Last week I talked about some time management goals that I had for 2017 and some things that I still need to work on in that area. I said, “I’m pretty good at time management, but I want to be better,” and that “I’ve completed the entry level time management tips.”
I also said, while discussing my prioritization issues that I’ve read around 100 books this year, which was flagged in the comments as a lot of reading.
And it certainly is. There is no doubt that I did better with time management in 2016 than I had in previous years.
Today, I want to share with you five of the tips and tools that I used to get there.
Always Keep a To Do List
I keep one giant list of everything in my life that needs to be done at any point in the future. I then will pull things from that list for smaller lists broken down into weekly to dos and daily to dos, both for work and non-work tasks.
This may sound overwhelming, but actually has been quite the opposite. Because I have this giant list and everything gets added to it as soon as it comes to mind, I know that I am never forgetting a task. I don’t have any anxiety or worries about dropping the ball on anything.
The to do list also helps keep me from feeling aimless. There is always something to do and if I feel lost at any time I can review the list and get started on something new.
Everything Goes in the Calendar
Everything that requires any level of time commitment goes in my Google Calendar immediately. If an event or party or interview or anything else is not in my calendar, then it does not exist to me.
I follow this rule so strictly that my wife has made fun of me for it on more than one occasion. But it works!
Similar to the to do list, this allows me to get everything out of my brain and avoid the anxiety of worrying that I will forget about something I need to do or somewhere I need to be. My focus can stay on what I need to get done at any given time instead of wandering to events that I need to remember.
This also allows me to look at the week or month ahead and determine whether I can take on more commitments or if it is already looking a bit too busy. I want to be able to say yes to as many opportunities as possible, but I also know that if I try to do too much in too short of a time frame, my quality of work and my quality of life will suffer. The calendar helps a lot in this regard.
Create a Daily Plan
Creating a daily plan is an offshoot of my general to do list. Before leaving work each day I will review the to do list and plan the next day. I will usually include a few big-ticket items and some smaller filler tasks that can be done in spare time or when my concentration is waning.
I have toyed with a few different methods. I have tried a straight list, in which I just pick tasks off of it one at a time. I have tried listing the most important things first and going in order. I have tried scheduling blocks of time for each task or small group of tasks.
I have found that each of these works, but my own experience is that I need to change up my method every few months because my productivity under any one method will decline over time. I might just be weird. See what works for you.
Cut Back on Mindless Time
I used to watch a lot of television. I used to spend a lot of time on Facebook and Reddit. These were easy and mindless activities to fall back on when my brain felt fried. They also sucked up an inordinate amount of my time.
I understand the argument (I used to make it myself) that at the end of a long and draining day you need to unwind. You don’t have the energy to do anything else. I get it.
You probably don’t need all that much time to unwind, though. Try watching one show after work and then moving to another (pre-selected, so that you don’t waste willpower thinking about it) activity.
Plus, you probably enjoy watching television less than you think you do. As we learned when exploring the concept of flow, people are actually happier when they are at work than when they are watching television at home, despite the fact that they say that they prefer watching television. It is hard to feel real happiness without any sense of forward progress, growth, or development.
There are also plenty of activities that are not stressful but still exercise your brain a bit. Read a book. Even a mindless novel is better for your brain than a mindless television show. Play games. Strategy games and puzzle games (including video games) can help exercise your brain while still being a fun and non-stressful way to spend some down time.
Wake Up Earlier
Waking up earlier is a bit more controversial. Some people are night people, and I respect that.
I used to consider myself a night person as well. I also still get my most creative work done late at night when I should be sleeping. If I want to work on writing music or a novel, I try to adjust my schedule so that I can spend late nights working.
But for most days, waking up earlier is a key to being more productive. This is not due to my brain being sharper at 7am than it is at 9am or anything like that. Instead, it is just a matter of logistics.
When I used to stay up later and wake up later, I spent most of that late-night time surfing the web or watching television.
Now that I wake up earlier, I have a series of morning habits that I do. I exercise (most mornings), I meditate, I drink water, and I write morning pages, all before having to get ready to go into work.
I also get into the office before everyone else and have a really useful period of time where I can work without interruption from coworkers or emails.
Waking up earlier doesn’t actually buy me any extra time, but it does shift my waking hours into a setup that better lends itself to productivity.
How About You?
Have you tried any of these? How did they work for you? Do you have any habits, routines, or tricks that work really well for you? Let us know in the comments!