We all have a set number of hours every day to make things happen. While I think managing energy is just as, if not more, important than managing your time, we are still stuck with the clock, deadlines, and lots of ways to get off track during the day.
There have been many days when I realized with that sinking feeling, that I was going to have work well into the night to meet a deadline. It’s not that I hadn’t been working hard during the day. The problem was that I hadn’t managed the time I had to deliver the things I needed to.
I read a lot of books and articles about how to manage my time better. It became a primary personal goal in order to make things happen. Here is what I learned.
- Remember to keep a “to do” list for all of the areas of your life. All of us have multiple obligations – and a life. The client deliverable that is due is just as important as your trip to the vet with the family dog, or that dinner you promised your significant other. We can’t keep it all in our heads. Developing a written “dump list” of absolutely everything we need to get done gets it off our mind and into a format to help prioritize.
- Set goals. Goals act as your roadmap. Whenever you don’t know what you want to accomplish you fall victim to the “squeaky wheel” syndrome. Whatever is irritatingly louder, more urgent or more in your face gets done. We all remember how well that works – usually when we are answering e-mails at midnight.
- Have priorities. I will share a secret. Everyone who wants something from you thinks it is the most important thing in your world. The staff member who has an immediate crisis. The client who demands to talk to you right away because they have just had a brilliant idea. The author of the “copy all” email that means your in box is suddenly flooded with all 15 replies. Set 3 priorities for your day. Those things that must get done to move you closer to your goals. Get those done first. Everything else can wait.
- Manage distractions. We do our best work in blocks of 50 minutes of uninterrupted time. Research shows that when we shift from one task to another we can lose up to 15 minutes to get back on track. It is not hard to do the math. 4 distractions can equal an hour of lost productivity. Turn off your e-mail alerts and set times to respond throughout the day. Block out time in your calendar for uninterrupted work. Set regular times with your team to meet, rather than encouraging them to interrupt you whenever they have a thought.
- Stop procrastinating. I used to think I worked best under pressure. Which was an excuse for leaving everything to the last minute. Resulting in lots of sleepless nights and a few missed deadlines. If you have set your goals and priorities, you know what you need to do. Start breaking the outcome into small manageable steps with a timeline for when you need to be done. Use your blocks of interrupted time – even if it is only 10-15 minutes to get it done. It will stop the overwhelm and help you banish procrastination from your world. Meaning you get to sleep more, and have a lot less stress.
- Don’t take on too much. I was always the one around the table who said “of course, I can handle that”; “no problem, I can look into that”; “of course I can draft that”. In my desire to create value and make a difference, I was piling my plate full with too many commitments and expectations. That led to disappointing others, a lot of stress and wondering why I couldn’t get things done. Say no often. You provide value when you do the things you say you will to the very best of your ability. When you take on too much nothing gets done well, or on time.
- Stop being addicted to being “busy”. All of those unanswered emails, piles of files to review, phone calls to return, meetings to get to, and deadlines narrowly met. The adrenaline high can make us feel effective, important, productive. As a recovering adrenaline junky I learned that all I was doing was fooling myself. And experiencing more stress, less productivity and failing to do great work. The better high is to do great work, with time left over to enjoy your life. When you set your goals, manage distractions and take action that is what happens.
- Don’t multitask. I used to be the one answering e-mails while talking on the phone with a client. Reviewing a report while talking with a team member. “Maximizing my time”. Our brains can’t multitask. In fact when we try, it takes us 20-40 percent more time to get things done. Our work suffers and we irritate people with our lack of concentration. Be present. Do one thing at a time. The value and quality of your work and your relationships will increase.
- Take breaks every 50 minutes. This one habit will increase your productivity and reduce your stress. It will also make you more effective and creative. And it’s lots better for your health as well. Our bodies and our minds aren’t wired to work endlessly for 8-10 hours. Set a timer on your phone for regular breaks. Schedule them in your calendar. Get up. Stretch. Walk around. Drink some water. Go outside. Give it a try for a week. You will be amazed at how much more your get done.
- Manage your energy. I like to work in the morning on the things that take the most focus and effort. I save my afternoons, when I would rather be napping, checking e-mail and returning calls. We all have our own rhythm. When we schedule our tasks around our energy we get more done. And what we accomplish is that much better. Learn when you work best and most effectively. Whenever possible, schedule your activities around your inner rhythm.
By this time you have probably already started telling yourself all of the reasons why this won’t work for you. Your business isn’t like that. Employees won’t understand. Clients want immediate attention. “Things happen”. I get it. I have been there too. However, if you want to be more productive and create more value in the work you do, managing your time and your energy is the key.
Want some help? Get in touch so that we can help you to do more great work, with less stress and set up a system for you that works. Something not on the list that works well for you? Share that in the comments below.