Time often holds us hostage. We wrestle with to-do lists, deadlines and spiraling guilt (from failing to get it all done). There is a way out: Good habits – planning, organization and focus.
1. Focus on values.
Instead of going full-throttle at every task, invest time in identifying your core values. Then, schedule selectively. Take a look at your life and determine which activities are vital: high-payoff, crucial, life- or business-sustaining.
How to: Break activities into categories – family, work, friends, home, self. Assign a highlighter color to each category. A glance at the color-coded schedule will reveal how balanced (or unbalanced) your life is.
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Set aside an hour on a Sunday to ask yourself what’s really important. Make a list and grab your calendar. If you love art, schedule museum trips as you would a dental appointment. If family time is key, designate one day per month as a family outing day. Think creatively.
Prioritizing is the key to greater efficiency as well as accomplishing what really matters. Assess each activity or task and ask yourself: What results will this gain?
How to: Establish a way of ranking items on your list by relearning your ABCs. Give A-items (rich in reward) your full attention first. Set aside a time each day or week to accomplish these things. Focus less on the Bs (they offer minimal payoff). Brush aside or farm out Cs with the 4Ds: delete, delay, diminish, delegate.
3. Disarm distractions.
Taking a call at random or chatting with an unexpected visitor can eat away your day. Manage distractions by asking upfront how much time is required. Be proactive in deciding whether to proceed or postpone. If you’re in the middle of something, offer to meet later.
How to: Start early in the day. One hour of quiet, uninterrupted work time is worth 3-4 hours later in the day, according to time-management studies. Don’t start each morning with the simplest tasks on your list to warm up. That tactic simply wastes your most alert hours.
4. Batch ’em.
Imagine your time is like a closet. See your day as a limited space that accommodates only so much and benefits from organization. Group common tasks together. Hit the grocery store, cleaners and health food store all in one outing.
How to: Counterpoint management: Pick off-times to pick up dry cleaning and stock up on groceries. Leave 30 minutes earlier in the morning to avoid rush-hour traffic.
5. Just do it.
Procrastination is a time guzzler. Set up a rewards system to stay motivated. Say a deadline out loud to someone else to commit yourself to it. If you are consistently late, set an early deadline and write reminders in your planner, calendar or on post-its. Don’t let fear of failure – or success – paralyze you.
How to: If you are feeling unfocused and having trouble getting something done, take a 15-minute break. Set a beginning and end to the break to make it guilt-free.