It is not easy to plan when you are in “reaction” mode. When you are organized you tend to feel more confident and in control, and much less stressed or overwhelmed. You are able to see the bigger picture in order to think strategically and assess your priorities and timelines more objectively. Effective planning sets you up to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to the management of your time and your priorities. Here are 8 strategies to help you get control of your time:
1. Plan your next day plus the following 2 days. At the end of every work day, as you plan out the upcoming 3 days, make sure you put an accurate time estimate next to everything you schedule into your calendar. This helps you stay focused and realistic about what you can accomplish in a day. When you organize your next day plus 2 days out, you can get really clear on your highest priorities and most important items.
2. Determine the top 2-3 items you will accomplish each day. Each day as you plan out the next day, determine the top 2-3 things you will accomplish. I put these 2-3 items on 2 or 3 post it notes and place the post it notes on my computer as a constant reminder to get them done that day. I focus on completing them as early as possible in the day so that I do not have them hanging over my head and I do not leave my office until these 2-3 tasks are completed. It is very rewarding to tear the completed post it note off my computer when the task is finally dealt with.
3. Allocate time first thing in the morning for the most important items on your to do list. Spending 30-60 minutes on the most important items on your to-do list, especially before reading your emails, will be your best time spent. Often the most important items on your to do list are not urgent so it is challenging to get to them. By focusing on them first thing in the morning, before you get sidetracked, will ensure you make the time for them. You might also consider blocking off time every morning for these highly important projects or tasks.
4. Estimate the time it will take to complete a task, and the value of taking on the task. When deciding whether or not to schedule a task, ask yourself not only “how long will this activity take?” but also consider what the payback or benefit of taking on the task will be for you and your company. We often allow other people’s priorities and agendas to work into our calendars without considering the true value of the activity. When you have confirmed that the activity is important, go ahead and schedule the appropriate estimated time to complete it.
5. Separate large projects into smaller time chunks. Sometimes we believe we have to block off a full day to tackle a large project. Taking a large project and chunking it down into smaller time frames makes sense. Consider 30 minute or 1 hour time chunks to start working on a large project. Taking many smaller steps towards completing a large task will allow you to make progress and feel more in control. Start small, maintain focus on the end result and stick with it. Before you know it you will have completed the task and achieved your goal.
6. Determine your most productive time and schedule your work to take advantage of when you work best. You might be an early bird or prefer to work into the wee hours. If you can, schedule your work accordingly so that you can optimize your quality and productivity.
7. Keep a time log. Track the time you spend on tasks for a period of 2-4 weeks. This is a great way to ascertain where you are spending your precious time. You will be amazed at how much time seems to be unaccounted or spent on activities that are just not that important. Doing this exercise even once will give you tremendous insight for making changes about how you spend and plan your time.
8. Schedule 45 minute meetings instead of one hour meetings. Rushing from one meeting to the next with no time between can really make you feel like you are running on a hamster wheel. Taking even 15 minutes between meetings will allow you to quickly check messages or emails, instead of during meetings, as well as allow you to approach your meetings in a more relaxed and in control manner.
A common complaint I hear from executives and senior managers is that they go from meeting to meeting all day long and never get to the items they had hoped to tackle. They feel overworked and over booked. Just remember that you can take control over your calendar at any time. The choice is yours. Make sure you make yourself, and what matters most, a priority first.
Interested in becoming more effective in managing your time and priorities? Please contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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