Maybe you've tried harder to find a few extra hours in your daily schedule. But the key to time management is finding the best methods for maximizing how you use that time. We've found six of these productivity methods, some of which may surprise you.
"Begin With the End In Mind"
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People author Stephen Covey said it just this way, and it remains the gold standard for productively using your time. For any task you take on during your work time, start with understanding why you're doing it and how it helps you accomplish your goals. It also helps to start each work period with a list of the two or three most important things you want to finish by the end. If you start a project that doesn't serve those priorities, drop it and get back on track.
Set A Timer
There are two ways to use a timer to boost your productivity. If you're doing something you enjoy, use it to push yourself to do it as quickly and effectively as possible. Make a game of it. If you're doing something you don't enjoy, set a timer for 20 to 30 minutes and promise yourself just that much focused effort on that project. In both cases, setting the time limit helps you stay on task and in the zone.
Start With The Hardest
Most people do the exact opposite, hitting emails, social media and smaller tasks to "warm up" for the major projects after an hour or so. Most people are exactly wrong. You need to hit the hardest tasks first, when you have the most energy, whether "hard" means time-intensive, complex or not very fun. As the day goes by, fatigue will mean you spend more time than necessary on the harder tasks—and increase your chances of finding an excuse to put it off until later.
Sweat The Small Stuff
We're not talking about focusing on tiny details to the point that you forget the bigger picture. That would be breaking rule number one. Instead, we're talking about breaking large, intimidating tasks into smaller chunks you can easily manage. It works for big projects—cut a 20-page report into 20 one-page sessions, or break an hour of something you hate into three 20-minute grinds.
Train Your Assistant
Listen, you didn't go through all the trouble of creating two extra hours in your day to spend it doing something one of your minions should be doing for you. Invest the time, energy and trust to make as much as possible somebody else's job. As the leader of your department or company, you need to delegate everything you can so you can do the things only you can do.
Review Your Progress
Of course you begin your work sessions with a to-do list, whether that's a paper list, an electronic app or just ideas in your head. At the end of your work session, or at the end of the day, go back over that list and review how you did. Look at how many items you completed, which ones you should have given to somebody else, how much progress you made toward your larger goals and what parts were the most fun. Use that information not only to plan tomorrow's work, but to assess overall your goals and processes.
What's the best, most effective workday you ever had? What made it that way? Tell us about it in the comments.
Jason has contributed over 2,000 blog and magazine articles to publications local, regional and national. He speaks regularly at writing and business conferences.
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