In the busy world we live in people are constantly trying to “find more time” to complete the items on their never-ending to-to list. Unfortunately, time cannot be found — we all have the same 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week. What you can do though is manage your time in a way that makes you as productive and effective as possible. Here are some tips I’ve found to help me:
1. Plan Your Month Ahead of Time
I learned this method several years ago from one of my mentors, Michael Clouse. It goes like this: Each month, take out your calendar, making sure you are looking at the entire month at one time. Michael recommends a giant desk calendar, and I have found this works best for me as well. Begin with the things you have NO control over — your job, the kids’ school schedule, etc. Next, move on to the things that are of highest priority to you — the best way to determine this is recognize which things in your life you will not compromise on such as family dinner time and church. Once you have written down all of these things you will find there are small blocks of time left each day. These are the times you have free, to fit in the things you have “no time” for. Pack your lunch 3 days a week and use that extra hour to get some office busy work done or eat a sandwich in the car and run errands during that time. Wake up an extra hour early and go to the gym before work. Eliminate one television show per week and use that time for personal education. This method helps you identify the blocks of time during which you can be productive.
2. Make Your To-Do List the Night Before
They say an hour of planning is worth an entire day of productivity. I have found this method particularly effective in helping me jump-start each day already one step ahead of the game. Each evening before bed I take out my spiral notebook and plan out my next day’s tasks. I begin by reviewing the items not completed on today’s list and adding them to tomorrow’s. I then think about the things I need to accomplish the next day and take into account my schedule and how much time I will have available. I leave the spiral notebook next to my bed so that when I wake up the next morning I am immediately reminded of what tasks need to be completed that day. This method helps you save time by knowing in advance exactly what you need to do.
3. Use Highlighters
Once my list is complete I take out 3 different colored highlighters so I can break up the tasks into categories. I use one color for personal activities — this includes house work, cooking dinner, grooming the dogs, etc. I use a second color for work activities — this includes checking emails, making new business contacts, sending cards, blogging, etc. I then use my third color for any activity that takes place outside of the home — this includes visiting my horses at the barn, running errands, scheduled lunches with friends, etc. I have found that by color coordinating my list I ensure a balanced day not too heavily weighted with personal or work-related activities. It also allows me to see in a quick glance all of the activities that take place out of the home so I can group them together in one trip if possible. This method helps you balance your work load to ensure you are not neglecting one area of your life.
4. Begin with the Most Difficult Task
Brian Tracey wrote a book entitled Eat That Frog — the premise behind this book is that if you were to wake up each morning and eat a frog, you could pretty much go about your day confident that the worst part of it was behind you. Your most difficult task is your frog. The funny thing is that the chances are high that your most difficult task is also the one that will bring about the most benefit to you. We often spend our time completing menial tasks convincing ourselves that we are busy, but never getting around to the tasks that will benefit us the most. By beginning with your biggest, ugliest task of the day, you will be able to move on knowing the most important part of your day is behind you. This method helps ensure your most important tasks are not left by the wayside.
5. Don’t forget to BREATHE.
Often we become overwhelmed by the size of our to-do lists. This feeling can cause you to shut down and can seriously hinder productivity. If you are feeling overwhelmed and disorganized, take 15 minutes to go back over each of the 4 previous steps. Create a list, prioritize it and begin with the biggest task first. Before long you will be checking things off on your list which will lead to feelings of organization and productivity. These feelings recycle and then help you to be even more productive throughout your day. Don’t be afraid to take a time out for 15-30 minutes to get organized. This method allows you to focus and calm your mind, enabling you to be much more productive in the long-run.
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