a few of those in at the start of your day. You’ll knock a few items off your to-do list with relative ease, which will in turn, give you a boost of confidence to tackle the rest.
For some reason, we’ve fallen into thinking that the more time we pour into our work day, the more we can accomplish. In fact, the opposite is true. Hit the pause button. Take 5 minutes. Take lunch. Spend 20 minutes at a coworker’s desk talking about last night’s ‘most-talked-about’ television event. When you return to your tasks, you’ll be refocused and reenergized. I promise.
Take an assist
Learn shortcuts. Use technology. Delegate. Find ways to move even little bits of your workload onto other plates – digital or human.
It’s okay to say no. In fact, it’s important that you learn to use that word and mean it. When you’re asked to participate in a meeting or to take on another task, fairly evaluate if this is something you need to be doing and that you have the time to do. If you don’t need to do it and/or you don’t have the time, say no. Offer an alternative. Is there someone else who could step in or another time you can take on the task?
If you’re struggling with this last step, I understand. Saying “no” is often one of the hardest hacks to master. Stop by this space next week and we’ll dive a little deeper into how to say it and mean it.