1. Move from daily to-do lists to weekly priorities
In the long run, overcrowding your day with 20+ items to tick off by the end of the day will unlikely make you feel energised and proud of your achievements. Your likely outcome will be closer to having become a human-doer rather than unlocked the potential of a human being. Rarely, our long (or super-long) to-do lists are able to capture priorities from a bigger picture lens. Over time, they tend to hardwire our days and leave little space for our much-needed freedom to meaningfully live and reflect on our days. Think in terms of priorities. And try to think weekly: what do I need to get done this week? Zoom out as much as you can. Choose three priorities and remind yourself every day where your focus is. We don’t really control our time, and aiming to “be on top” of things is recipe for wrestling with ourselves by failing to fully accept that days, weeks and ultimately our lives are always changing and dynamic. Keeping a firm eye on our priorities gives us the opportunity to peel off the unnecessary and reality-check what matters to us. It also offers that wonderful and energising feeling of being the captain of your ship.
“Think in terms of priorities. And try to think weekly: what do I need to get done this week?”
2. Meet with yourself 15 minutes a week to plan your time
Coach yourself. Make the habit of regularly reserving 15 minutes a week for meeting with yourself. Consider what you want to get done next week. Challenge yourself to zoom out even further: what do you need to get done this month or this quarter so that you can break down your week planning. Bring a continuous improvement mindset to time management and come up with your own agenda. For example, reflect on what went well last week and what could be done better, and also what part of the week you enjoyed the most. Do I need anyone to support me in my next priorities? Plan that support. Do I need anyone to keep me on track? Plan bringing in that accountability person. A lot of our time goes in inefficient schedule planning and replanning, doing and undoing when we get our priorities wrong. Days at the end of the week (Friday or Sunday evening) usually work well for checking in because they offer the perspective of the week that is gone, alongside the week ahead of us. Keeping the same time every week builds a habit – a great time-saving habit.
“Bring a continuous improvement mindset to time management and come up with your own agenda.”
3. Don’t overcrowd urgent work. Use self-compassion to bring things into perspective
When a lot of urgent work needs to be completed during the same time, step back for a moment. Deep breathe self-compassion and enter another perspective: what would a person who normally supports you (your manager, your spouse or partner, a friend) advise you to do? Constantly tackling urgent work brings us into a predominantly reactive mode, builds stress and, in the long run, results in work burnout. Don’t underestimate alternatives: delegation, re-prioritisation, challenge of the status quo on your own and together with others, like your colleagues or your manager. When we work on self-imposed deadlines, let’s also challenge ourselves: are these deadlines truly fit for purpose? It’s important and not urgent work that gives us a sense of accomplishment and purpose in life. That quadrant 2 of the time management matrix is populated by things like reflecting on our priorities, establishing a vision for ourselves and our careers, and looking into everything is important to us – including in our personal lives.
“Don’t underestimate alternatives: delegation, re-prioritisation and challenge of the status quo.”
4. Let technology help you
Is it an app, a calendar, a planner or a diary which will help me the most? We are all visual in different way – but visual progress satisfactorily consolidates our achievements and easily keeps us on track. Consider what can support you best. Fine-tune it. I colour-code my priorities, for example; recognising them at a glance keeps me focused and helps me to see and sort out how many important things I need to take care of. Old-school diary or high-tech apps all do the job: find the one that works for you. And stay open to try something new, for example, make your own. If none of the existing diaries and planners organise the yearly, monthly and weekly outlook in a way that is meaningful to you, consider making your own electronic diary – or printing something which ticks your boxes.
“Stay open to try something new, for example make your own diary or planner.”
5. Make the best use of your most productive time
Do you know what is the most productive part of your day? For example, is it first thing in the morning, or late at night? Do you know which is the most productive day of your week? For example, midweek Wednesday as opposed to Monday? Do you allocate your hardest tasks during the time you are most productive, focused and capable of dealing with a matter which feels an uphill marathon? If something is hard (either because it is complex or brand new and out of your comfort zone), dealing with it when you are at your fittest mentally and physically increases your chances of success (vis-à-vis avoidance game and catching up game) significantly. Equally, distributing repetitive and more boring tasks during those hours when we can still perform but are not most effective (for example, after lunch), helps get things done in small-sized chunks without occupying our best time. Ultimately, the best way to resource and empower ourselves to get done what we want to get done is to work with our strengths, not against them.