Here’s how I have learned to maximize my time. One or more of these tips can work for you too.
Do you have a lot going on? You’re probably ambitious, as hard workers are, keeping your eye on the next opportunity and making sure you have enough business to meet your goals. It’s easy to have so many plates spinning that it’s hard to focus, prioritize, and ultimately complete your tasks.
When I have an overflowing schedule, I rely on these strategies I’ve learned over the years to manage and complete all my tasks.
- Timer – This might sound trite, but it works in two ways. First, if I get sidetracked, the timer calls my attention and brings me back to the task at hand. Therefore, I set my timer for 20 or 30 minutes. I keep my billable hours with a handwritten ledger, I write the start and end time of each task and bill accordingly. When the alarm goes off, I readjust the start time if I have yet to begin the task. Secondly, working against the clock is a great motivator, but I need a real bumper or my task will expand to fill the time I have that day. I need a hard end time like an appointment that forces me to leave the office, or knowing that I need a few hours for the next task and don’t want to work after 5 pm. Building in a reward helps me too. If I complete my stuff early, I can click through pics on Pinterest or watch a YouTube video on something not pertaining to work.
- Schedule Bumpers – The worst thing for my productivity is a blank page in my schedule. I need structure and bumpers can supply that. These hard end times help break-up the day into segments. Set some standard routines to give your day structure. This is especially helpful for creatives who are only working against their own timeframe. Authors often share how they create a structured day to keep them in their seats typing away. This can be as simple as a lunch time you stick to, a workout time that you dedicate yourself to. If you are like me, the self-imposed bumpers do not work as well as those that are decided for you. I used to take a lunch break at noon every day because I watched a cooking show until it was canceled. That 12 o’clock hour was a remarkably effective delineator for my day. I became determined to finish some things before my noon lunch/TV break, then return to my computer to more tasks before I had to go pick-up my children from school at 3:00, another bumper that had nothing to do with me. My arbitrary self-imposed bumpers (I’m going to work on a client’s marketing plan from 10-12) seem to slide around on the schedule, until it gets moved to a busier day. This is why having a busy schedule is better for me. I have to create a method to hit all the targets.
- Manage Email – Email tends to be the biggest distraction. Especially because I have many interests and clients that span several industries that I need to be familiar with. To keep me from delaying a task 45 minutes as I dive down the abyss of email that leads to links, clicks, downloads, then shares, and replies, I separate reading email from acting on email. I scan my emails, and open the links I want to read, but do not look at them while I am reading my email. The tabs remain open until I find myself waiting for a Zoom to start, or a phone call’s hold status to end. This brief time to review a potentially helpful article is like waiting for a rollercoaster, in other words it’s like mortar between the bricks. Many times, the links do not offer the helpful information I was hoping for so I can simply close that tab. Other times I save/share the tab as appropriate. I feel efficient and my time waiting was put to good use.
- Close Tabs – Too many tabs open on my browser overwhelms me! Sometimes when people share their screen in a video meeting, I see 20 tabs open across their browser. My heartrate goes up. I cannot have more than six tabs open without feeling like I am teetering out of control. Ten is okay if the extras are open for a specific meeting. When my open tab bar is getting too crowded, I simply save them as bookmarks and keep them organized together in files by topic or client. Once in a while, I have opened a second browser window to open the tabs I needed for a particular project and didn’t want to close the other ones that were still necessary. The same is true with open files. Save and close the file. Write a note so you remember to go back to it if it is fear that is keeping it open on your desktop. Lydia Martin, who teaches ways to de-clutter your desktop has amazing solutions like these and more. You can review her classes here: https://www.banishbusinessclutter.com I only have to ask myself if it is realistic that I am going to get to all of these tabs today. If not, I close them. This is a yes or no proposition. “Maybe” and “I hope to” mean NO. I know I have to be this strict or my browser will be unwieldy, and I might give myself a heart attack.
- Capture the Thoughts – In the same way an open tab guides me back to something I want to know more about later, I keep a pad and pen by my side to capture any random thoughts or to-do list items. A notes app on your computer works well too, perhaps even easier. Lauren Graham suggested this in her memoir I’m Talking as Fast as I Can. She referred to it as side-writing while working on a book. It’s a wonderful tip I use daily. I suggest organizing those thoughts somehow too so you can find them later.
- What You Hate Comes First – This is how my husband manages his dinner plate. He eats the vegetables he doesn’t like first so he can enjoy the rest of the entree without the thought of broccoli looming ahead. Work on the tasks you least like first. It unclogs the pipeline and that unsettling feeling so you can move forward with what you enjoy. If you are self-employed, consider hiring someone to do those things you simply don’t enjoy and maybe aren’t very good at doing. It could be bookkeeping, proofreading, or social media—be honest with yourself and tackle what you don’t like. If you aren’t good with details, then bringing in someone who is will save you over time. If you shudder at the thought of starting your day with something you hate, then do it as the last task of the day, even if you have to stay late, knowing that the following day will be clear of any grueling unenjoyable tasks will make it a more productive day.
- Re-Set – I take breaks. It takes a while to get me into the groove of robust productivity. I call it clearing the decks—the email, checking for messages and engagement on social media. Walk around the house, the block, go run a quick errand. Re-setting with a break will refresh your mind and your energy.
I hope you find these helpful. If you have a special time management trick that works for you, please share it here.
Leslie A.M. Smith founded McCormick L.A. in 1994 offering public relations and marketing consulting to nonprofits and small businesses. She is the author of Laws of Promotion. The 50-page promotional guide for small businesses and local nonprofits is available now on Amazon. Call her for help with your promotion. If you found this post helpful, please leave a note here and feel free to share it.