Unmana suggested I write a blog post on time management because I have to wear multiple hats in my role at Affinity Express and she says I get through “an obscene amount of work” every day. I’m not sure if this is a compliment or a subtle way of saying she is being barraged by my requests and constant communication! Anyway, here goes:
I never seem to have enough time to do everything I want. Between my job, children and my husband, and my love for reading, baking and other hobbies, I often feel stretched to the limit. So I take care to follow some practices that help make my life easier and allow me do a lot of what I want!
- Organize. My co-workers and family will say I’m a bit extreme in my office and home, but I’ve learned it takes far less time to put things into a system and maintain it than it does to constantly look for what you need or, even worse, recreate something you’ve misplaced. I can easily access critical documents because my computer has logical files (and I’m often the one colleagues call when they can’t find something!). I even keep my personal receipts at home in envelopes for different categories. You wouldn’t believe how often this has saved me money when something has to be returned or when a problem arises. Although I wouldn’t recommend trying this, I was actually able to return a pair of shoes that fell apart six months after I bought them (only wore them twice) because I had the receipt!
- Make lists. It can be the old-fashioned way with ink and paper, on the laptop or on your smart phone. But you can’t accomplish very much without a plan and you will waste time trying to remember what you meant to do. My lists are limited to one page and include a record of items or information that others owe me so nothing falls off the radar screen. At the end of each day, I plan for the next. It’s extremely satisfying to cross items off but I’ve accepted the fact that new things will often get added even faster!
- Prioritize. Think about the magic rule of three: before you wrap up your day, decide on the three critical things that you must complete the following day while it is fresh in your mind. This is a manageable number and it allows for the emergencies or urgent projects that inevitably arise. If you get more than those three items crossed off your list, good for you.
- Day-part. Some people are best with complex or strategic tasks in the morning and others kick into high gear later in the day. If at all possible, don’t fight this. Instead, build your schedule to take advantage of energy levels. As a morning person, I try to write and do complex work early. I like meetings in the afternoon and save paperwork and administrative tasks for the end of the day. I know someone that is the complete opposite who gets amazingly creative late at night when all I want is to lay my head on a pillow. Whichever works for you, play on your strengths. Our coworkers, travel, and the demands of our roles don’t always make this easy, but you’ll find it helps when you can employ day-parting as often as possible.
- Anticipate the unexpected. Having spent many years planning events as part of my marketing responsibilities, I learned that nothing ever transpires perfectly. If you expect people to be late to calls, article contributors to get waylaid, flights to sit on runways, etc., you always have backup plans and can even use idle times to get something else done.
- Improve productivity. Efficiency experts say the best way to improve productivity is to do all of the same tasks versus working to complete each individual project. So if I have to write five campaign emails this week or create two blog posts, I’ll spend an hour and conquer them all. You get into a groove and can then move onto another task.
- Switch gears. Although many of my colleagues think I am superior at multi-tasking, I am not really a fan of doing three things at once. The reality is that, when juggling many things at the same time, you are really only doing one with some effectiveness. If you don't agree, try telling me the content of your last conference call when you were answering email at the same time! Instead, what I suggest is that you switch your focus up constantly to keep your brain refreshed. At least once an hour, do something different. Write for 45 minutes, make phone calls for 30 minutes, answer email for 20 minutes, etc. You’ll actually get through projects more quickly and do a better job on all of them.
But it is not all about work. Just as you schedule time for important job responsibilities, you need to dedicate parts of your day to family and friends. If you use day-parting, it makes it much easier to allocate the time and disconnect from the noise long enough to enjoy it. When you are having a conference call during your child’s sporting event, your colleagues, your child and you all get short-changed.
You also need to make appointments for yourself to relax and recharge. Even if it is 20 minutes per day, you will be more productive and more engaged with your family and friends. This is the toughest rule for me to stick with, but I make a conscious effort to say, “for the next ___ minutes, it is ‘me time.’” That is why I get up at a ridiculously early hour to fit in exercise. I also carry a book with me always and don't stress about waiting in lines because I’m sneaking in something I like to do. Saturday mornings are when I create decadent desserts and my family knows I have to recharge (translation: they give me my space for a little while and are rewarded with cakes, cookies and ice cream!).
What practices do you follow to make your day easier? Do you follow any specific technique or guru? Or do you work/live with someone like me and, if so, does it help or drive you crazy?