If “I don’t have enough time” is your constant refrain, you need to change tack and adopt a new, more efficient approach to time management.
The calendar is not always the ideal solution for tracking your workdays, because it functions on the premise that all days are equal. You know they’re not. You have busy days, relaxed ones, and the in-between ones. Your time management strategy should reflect and keep up with these variations, and the following methods promise to help you with that.
Most Important Task(s) Or MIT
How relieved would you be if the toughest part of your day was out of the way and you could turn your attention to the easier or lower priority tasks? With the MIT approach, you can make that scenario a reality.
While you’re putting down items on your to-do list for the day, write down the three most important tasks at the top. Three is just an arbitrary number. You can pick a different one to suit yourself, as long as it’s realistic.
The three MITs can be tasks that either have a short deadline, are tough, or are ones that you’re loathe to work on. Block chunks of time to work on these tasks, promise yourself an inviting reward for wrapping them up, and get down to work. When you have navigated the toughest part of the day successfully, a sense of satisfaction and achievement will steal over you. The leftover tasks will seem simpler, and even enjoyable and relaxing in comparison.
Take things a step further and adopt Ryan’s goal management system to obtain a clear picture of where your efforts are bearing fruit and where they are falling short, both in work and in life. This will make it easier to decide which tasks are really important in the context of your day.
Getting Things Done Or GTD
There’s a whole community revolving around David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) approach to productivity. The priority of a task is the key element in the GTD method, which takes a five-step approach to time management. You capture what’s on your mind, process what it means, assign it the right priority, review it often, and engage with the task.
The idea of recording your tasks externally, framing them right, and putting them into context can help you come up with actionable steps for each of them. This frees up the mental energy that you would otherwise spend on remembering and planning tasks, and allows you to focus on getting the tasks done. Weekly reviews help you take stock of your progress and modify your task list.
GTD is a fairly complex system and if you prefer keeping your task management tactics barebones, give this one a miss. If you do decide to go this way, remember the five commandments of choosing the right to-do app.
Hell Yeah Or No!
It’s not that you don’t have enough time. It’s that you waste it on things that you don’t care about. The tendency to say yes when you want to say no can be the biggest reason for your constant struggle to find time.
Whether out of absent-mindedness, a sense of obligation, the fear of upsetting someone, or to keep the peace, you might end up agreeing to rent out your time for things that you’re not wholly interested in. That’s a big drain on your time. You could be spending it on something that matters to you, maybe having fun with your family or working on a pet project. In such cases, you can wrest back control of your time by taking the Hell yeah or No test. The next time you’re faced with a decision that involves committing your time, say yes only if you’re 100 percent sure (a “Hell yeah! response) about the prospect.
If indifference or “Oh no!” is your instinctive response, you’re better off saying no. After all, there are only so many minutes in a day, or as James Clear analogizes, there are only so many keystrokes left in your hand. Don’t let those precious minutes slip away from you without wringing all you can from them.
The Weekly Bubble
A couple of months ago, I was overwhelmed by the weight of my never-ending to-do list. To make things less stressful, I devised a plan that I now call The Weekly Bubble. It has had just the desired effect on my workday and can do the same for you. Here’s how it works:
Think of work in weekly spans, or weekly bubbles, if you will. On Sunday, list the items you want to and can realistically finish in the upcoming week. Set a buffer period for unforeseen issues that might crop up. For the time being, ignore the leftover items or what will be on your to-do list the week after this one. Between Monday and Friday, finish the tasks you wrote down. If you have kept your list realistic, this should be fairly manageable. As far as possible, devote Saturday and Sunday to personal commitments, side projects, and relaxation.
This strategy has worked well for me over the past couple of months. The reason this approach works is that it stops you from looking/planning too far ahead in terms of the nitty-gritty of your work. Every time you repeat the cycle, you have to set your sights on the upcoming week only, and a week of solid, focused work seems doable and not too overwhelming.
You can resort to paper or simple Excel planners and templates to keep you on task. You can engineer your favored to-do app for the job as well, or use something like the minimal Weekis week planner and similar online tools.
None of these methods will add extra hours to your day. They’ll simply help you clarify your priorities and fit them in comfortably in the 24-hour time span available to you. Couple them with Ryan’s time management tips or Justin’s LEGO technique to manage time. You’ll soon discover that work and play need not be mutually exclusive and you do have all the time you need in a day.
What is your approach to time management? Is it working for you? Share your strategy in the comments.