Many people struggle with time management. The week seems too short to do everything they wanted to do, and by the end of it we never seem to have found the time to do the things we wanted to do, the things we felt we really needed to do. We often feel we were distracted by others to execute less important tasks that need to be done, while we wanted to do some more important things that would improve our daily work-life significantly. Consequently, these more important things keep getting postponed, which only frustrates us more.
Sound familiar? Here’s a few tips and techniques I use that help me get the most out of my week. Maybe they can help you too.
Use A Paper Weekly Planner
For starters, I Googled for “weekplanner” and found this one by Fablouise:
Every Monday morning I think about the work that is to be done this week: client work, marketing (e.g. write a blog post), sales (e.g. send out a proposal), meetings, personal stuff (e.g. take the car to the garage), etc. I write everything down, albeit fairly crudely. I use big blocks of 2-4 hours. This is also because the nature of (most of) my work (coding) tends to work better with longer blocks of concentration.
Now that I have an overview of my week, I hang it up in plain view in my office. This way, I can always check what I’m supposed to be doing. At the very least, I look at it in the morning and after lunch. This is also why it must be on paper. As an IT professional, I object to the trend to make everything digital. Sometimes paper works better. So no app or online calendar. Just plain old paper where you can write on, make notes, draw arrows; and most importantly, you can hang it in clear view where you can always just look up to see it.
Do I stick to it 100% all of the time? Definitely not. But it does provide a good guideline throughout the week. And it gives me an excuse to stop work for a certain client and do other work. Otherwise, I risk thinking “I’ll just do this last thing that will take only 10 minutes” for the next 2 hours.
Things get cancelled or moved around. But at the end of the week, I’ve usually done all the different tasks that I wanted to do. Which means I can start the weekend with a good feeling.
Notifications from all kinds of apps (especially social media apps) are a constant source of distraction. For apps that you don’t use for work, I recommend removing them or disabling the notifications (at least during work hours).
Removing them might not be as scary as it sounds. I removed Twitter from my phone several months ago, after realizing I was checking it regularly and getting very little out of it. Reading a long stream of messages but not really finding any truly interesting is a waste of my time.
If you do need some of these apps for work (or just don’t want to remove them), there are simple ways on any smartphone to disable the notifications during certain blocks of time.
Emails is a separate category of notifications (or should we say distractions). Simply because it is still the primary source of communication in the professional world. Not many people have the possibility of removing their mail app.
But you can start like this. Turn of notifications of your email app. If things are really urgent, someone will call you or tap your shoulder (if you’re working in an office).
After you’ve done that, make a habit of only checking your mails once or twice a day. Or when you’re done with your current task and looking for work. Checking your mails will be a bit more work because there will be more of them, but you won’t feel the urge to take on new tasks while you’re still working on your current one.
Also, don’t check your mails in the morning. You’ve probably not fully finished the task you were doing yesterday. Finish that first. If you check your mails, you’ll feel the need to take on new work, while the previous work is still unfinished. This just adds to the clutter of tasks you’re trying to finish concurrently.
The way I check my mails is also quite specific:
- first I delete any mail I deem irrelevant based on the subject (mostly newsletters I don’t feel like reading now – I unsubscribe if I don’t feel like receiving them anymore!)
- then I go over my mails and answer any that need answering; these are then archived
- any mails that need some action on my part I either execute immediately (if I know it’s not a lot of work) or schedule for execution (if I know it’s too much work for now or I think it’s not a lot of work but I’m not sure)
Of course, any urgent action I will do immediately. But I’m really strict in what’s actually urgent and what others perceive as urgent.
As I mentioned previously, I use the week planner to identify the big blocks I need to work on. But if there’s a specific task I need to really focus on, I will sometimes put an hour of two in my calendar. This is partly to remember me about it (although it’ll already be on the week planner on my wall), but also so others can’t put meeting requests in that time slot.
There are many books and courses out there that help you get the most out of your limited time. But if you’re currently having trouble, they’re often too much. Start with some small steps. I didn’t really have a plan, but I started out with just the steps I mentioned under “Email” above. Notifications came later and I’ve only done the weekly planner for a month or two now.
The important thing is to start small and take small steps toward becoming more efficient with your time.