Are you one of those busy, busy, busy people who always struggle with time? Do you have a long todo list of tasks with competing priorities, ending up not finding the time to work on what’s actually valuable? Do you attend many unproductive meetings and need to process tons of emails every day? If the answer is positive to some of these questions the following advice can help you organize your time in a better and more efficient way. It’s based on recommendations by some of the most popular books on the topic of time management.
There are 1440 minutes every day and we should make sure that they are not wasted but used wisely. When we have many tasks that we want or need to do, we should try to do the most important and valuable ones first. Bear in mind that approximately 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of the results. We should also make sure that we do not postpone the tasks that are not pleasant for us.
Using a calendar to schedule the tasks instead of keeping a todo list proves to be a much better approach. In this way we can timebox how much time we want to spend and based on the priority to decide when we should do it.
For most people, the cognitive processing is strongest in the first 2 hours of the working time, so it's better to use this period for tasks that are not only important but also require more concentration and thinking.
Try to delegate tasks that are not so important and valuable to you and don’t require your expertise. This is not only valid for your work related activities but also in your personal life. You can ‘buy’ time by recruiting people to do work for you, for example housework and cleaning, or even have a virtual assistant.
The Eisenhower’s matrix is a good organisational tool for prioritising tasks based on these ideas of importance and urgency.
Do not multitask, group tasks
Avoid multitasking by focusing on the task that you are doing and block out all distractions. Turn off social media and email notifications to eliminate the temptation to check at unscheduled time.
Try to decrease the context switching by grouping the similar tasks together. For example, creating chunks of time for processing emails, reading articles, even for thinking. Also take short breaks, regardless whether it’s 5 minutes every 25 minutes or 15 on every 90 minutes, for example, see what works best for you but make sure that you take breaks which would improve your productivity. You can also specify some of your days of the week is dedicated to different types of activities, e.g. Friday is meetings day, Saturday is for volunteers and society work or housework, Sunday is for family, friends and relaxation, etc.
If you receive many emails, it is better to process them in chunks of time when you are ready and when you have enough time to do so. For example, check your emails 3 times per day when you have at least 15 minutes so you can go through them. For each email you can use the Eisenhower matrix to take an action:
- Do it - if it takes less than 5 minutes to reply or do an action related to the email - do it right away and don’t postpone it.
- Delegate it - forward it to someone else if they are more suitable for the task but respect their time as well, so think twice before you forward it.
- Delete it - Delete the ones that you are not interested in but if possible unsubscribe before that. Unsubscribe to any emails (spam) that you receive regularly and are not so important for you so you won’t waste time in the future.
- Schedule it - if the task is for you and it will take you more than 5 minutes to do it, book a slot in your calendar to do it. (e.g. how to do it in gmail see option 2 and 3 - here)
When you send an email make sure that the subject is informative. If it’s an action that needs to be done by someone, write the action in the subject. If it’s just to inform someone, add FYI (For Your Information). Make sure that you don’t include people that are not needed on To or CC.
When you organise a meeting make sure that it’s effective by using the following rules:
- Schedule meetings only if it’s necessary - if you can easily get the answer with a short email, don’t ask for a meeting.
- Purpose - specify in the email what is the purpose of the meeting.
- Agenda - add an agenda of what needs to be discussed and ideally try to estimate how much time should be timeboxed for each topic.
- The length of the meeting - by default it’s 30 mins or an hour in the calendars, but try to specify the length based on the expectation how much time is required. In the calendars you can change the default duration to 20 mins for example, so it makes you think whether this time would be enough or you need to extend it.
- Attendees - invite the right people to the meetings.
When you receive a meeting invite, know that every “yes” to an invite is a “no” to something else that you can do, regardless of the fact that the meeting is soon or in the future. So think whether you need to attend and if yes whether the suggested time is reasonable.
Many of the above advice are based on Kevin Kruse’s book “15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management”. In addition to it we can recommend Stephen Covey’s books “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change” and ”First Things First”.