The great irony of time management systems is that the people who need them most often feel they are too busy to even research, let alone, adopt them. Solving this conundrum would create tremendous value.
According to Gallup, 61% of Americans feel like they don’t have enough time. This statistic isn’t surprising. When juggling multiple projects at work, family, friends, etc. it’s challenging to choose what gets our attention. Despite this, there is a huge population of successful people who don’t feel strapped for time.
A key difference between successful but stressed out, mid-level professionals and happy professionals who are leaders in their companies and industries is that latter know how to manage their time so well that they’re able to excel at work while having time left over for a fulfilling personal life. By changing unproductive habits, you can live that way too.
Here are six time-management techniques that will help you take control of your busy workload.
1) Follow David Allen’s 5 Steps to Get Things Done
David Allen is a productivity expert who has helped millions of people live more productive lives. While Allen has a near fanatical following, most people get too overwhelmed by the lengthy books he uses to map his system. But, actually, his time management philosophy is based on just these five steps for getting things done:
1) “Collect what has your attention.”
Before you start work each day, write down everything that’s on your mind that you need to do. Include work to-dos, personal to-dos, miscellaneous thoughts, etc. This task gives you a full picture of what’s on your mind so you can prevent random ideas from becoming distractions later.
2) “Process what it means.”
Once you have your list, think about each item. If the idea is actionable, write down the action(s) you need to take. If it's is not actionable, cross it off.
3) “Put it where it belongs.”
Once you have a list of actions, decide how and when you’re going to complete them. Blocking off time on your calendar and/or setting reminders will ensure you get them done.
4) “Review frequently.”
Continuously go back to your list, calendar, and reminders to check that all your tasks are being completed on time and to re-prioritize them as needed. Being agile with your schedule helps you get the most value out of your limited time.
5) “Simply do.”
After everything is scheduled and prioritized, stop worrying about what you should be focused on and start crossing things off your list.
Repeat this process on a daily or weekly basis depending on how often new tasks pile up and need to be organized. To learn more, check out the article How to Make GTD Work for You.
2) Reduce the Number of Decisions You Make
The average American adult makes 35,000 decisions every day. That number may sound extreme but, think about how many decisions you make just before starting work each morning. You decide if you should eat breakfast, what to eat, what shirt to wear, what shoes, what pants, likely read some emails that you had to think about...the list goes on and on, and that’s just basic things that don’t compare to what you have to think about at work.
The more decisions you make, the less mental capacity you have.
There are two ways to reduce the number of decisions you make:
- Stop making decisions that don’t generate value. For example, choices like what you eat for breakfast or which color shirt you wear have a negligible impact and aren’t worth the effort. Instead, choose a routine breakfast and wardrobe so, in the mornings, you can grab and go. This practice has been used by highly productive people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg who wore similar outfits every day. Make a list of all your decisions like these and take actions to reduce the frequency that you make them.
- Delegate decisions that don’t require your direct input. If you’re a higher level professional, you probably make a lot of administrative decisions that aren’t worth your time and energy. Delegate tasks such as scheduling, database management and other process-oriented tasks to assistants who can quickly take care of them.
Don’t have assistants available at work? Learn how a managed virtual assistant can save you 55+ hours each month and enable you to spend your time on the work that matters most.
3) Make Impulsive Decisions to Save Time
Among the simple decisions you continue to make, spend less time on them. It’s estimated that adults spend nearly eight hours per week making decisions. A lot of that time is spent weighing options that don’t matter. While you should continue to deliberate over decisions like large purchases, what strategies your team should implement, and who you spend time with, you shouldn’t put a lot of thought into actions that don’t matter.
If the decision you’re making doesn’t have a significant impact on a project outcome, relationship, or something similarly substantial, make it impulsively. This may be difficult if you’re the type of person who likes to a contemplate all your options, but the time and energy you spend thinking adds up and is better spent on tasks that generate value.
4) Work in Strategic Blocks
If you’re like most professionals, your day is spent bouncing around between meetings and multiple projects. While that seems inevitable from a scheduling standpoint, it is an ineffective time management technique.
Every time you switch between tasks, you experience a cognitive delay as your brain tries to refocus. Research shows that repeatedly changing activities can reduce your productivity by up to 40%. That’s a massive loss of time.
To maximize your productive hours, group together similar activities and block time on your calendar for them. If possible, limit your meetings to certain times of the day or certain days of the week. If you can’t control your meeting schedule, you can mitigate their effect by setting aside the time before or after them to work on related projects.
5) Take Energy-Boosting Breaks
Regardless of how busy you are, piling work and meetings, back-to-back is detrimental to your productivity. Our brains and bodies aren’t meant to operate at high levels for eight to ten hours a day. In fact, the most productive workers take breaks about every hour because it gives the boost they need to focus throughout the day.
However, not all breaks are beneficial. Scrolling on social media, reading negative news stories, and doing other sedentary, information-consuming tasks don’t give you mind or body a chance to fully relax.
Here are some examples of breaks that research shows increase energy:
- Go for a walk outside. Just twenty minutes in direct sunlight is enough to give your body a mild recharge. Even if it’s cloudy, as it often is here at the Prialto HQ in Portland, just getting out of your office’s artificial light is beneficial.
- Chat with your co-workers about something non-work-related. Taking your focus off work for a bit is a great way to let your subconscious take over and think of better solutions. Plus, having positive social interactions boosts your mood and makes you feel more energized. Bonus points if you laugh.
- Walk around the office and eat a complex carb snack. Complex carbs like whole grains are perfect between-meal snacks because they fuel your energy levels and mood while keeping you full for longer than most other types of food.
You’ll gain back your break times when you complete projects faster and more accurately thanks to your mind and body feeling more refreshed.
6) Save Time with an Inbox Management System
Download our free guide for creating an inbox management system that dramatically reduces the amount of time you spend on email and prevents important messages from slipping through the cracks. In it you'll learn:
- How to choose a sorting approach
- Best practices for creating clear sorting rules
- Tips for implementing your inbox management system + productivity hacks
- [Pro Tip] How to delegate your inbox management to an assistant
About the Author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.