Last week we shared information about the benefits of creating weekly action plans, to do lists and the importance of setting goals.
There isn’t much that’s more valuable to us than our time. In fact, time is so precious it is probably our most valuable resource. That’s why it is so important for us to make the most of it and take steps to waste as little as possible. Even more important is that we stay focused and direct our time and efforts toward actions that get us the results we’re working so hard to achieve.
When you start tracking your time and pay attention to what you actually do versus what you need to do every week, you’ll get a clear list of action items you can use as a guide to help improve how you spend your time.
Misplacing or losing important documents or pieces of information, having to repeatedly ask for vital information, waiting until the very last minute to complete a task or and neglecting to meet a deadline entirely are all unnecessary time wasters. Experiment with different organizational systems that work well for you and use them consistently.
There are several choices of computer based programs and apps that can substitute for the physical file folders in a drawer to assist with keeping track of details. Online calendars, task list apps, project management systems and customer relationship management (CRM) systems can help with keeping track of scheduled meetings, travel and conferences, projects and tasks as well as help manage customer interactions and data to improve business relationships.
For those who like more hands-on physical tools, a tickler file system can also be a very good tool. A tickler file system consists of color coded, date labeled folders organized so that time-sensitive documents are filed according to the future date on which each document needs action.
You can read more about how to set up your own tickler file system by clicking here.
The human brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Constantly switching back and forth between tasks actually prevents the brain from actually focusing. Which means that when we find ourselves juggling multiple tasks or projects and not paying full attention to just one thing, we all lower our performance and waste time.
Use Time Blocking
Scheduling blocks of time on your calendar to accomplish specific tasks can really help maintain focus and assure you dedicate time to those things that seem to always fall to the bottom of your to-do list. The idea is that you actually set appointment times to work on specific tasks. It can also help you avoid spending your time “pin-balling” from one task to another. This is an especially useful tactic for writing – whether it be a blog or a book. Scheduling a block of time on your calendar each day to dedicate to writing is a good way to assure you will make progress each day and establish a writing habit. Blocking time each day to plan for the next can make you much more productive and focused in your work. And don’t forget to block time for recreation and exercise!
Try the Pomodoro Technique
This is a technique that has small bursts of hyper-focused work with a definite ending time followed by a few minutes of non-work related time. The technique gets its name from those tomato shaped kitchen timers. You can use a kitchen timer, your phone or even an app designed specifically for this purpose. A “Pomodoro” consists of 25 minutes of concentrated work on a specific project followed by 5 minutes away from your work. Stringing 4 of these together will be a 2 hour block. After 4 Pomodoros you should take a longer break like lunch or a walk.
Create an Environment to Minimize Distractions
Stay focused by eliminating as many distractions as possible. Minimalize interruptions by shutting your door and silencing your phones. If you are working in a busy location (like a coffee shop) try some noise cancelling headphones. Turn off notifications of emails and instead check your emails at the top of each hour. Be conscious of the things that suck you in (can you say social media!) and consider setting a timer to keep from spending more time than you intended.
Just Say No
Don’t be afraid to say no when you find yourself being lured into time-sucking activities that will compromise your productivity. Set boundaries. Maintain a manageable work schedule even if it means declining additional work offers. Remain focused on completing your most important projects during your most productive work hours.