When I first met Michael, there were times that we clashed simply because I’m a Analytical person on a timetable, and he’s a lustful Artist who is used to working when inspiration hits him. Once Dylan was born however, we both had to learn from one another quickly. I had to open up to flexibility and creativity, and he had to learn time saving tactics to keep from needlessly running in circles.
Flash forward to today, and he has mastered his time. He’s not at all like me and doesn’t do nearly anything like I do, but if he did we’d be boring. In my professional life, I teach all sorts of people, mostly attorneys, how to build out their day and stop being “busy”. The first thing that I teach them is my mantra:
Being busy will leave you broke. Productivity builds legacy.
Hamsters on their wheels are busy. Beavers are productive. You can see the difference right?
If you start out your day working with this fact in your mind, you’ll never be a slave to your notifications again. Most people, and even entire industries, are reactionary. They wait for something to happen and then they react to it. From there, they build entire systems, processes, timetables, and habits based on this reactionary behavior. All the while it is much more effective, efficient and cost saving to simply be…proactive.
Being proactive honestly boils down to you running your day and not letting it run you. Taking exhausted professionals out of this habit of trying to catch their time isn’t the easiest thing to do, but I do it so it’s possible. The first thing that I examine what is already working and build upon that. Often people have their way of being in the world so I keep the new basics simplistic and attainable. Great things are built upon this strong foundation.
The following is how all novice time managers start. It’s simple, it’s effective, anyone can do it no matter where or if you work, and most importantly…it is habit forming. Eventually, this mode of operating your life and work systems becomes automatic which allows life functions to fall into place around it, and as well as allow more customized approaches to be added as live (and work) evolve.
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Starting in order of the list…
Weekly Priorities List / Three Daily Priorities: This is a task that can be done once and may only need to be modified once or twice. Take a look at your next two weeks, and see what needs to be done or where you need to be. Is there anything from the week after that can be grouped into your upcoming week? Are there any tasks that can be done with this week’s duties to make the following week’s task easier? Also ask yourself if there is anything that can be delegated, outsourced or done away with completely. Once you have your weekly tasks down to the “have to do’s”, then list them down in logical order of importance. From this list, pull three things to do daily until the week is over & the list is completed.
With your list in mind…
Structure your days: I teach a four day work system that names the theme of the work day; Correspondence & Planning day, Focus Day, Launch Day, Buffer Day. I can place two of these themed days together if need be, and even if you were to group 3 built in Buffer Days together, there is still one more day in the work week to be utilized. Building buffers into your schedule is a non-negotiable. There must be time to accommodate the unexpected that will occur. (Please read this post for a full explanation and to put this to use immediately.)
Front load your day: Start your tasks with the most complex or time consuming task first thing. Doing this will get it out of the way and done while you have the bulk of the day to complete it well, or hammer out the majority of it. As a bonus, by doing the most difficult tasks first, your day will naturally get easier as it goes along.
Batch your work: Group project tasks together by likeness in order to drive off of the momentum. Prepare all documents and correspondence at the same time, cook two dinners with nearly the same ingredients together and freeze one. Any tasks that share materials should be batched.
Carry over your work: Anything left over by the end of your work day gets carried over to the next work day as top priorities. The caveat to this is that you cannot carry a task over more than once. Anything more than that is procrastination and that is habit forming.
That’s it. It’s only as complicated as you make it to be. When it comes to time management, you have to be willing to change and make evolution a habit by allowing it. If you are a growing and changing human, your lists will look different over time. So will how you structure your week, and that is ok. These habits as framework however, will stay the same while you customize within the margins.
Time management pros can use this structure one week, abandon it the next week, and then pick it up again, or use it to develop another system that works best for them. But this start of 5 habits is the perfect beginning for anyone.
Be dedicated to the process of time management, and you will master it. This I guarantee.