Time is our most precious resource and we all need to be intentional about how we spend it. It’s too easy with all the devices, social media, and constant streams of information to fall victim to time-wasting traps that prevent us from accomplishing our most important work.
If you’re not a natural time management pro, don’t worry. Time management is a learned skill, not a born talent. Here are three easy ways you can identify or manage the worst time-wasters in your life, and win back precious time throughout your day.
1. Plan and Prioritize.
When you know you’ve got a busy day (or week) ahead of you, it’s important to have a clear plan for what you need to achieve. Not only does a plan keep you focused and on track, but getting it all down paper can remove the sense of being overwhelmed or not knowing where to start. This is why we recommend time-blocking, and using your 66-Day Calendar to map the most important things to focus on.
On Friday afternoons or Sundays, sit down and think about your big goals for this year. What do you want to achieve, both personally and professionally? With those longer-term goals in mind, you can work backwards to figure out what you need to do this month to get there, and then what you need to do in the next week. Once you’ve identified the three ‘Big Rocks’ for the week ahead, you can plan out your schedule (and you can use this system to develop a routine that will work for your specific situation).
2. Working? Work. Resting? Rest.
It happens to the best of us: we’re in the middle of a scheduled work block, and then, barely even registering that we’re doing it, we click open a new tab to check in on Facebook or email. We open the news, Twitter, or forums that we like, compulsively refreshing them — and losing our focus on the work we were doing.
Once you’ve identified the traps you usually fall into, you can take preventative measures to keep yourself out of them.
Put your phone away during work hours so you’re not tempted to check it and utilize programs like Cold Turkey that will block distracting websites from your computer for as long as you need to get work done. Build your Bunker, collecting everything you will need (snacks, water, work resources) to stick at your scheduled task as long as you need to.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take breaks. You definitely should — breaks are critically important to our long-term productivity. The longer you work on something, the less mental resources you have to give it.
Entrepreneur Magazine’s The Secret to Increased Productivity: Taking Time Off, notes that “one study found that mental fatigue takes hold after three hours of continuous time on-task; other scientists say brains need a break after 90 minutes, the length of the “basic rest-activity cycle.” You can also use systems like the Pomodoro Method, in which you take a short break after 25-30 minute work intervals.
Just make sure that your breaks are scheduled and intentional, rather than distractions.
There’s a big difference between a strategic, healthy break and the kind where you just scroll through your phone for half an hour. It’s important that your brain actually gets a break!
Use your break time to clear your mind and do something for your physical health. Get outside and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air by taking a walk around your neighborhood or through a local park. Spending 10 to 15 minutes meditating or journaling can be another good way to refresh your mind.
These healthy breaks can help you get your most important work done effectively, leaving you with enough energy to handle your smaller tasks and anything that comes up unscheduled.
3. Be Prepared for Delays
A big part of our schedules depend on outside circumstances running smoothly. However, things don’t always go according to plan. Public transportation runs behind schedule; we get stuck in traffic; we end up in waiting rooms; or our friends are late to meet us. A good way to ensure this time isn’t wasted is to be prepared.
Carry a book or your Kindle with you just in case you have to wait.
If you prefer audio to the written word, there are plenty of podcasts you can listen to so you can learn something new and improve yourself while you wait. We talk about our top 10 productivity podcasts in this post, but here are a few more we love:
- Extreme Productivity with Kevin Kruse: Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author who has interviewed highly successful people such as athletes, billionaires, and CEOs. Each episode of his podcast is only 15 minutes long, which makes them ideal for filling in delays.
- The Productivityist Podcast: This podcast by Mike Vardy is full of tips for boosting your productivity in new and innovative ways. He touches on topics such as minimalism, mindfulness, journaling, wellness, and much more.
- ProdPod: There’s no excuse for missing out on this podcast – each episode is only two minutes long. In that short time, host Ray Sidney-Smith is able to pack in plenty of information on aspects of productivity like dealing with burnout, finding your focus, tackling procrastination, and overcoming creative obstacles.
We all struggle to make time for the things that are important to us. But with a little planning and conscious prioritization, we can maximize the time we’re given. The key is to be intentional about the ways we spend our days. If you make it your goal to be present and mindful, you’ll find yourself making choices that will benefit your future self instead of opting for the instant gratification of time-wasting.
Want to get better at prioritizing your time and being more productive? Turn your to-do list into a success list with the 411 worksheet. This simple template for weekly, monthly and annual planning turns your ONE Thing intentions into actions.