Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
Meat Loaf says it best: “if you are only killing time it will kill you right back”. How true.
As we all try to cram more into our days, weeks, and nights we are creating unsustainable expectations for ourselves and for those that rely on each of us to get stuff done. In a previous post I offered my opinion on what I would consider dangerous and potentially life-threatening “time savers” that seem to be becoming commonplace in our manically productive world. Sleep deprivation, texting or emailing when driving, fast food and avoiding exercise were all on my list.
With that aside, I would now like to share the seemingly effective strategies I personally try to utilize for managing and maximizing time. But to be clear, I don’t have a degree or certificate in time management from any reputable institution. I am just a busy working mom of four kids who has been able to stay fit, get a Master’s degree, and run a business all because I can get lots done in a day. I have also read numerous books on productivity, health, happiness and personal development and have been able to incorporate many of the strategies I have read and learned into my world. So, here are what I would call my “tricks of the trade”…
1. I prioritize. What are your time priorities? If you answer “clearing my inbox, answering and responding to calls, getting projects done” then you have not looked at your life from the proverbial 30,000 feet. You are missing the big picture. Personally, my priorities (in order) are my health, my family, my career, and my personal development (yes, health comes first – without this the others are jeopardized!). So, my time spent always aligns with those. My health time includes sleeping, preparing healthy meals and exercising. My family time includes all that is involved in being a mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin, grandchild, etc. My career is all that I do to manage my clients and business. And my personal development includes many of my social relationships, reading books and attending school, conferences and workshops. I make sure that every day includes at least one activity under each domain and recognize that some weeks my time shifts between these unevenly, but that in the next week I will find a way to correct course. Nothing I ever do under any of these priorities can be considered a “waste of time” as that would put me in a negative mindset (i.e. having to take a day off to manage a sick kid is never met with angst – “sick kid” falls under the family priority). Having set and firm priorities allows me to dictate how to schedule my time ensuring the right balance over a day, week and month between the four pillars of my life.
2. I live in the non-urgent but important quadrant. I love Stephen Covey’s thoughts on time management from the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. Consider that if everything on your list is “urgent and important” you are doing something wrong and have not planned your time properly. While urgent things may creep into our day, ultimately being proactive and planning effectively means that you can focus on important things and manage these before URGENT happens. To balance my priorities I ensure that nothing “unimportant” lands on my desk or in my schedule. After all, I just don’t have time for “unimportant”.
3. I am proactive. Being reactive is a time waster. When we “react” we enter a different head-space, are required to shift our focus from the events of the day to something unplanned, and often spend more time picking up the pieces than we would if things didn’t crumble in the first place. Do you have a warning light on in your car? Get it into the shop before you are stranded at the side of the road spending hours dealing with roadside assistance and not having access to a vehicle. Or better yet, schedule your car for regular maintenance to keep it running smoothly. Feeling sluggish or unwell? Take a day off to recharge, make some changes to your routines, or get into your doctor before you enter full-blown illness. Taking one day off to feel better is more effective than the week you will need when the illness spreads.
4. I use technology wisely. Technology is a tool, but it is also a trap. My phone has a few productive apps but no games. Personally, “playing video games” does not align with my priorities as these have nothing to do with my health, family, career or personal development. I also don’t use my phone to conduct business – more to just be informed about it. Trying to conduct business on a smartphone often leads to errors in typing, autocorrect, and changes the response to something shorter, even curt. I would prefer to respond on my computer, or make a phone call versus emailing on a device. I also don’t watch TV – unless it involves a family movie or show we can all enjoy together. Technology for me is an information tool for my business, and an “in the moment” way to communicate, but otherwise I think use of those gadgets are a waste of time, not the opposite.
5. I plan ahead. Proper planning is always an effective use of time. Leaving your home to realize your meeting is thirty minutes farther away than you expected, driving somewhere to realize you forgot something, going to the grocery store without a list, arriving to a meeting without reviewing the agenda beforehand, or cramming your Powerpoint the night before are all signs of poor planning. In our personal lives being unprepared wastes time and money, in our professional lives these jeopardize our professional reputation. Make time in your schedule to proactively manage your “to do’s”.
6. I know myself. Are you in tune with your capacity? Personally, I know my limits and recognize when I work best. For example, I am most effective at writing (reports, documents, blogs, etc) in the morning. From 8am to noon I can fly through written tasks quickly. After noon, my focus wanes and it is easier for me to work on emails and calls as these require more short-term attention. This is how I try to structure my workdays. I also know things that I am good at, struggle with, and those things that I have taken on before with poor outcomes. Knowing this helps me to stay in my strengths as this is where I am most effective.
7. I use lists. In “The Art of Stress Free Productivity” and even “The Four Hour Workweek” both authors suggested that each day should start with a list of the top 3-5 things that need to be done that day. No exceptions. I find this strategy exceptionally helpful and each morning, or even the night before, I write a short list of “to do’s” and enjoy crossing things off as I accomplish them. Sometimes the list is separated by “personal, kids, work” etc. to match my priorities. And if I find myself wandering from my list to other tasks (i.e. my email inbox), having this in front of me grounds me back to the tasks that need to come first.
8. I take notes when reading. When I read educational or development books I always have a note pad and pen with me. Why? Because to read a book about personal development and to not take away or implement any of the strategies after makes reading a waste of time. If there is information I can benefit from, I want to capture that in a place where I can incorporate it into my life and review it later. This optimizes my reading time and self-development priority.
9. I manage my energy levels. Maximizing my energy levels maximizes my productivity. I do this by eating well, sleeping well, managing stress, and exercising.
10. I delegate. To effectively delegate you need to look at the resources available to you and determine who might be able to take some of the responsibility and run with it. If you know you don’t have time to take on a new project, say no, or figure out who you can enlist to support you in getting the job done.
11. I practice self-discipline. It is easy to be distracted, coerced, or tempted by other, maybe more fun, but usually less productive, tasks. That phone conversation with a friend, google wandering, checking Facebook, that lengthy lunch. While these may ultimately align with your priorities, the things you are neglecting during your productive hiatus will only work to move things from “important” to “urgent” in no time. Self-discipline allows you to firmly focus on the tasks on your “to-do” list versus those other enjoyable activities that might sway you in a less productive direction. So, get the “to dos” done first before being pulled in other directions.
Do you have other time maximizing ideas? I would love to hear them.