20 February 2018

Using Your Time More Effectively

Using Your Time More Effectively - humming bird collecting nectar

 Photo by Andrea Reiman on Unsplash
Clients often ask, “Can you help me use my time more effectively?” These tools have helped my clients boost their efficiency.  Maybe they can help you too. I didn’t invent any of them: I just recommend them.

Time blocking
The idea here is to schedule into your daily calendar how long you want to spend on your various priorities. For example, if you want to wrap up a project that requires about 10 more hours of work, you might want to schedule a 2-hour block into each of the next 5 workdays, where you can fit it in.  When that day comes around, you’ll need to honor the implicit commitment you’re making to put in 2 hours on that project at the time it’s blocked in.

Yes, of course crazy things happen and things come up and all of that. But if you want to finish that project, time-block it into your calendar and get it done!  Some of my clients now block out all of their workdays, finding that they lose less time, spin their wheels less frequently, and are generally more productive and efficient.  They also do more of the work they don’t love when they use time blocking, which can counter the impulse to say, “Oh, I’ll do that later.” One person reports that time blocking “helps me feel less directionless trying to pick through the endless to do list.” In short, time blocking increases efficiency.

Getting things onto the calendar
Do you have items on your to do list that are just not getting done?  Or worse, do you have important tasks that are not even on your list?  In my world, if an item isn’t on my list, it just doesn’t happen. I’m not talking about things that I do automatically: respond to email, stay in touch with clients, etc. It’s the non-daily ones that can get lost: get quotes for the work we want done on our basement or write my blog post every month. Many of my clients have the same issue.  What works for some of us is to get it into the calendar. I’m writing this blog post now because it’s in my calendar to work on it today.  Writing is hard for me and I’d rather not do it at all.  I’m a big fan of what Virginia Woolf once said when asked if she liked writing.  She said, “I like to have written.”

If you have tasks you don’t do automatically, and especially for tasks that you don’t love doing, get them into your calendar like appointments, even if you have to schedule them some weeks (or months!) out. Not only does this increase the chance they’ll get done, it also takes them off your mind — you no longer have to hold onto them — which frees up your brain for more creative work.

Managing Decision Fatigue
Highly productive people limit the number of decisions they make in order to save their decision-making energy (which is finite!) for important decisions.  They often have the same  breakfast every day or wear the same “uniform” to work (Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama during his presidency) so as not to squander limited discriminatory powers on trivia. They save those powers for higher level decisions. Eventually, decision fatigue sets in, and they’re just not as sharp.  My clients have gotten good results from making some of their daily decisions automatic ones: what time they leave for work, what they have for breakfast, what time of day they return routine phone calls, etc, which lets them stave off decision fatigue.

Do your hardest / most important work when you’re at your sharpest.  When are you at your sharpest?  One of my super-productive clients is, in her words, “not at all a morning person.”  She starts warming up around noon, and by late afternoon (and sometimes into the evening) she is on fire. She has become very strategic about how to use different parts of her day, using her “slow brain” time to do the more routine and low-level tasks that are part of her business: filing, data entry and certain calls. As the day goes on, she moves into higher gear and does her most strategic and high level work. Maybe you’re the opposite. Plan your work accordingly so you leverage your best work time on your most important or complex projects.  Do your dull, lower level work during your off part of the day.  Better yet . . . consider outsourcing those dull, lower level tasks!  Strategically leveraging your best work energy can boost your overall efficiency.

Notice when you’re wasting time or spinning your wheels and do something else.  Take a look at the image at the top of this post. Notice the intensity of the hummingbird. That’s what we’re looking for.  If you’re meandering rather than working, call yourself on the time-wasting behavior, and stop pretending to work. Instead, ask yourself what’s going on, and then deal with it.

  • Are you completely fried from one thing or another? Then take a break, re-charge your batteries, and either get back to work, or be done for the day.  Know when you’re just done. Sometimes I don’t know that I’m done until I find myself sitting at my keyboard being basically useless. Learning to recognize when I’m “basically useless” has given me a lot more free time than I thought I had and made my work more satisfying overall.
  • Do you know how to do what you’re trying to do?  If not, figure out where/how you can get some help and then get it.
  • Are you paralyzed by indecision? Talk it thru with someone if that might help. Give yourself a deadline and meet it.
  • Are you bored by the task? Think creatively about delegating it. Tasks the bore you are great candidates for outsourcing.

Whatever is going on, address it.  You don’t have the luxury of wasting your time.  If you can’t fix it, at least stop trying to work and instead do something that will nourish you in healthy ways so that you can hit the ground running again next time you get to work.

Of course these are not the only tools that can increase your efficiency.  Find and leverage the ones that work for you.