Organizing Your Time, Part 2: Productivity Tips

photo by Emma Matthews

photo by Emma Matthews

In our first installment about time-management, we discussed doing a time audit to really see how you are spending your time (if you’d like to check out that blog post, click here.) Hopefully you made some enlightening discoveries. We talk about “finding more time” in the day, but the reality is that we are working with a finite amount of time and energy. The trick is finding out how to BEST allocate those hours so we are getting things done and enjoying life without experiencing burnout. ...

Prioritize

When you look at your schedule, it can be overwhelming to see all the things you need to do in one place. Prioritizing is key to keeping a balanced life. Start from your values and goals, and determine what tasks are supporting you towards these goals, and what is just “filler”, or at least less important. When you approach your schedule from this perspective you’ll it will be easier to find what is most important to you, and allocate your time accordingly. 

Not All Hours are Created Equal

When we add things to our schedule, we are usually considering where we can fit a task in. If something takes an hour and a half, we find a free two-hour block and write it in our calendar. There may be other considerations to take into account, however. Our energy level naturally rises and falls during the day, and our motivation for certain activities follows. If you are energized in the morning, take advantage of that and schedule tasks that require more energy or brainpower then. Maybe instead of starting your day by responding to emails, use the time to write a blog or have a one-on-one meeting. Schedule tasks for when your motivation and mood are suited for them. You will find you can get through them with much less resistance. 

“Double-Duty Task”, Not Multitask

You’ve probably heard by now that multitasking is not very effective. Studies show that when we break our focus to attend to another task, it takes us an average of 25 minutes to regain that focus. Rapidly switching between tasks means we’re going to take longer to do each one, and our quality of work will be diminished. Instead of toggling between tasks, find some time in your day that can serve “double-duty.” These are tasks you can do simultaneously, without diminishing the quality of either. For instance, if you commute to work on your bike, you are checking off the exercise box, and getting to work in the process. Skyping with a friend while you prep dinner can ensure you’re getting some social time in (without having to leave the house!), while doing a necessary chore. Or try having a weekly “errands running” date with a friend, so you’re catching up and having fun while you get things done. See where some of your tasks and activities can overlap, and you may be able to open up some more time. 

Prepare to Be Focused

When you sit down to do a task, minimize distractions. Make sure you’ve had something to eat, your co-workers or family know not to bother you, and it might even be helpful to remove your phone from the area, or block out distracting technology (you can put your phone on “do not disturb” or use an app such as Freedom to block certain websites for a period of time). Productivity studies recommend working in 90 minute blocks, with 20 minutes of rest in between to maximize your output without burning out. I find when I commit to working to a certain amount of time (using a timer to keep me on track), I can really dig deep and tune out other distractions and thoughts. Otherwise, I find myself pulled in multiple directions or down the internet rabbit hole for too long. I’d rather get my work done and have a significant chunk of time for leisure than waste it surfing the internet between tasks. 

Go With the Flow

You may have your life scheduled down to the minute, but of course there are always going to be things that are out of your control. People may show up late, or events may be cancelled at the last minute. I always have a master list (in the notes section of my phone) of small tasks that don’t really have hard and fast deadlines. If I find I have 5 or maybe 15 minutes unexpectedly, I check the list and see if I can get something done. Maybe I’m in an area where I can run a quick errand I’ve been meaning to do, return something (pro tip: keep items that need to be returned to a store or a friend in your trunk, so when you’re in that area you are ready to do so) or I can make a few calls I’ve been dreading. By maximizing this in-between time, you can save up larger blocks of leisure time for later, and chip away at your to-dos. 

Self-Care is Not Optional

We are often reluctant to schedule in the things that keep us happy and healthy, because they seem “optional” while deadlines at work or taking care of responsibilities at home are not. First of all, remind yourself that you deserve to be well. Secondly, you are going to be a better person/spouse/parent/friend/worker when you are taking care of yourself vs. being stressed out or burned out. And thirdly, burnout is a real time-waster. If you think you can’t spare 20 minutes to just sit and do nothing, or go on a walk, or whatever it is you need to do, think about when you have maxed out your energy and patience. Those are the times when you eat things you’d rather not (or don’t eat at all), or when you lose an evening because you have to go straight to bed, or zone out for hours watching something. When we push ourselves too much, our body rebels and forces us to slow down. Stay ahead of the game and take care of yourself. 

While there are certain principles of time-management, it can be more of an art than a science. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little with your schedule. It can take time to find that balance (and our lives are always changing!). You can do it!