Do you run out of day before you run out of To Do’s?
Do you work hard every day, but never seem to make progress on your long To Do list? Maybe you need to try some new time management strategies and tactics. Time is your scarcest resource so effective priority and time management is essential to achieving your personal and professional goals. As an entrepreneur, where the list of things I can do to build my business is truly endless, and coming from a long, over-scheduled corporate career, I have learned the hard way how to get the things done that are most important to me. Here are some of my top strategies and tactics for becoming more productive and taming my To Do list.
There are two over-riding principles that I share with my clients to help them become more productive. First, you have to decide what you want to accomplish in life and second you need to plan your work and work your plan.
1. What do you want out of life? You can’t manage your time if you aren’t clear on what you are managing your time to accomplish. Therefore the first step is to get clarity on your goals - personal and professional. Take 30 minutes and write down everything you want to accomplish in your life. Consider professional, relationship, recreation, financial and wellness goals. Put the list aside for a day or two, then add everything else you can think of. Pick the top 3 to 5 goals you want to start working on right now. For each of these top goals, write down the actions you need to take to accomplish the goal and put them in order: what needs to happen first, second, etc. Then include these action steps in your Daily Plan (more below). You should update this goals list at least annually.
2. Plan your work and work your plan. There are many strategies, tactics, habits and tools for planning your work and to help ensure you work the plan, and don’t procrastinate. Here are some my favourites.
i) Daily/Weekly/Monthly planning: Every day, take 10 minutes to plan the day’s work and build time in your calendar to complete it. Do this either first every morning, or at night for the next day. Prioritize those tasks that will have the greatest impact on what you want to accomplish. Is something truly important, not just urgent? If it isn’t important, can you say “no” (see below for tips on saying “no”)? Every day, complete at least one activity that will move you closer to achieving your goals. On a weekly and monthly basis, plan out the big chunks of work you need to accomplish and then these flow into your daily plan.
ii) Your calendar is your most helpful tool. Use one calendar for all of your personal and professional commitments and appointments. If you use separate calendars, you will get double booked. Block out personal commitments first as they are the most important, including your own commitment for exercise. Second, block out protected work time for key priorities and projects. Third, add meetings and other appointments. Your commitments and To Do list (from above) should be kept with your calendar so you can always check what you need to do next and get right down to it.
iii) Learn to say “no”. Practice saying “no” and it will get easier. The Positive No can be very effective, and comes in several variations.
- Say NO, followed by an honest explanation: “I am uncomfortable doing that because…”
- Say NO and then briefly clarify your reasoning without making excuses: “I can’t right now because I have another project that is due by 5 pm today.”
- Say NO, and then give an alternative: “I don’t have time today, but I could schedule it in for tomorrow morning.”
- Empathetically repeat the request in your own words, then say NO: “I understand that you need to have this done immediately, but I will not be able to do it for you.”
- Say “yes”, give your reasoning for not doing it, and provide an alternative solution: “Yes, I would love to help you, but I do not have time until tomorrow morning.”
If all else fails, use an Assertive NO: Provide an assertive refusal and repeat it no matter what the person says. This may be most appropriate with aggressive people and can be an effective strategy to control your emotions: “I understand how you feel, but I will not [or cannot]…” Stay focused and don’t become sidetracked by other issues.
iv) If you say ‘yes’ to a new task, take something else off your list. Decide what task to remove, or delay, before you say ‘yes’. You can’t squeeze in more time in the day.
v) “Salami slice” big projects: Break your big projects down into small pieces and accomplish one piece each day. Over time, you can make significant progress.
How do you avoid procrastination?
vi) Use the “15 Minute Rule” for tasks you don’t want to do: If you have been avoiding something, commit to work on it for only 15 minutes, then stop. Then do another 15 minutes the next day. Over time, you will see that it isn’t as difficult as you thought.
vii) Reward Yourself when you accomplish a goal, or complete a task that you have been avoiding. Take a short break for tea and chocolate. For larger accomplishments, give yourself larger rewards - a few hours off to go hiking or shopping when you complete those 100 cold calls.
viii) Eat that Frog! Both Mark Twain and Nicolas Chamfort have been credited with the saying “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Regardless of who said it, do your most difficult task first, get it over with, and everything else you do that day will be easy in comparison. And the sense of accomplishment you feel when you cross that awful task off your list will motivate you to keep accomplishing tasks.
Lastly, two things I keep top of mind:
You are your own most important client: Remember to prioritize your work and your goals when planning your day.
Ask yourself: What is the most valuable use of my time right now? Then do that thing.
If you are interested in learning more strategies and tactics to be more productive, give me a call or email me: Jayne Huhtanen, (647) 342-5036 or firstname.lastname@example.org.