How do we know if we’re investing time in the right areas? This curated list of tips can help you (and your team) lead more productive lives.
Time is a resource like any other. But in today’s business environment, millions of hours go wasted — not because we’re not filling them with things to do, but because we’re doing things that aren’t necessarily driving results.
If you’re not already, start thinking about budgeting your time in the same way you would budget your cash. By treating it like an investment, you’ll find you’re able to reap more from it.
Below are 8 tips to help you (and your team) better manage time and be more productive:
1. Record how you spend your time for a week, and how that time helped you produce (or not produce) results.
Use a notebook or a Google Calendar to keep track of your activities, and be ruthless about including everything: the meetings marked on your calendar, but also the time you spend in between meetings — checking email, troubleshooting a computer virus, taking unplanned phone calls, scrolling through Facebook, reading an Inc. article, eating, thinking. Record it all. Taking an account of how you spend your time can help you understand how much time is actually spent on valuable, results-oriented activities and how much time goes wasted on unproductive actions, conversations and thoughts throughout your day.
2. Assign a time block for everything that’s critical to your success.
Ever feel like the day gets consumed with meetings or minutiae, and at 6pm (or later) you’re just starting that work that you said you needed to get done that day? Time often slips away from us, but it doesn’t have to with the help of better planning. Just like you’d schedule a meeting with someone else, schedule time with yourself to produce high-priority, high-value work. Then, commit to keeping these appointments with yourself and using the allotted time to get done what you planned to accomplish.
3. Do the most important thing first.
As the day goes by, things tend to spiral into chaos. The weight of the day also begins to drain your willpower, making it less likely that you’ll make a good decision at the end of the day than at the beginning. By accomplishing the most important thing first, you set yourself up to have a productive day. Even if other things don’t go to plan, you can still feel a sense of accomplishment knowing you crossed that important item off the list.
“If you do the most important thing first, then you’ll never have a day when you didn’t get something important done.” – James Clear
4. Schedule time for interruptions.
They will happen, so be prepared and have flex time built into your day to adjust accordingly. While the word may have a negative emotion attached to it, remember that not all interruptions are negative, either. In fact, some interruptions can have a positive effect on our day: a team member seeks your expert counsel on an important topic; a former colleague reaches out about a new business opportunity; a loved one calls to share good news. Allowing for flexibility can allow you to embrace these interruptions and not feel offset in your schedule. The same holds true for those “negative” interruptions: calling a plumber to fix a leak isn’t quite as stressful when it doesn’t seemingly derail your day.
5. Eliminate “half-work.”
Half-work is the reason why you’re able to get so much more done on your last day before vacation (when you’re laser-focused) than you often do in the two weeks leading up to it (when you’re constantly distracted). With today’s constant barrage of emails, texts, G-chat pings and Pokemon Go notifications, it’s rare to be fully engaged or committed to a task for an extended period of time. In fact, it often takes twice as long to accomplish half as much. Instead of checking that email inbox every 5 minutes, or reacting to every real-time notification on your iPhone, carve out time and commit focus to one thing at a time.
“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power.” – Anthony Robbins
6. Use the first 5 minutes of each activity to determine what result you want to attain. Take the last 5 minutes to determine if that result was achieved.
This can be applied to meetings, calls, and especially that scheduled time with yourself. By setting an intention for the time and reminding yourself of the goal at the start, you’re much more likely to achieve your intended goal. Reflecting back on how you spent your time and if you goal was achieved can better help you plan moving forward. For instance, if you learned that you need an hour instead of just 30 minutes to prepare effective notes for an executive meeting, carve out the appropriate block next time.
7. Find your most productive time slot, and keep it sacred.
There are times throughout the day when our brain is most conducive to strategic, meaningful work and our energy is the highest. These are the hours when we write best, think best, or simply execute best. Whatever time of day is best for you, block it off to be your most productive. Otherwise, other actions like meetings or checking email will encroach on this sacred time, and you’ll be left producing (or rather, not producing) during a low energy cycle in your day.
“Focus on your most productive time slot. Everybody has a time slot in their day when they do their finest work. Ernest Hemingway wrote first thing in the morning. Barack Obama is a night owl. (He reportedly even outsources decisions on what to eat and wear.)” – Perry Marshall
8. Learn how to automate and delegate.
You only have so many hours in a day, so why waste them on tasks that don’t require your direct involvement? Instead, pass this work on to other members of the team, or find solutions that can help you automate your workload. Doing so will help ensure your top priorities aren’t compromised.