In this week's episode, I share with you my top 5 tips on becoming better at time management and productivity.
The Working With Podcast 15
In this week’s episode of the working with podcast, I share with you my top five tips on becoming better at time management and productivity.
Hello and welcome to episode 15 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week, rather than answering a question, I want to share with you my top five tips on better time management and greater productivity.
I decided to do this because on a recent trawl through Twitter I discovered there are a lot of people who are struggling with managing their time and feel incredibly overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do.
Before we do get started though, I would like to ask if you have any questions about time management, productivity, goal planning or self-development, please drop me a line either via email, firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Facebook or Twitter.
Okay, time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question...
Okay, Carl, so you say you know a lot about time management and productivity, what are your top 5 tips for better time management and productivity?
Okay, so none of these tips involves a deep knowledge or understanding of the science or reasoning behind them. They are just common sense tricks that have been proven to work time and time again no matter what personality type you are.
So here goes with tip number 1:
Spend 10 mins planning your big three tasks for the day evening before.
Now there is a lot written about this and I’ve seen a lot of debates about whether this is best done in the morning or evening. I have tried both methods and have found that doing a 10 minute planning session the night before helps me to get a better night’s sleep and I can start the morning by getting straight in to my work.
The thing about planning what three things you WILL do today is no matter how much work you have to do, every day you are moving forward on the important things. With no plan, we often do the things that have the least resistance—you know the easiest task to do. But if we make a definite plan, either written down or as part of a list on your phone or computer, you are much more likely to do it. If that list is small, or it does not have more than 3 things on it, you are always likely to focus on it and get it done.
I call these “today’s Objectives” and they are the only things on my “today’s Objectives” list. It’s the first list I open in a morning when I sit down to work and I try to keep the list to only two things. Sometimes, I will have three, but I never let it have more than three things. I’ve found through experience, that three things is the maximum I can do without feeling overwhelmed.
Tip Number 2
Schedule a minimum of 2 x 90 mins sessions of focused work each day.It’s impossible to stay focused on your work for more than 2 hours. Your brain cannot focus for that length of time. The amount of time one an focus is an individual thing, I can focus on one thing for around 50 minutes, I know other people who can focus for longer or less. What I have found is if you allow yourself two 90 minute segments in your day split by taking some time off, you can get 3 hours of focused work done each day. 3 hours in long enough to make an impact on any project. If you do this 5 days a week, you are doing 15 hours of focused work each week. You can achieve a lot in that time.
Doing things this way also allows you to do other, non-work related things without feeling guilty about what you have not done. I find this allows me to get my project work done and allow time to exercise and take my dog for a long walk and still get a lot of work done.
Use your calendar
Schedule your social time and your work time on your calendar. If you use the 2 ninety minute segments I mentioned, then depending on whether you are a morning person or a night person, you could schedule 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the afternoon. That frees up your evenings and lunch times to do other stuff. Check your social media, go for a beer or three with your friends or just spend some time with your family.
I’ve found if you schedule time on your calendar you are much more likely to do whatever is on there. Now this does not mean you should fill every time slot on your calendar with something. What it means is you put on your calendar only the things you intend to do that day. If you are a college student, that means you schedule your classes and study time in your calendar, and if you plan to meet up with your friends on Thursday evening, then, of course, you put that into your calendar.
My rule is if it has to be done on a specific day it goes on my calendar. If it’s something I would like to do that day, it stays on my to-do list manager.
Do a weekly review.
Now this doesn’t have to be deep, a deep weekly review is advisable, but if you are just starting out on getting better at time management then just review what needs to be done next week and what you have done this week. All you need to know is what needs doing next week and schedule these on your calendar for next week. If you have a project deadline coming up next week or you have an important seminar you are attending, then make sure anything you need to do for those events are scheduled either in your to-do list manager or calendar.
A lot of stress is caused because people are vaguely aware something needs doing, but they not aware of exactly how much needs doing. Usually, if you review the week ahead and see what needs doing you realise not as much work needs doing as you think. This can be a huge stress relief. The stress is caused by not knowing what needs doing.
A review means you take some time, maybe twenty to thirty minutes on a Friday afternoon, or better yet, a Sunday afternoon to go through all the projects, tasks and things you have to do, and deciding which ones you will do next week so you can end the week knowing you are on top of everything. When you get in to the habit of the weekly review, the amount of important work you get done is huge!
And tip number 5
Keep one notebook or a digital tool for collecting your commitments, ideas and notes.
Carry it with you everywhere you go. I learnt this from David Allen and his legendary note-taker wallet. I once had lunch with David, and during our lunch, he never once pulled out his phone, but he did pull out his note-taker wallet and wrote down the name of the wine we had— it was a very nice red.
The problem we have is our brain is not good at remembering ideas. Our brains are great at recognising patterns but terrible at remembering dates, ideas, and names. We can instantly recognise where we are based on the shapes, smells and sounds around us. If we wake up from a long sleep in the middle of the forest, our brains will instantly recognise from the patterns of smells, colours, shapes and sounds we are in the middle of the forest. But try and remember the name of the president’s PA we met briefly last week, and we will struggle.
When you carry around a notebook, either a digital one in your phone or a small paper one you keep in your bag, you can write down all your ideas, commitments and important information.
I used to have a bad habit of not writing down when a student told me they were unable to meet the following week because of a business trip or some such thing. I then forgot to remove the class from my calendar and when the following week came round I would send out the reminder and be told by the student they had already informed me they were not able to meet that week. Now I make sure I write it down.
And that’s it. My top five ways to get yourself better at time management. Really it comes down to being aware of what needs doing and when things are due. Time management is about using your twenty-four hours in the right place so you achieve the right results. After all, we all have the same amount of time each day. It’s what we do with those hours that really defines whether we will be successful or stressed out not achieving very much.
So to sum up:
Spend 10 minutes each evening planning what you want to get done the next day and write it down. Do not have more than 3 things on that list.
Schedule two 90 minute intervals on your calendar each day and make sure you do focused, undistracted work in that time. (okay, maybe you don’t need to do this on weekends)
Use your calendar for the things that absolutely much be done on a specific day. Schedule time to make sure they happen and do it. Your calendar is sacred.
Do a weekly review each week. Look to see what is coming up over the next few weeks and what deadlines you have the following week and make sure you schedule time on your calendar to do it.
And finally, carry a little notebook or digital notebook with you everywhere you go to capture your ideas, commitments and events. Remember, your brain is terrible at remembering these things and when you do your weekly review, make sure you look through your notebook for anything you may have missed.
Good luck, and if you want to learn more about what I can do to help you either through my mentoring programme, online courses or just through my blog or YouTube channel, then you can find all the details on my website, carlpullein.com.
It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.