As a lawyer, entrepreneur, business owner, husband, and father, I have so many tasks to juggle each day. For me, time management is crucial.
When it comes to productivity, most people would say that they just wish they could get more done with their time. Many people feel like they’re constantly working, but seeing fewer results than they’d like. It’s hard to be your most effective, unless you cultivate better time management habits.
Here are some strategies and tips that can help you improve your time management skills and get the most out of your day.
A good starting point is to take a look at your past week.
What did you do each day? Can you remember? What tasks did you accomplish? Did you get everything done that you needed to?
Try to answer these questions while you list out each day. It may surprise you to learn that many people can’t remember everything they did over the past week.
When our time is filled with tasks that are of little comparative importance, the hours can blur together. If you want your days to be distinct and filled with purpose, consider applying some of the following tips.
It goes without saying that if you begin your day with no direction, you’re not likely to accomplish much.
Effective planning, and goal setting, is a key time management skill.
If you tend to have some scattered to-do lists or sticky notes as your guide, consider one of these planning styles to help you stay on track.
The Franklin-Covey method was popularized by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (which I may blog about at greater length another time). This method is all about prioritizing your goals and focusing your time and energy on the things most deserving of your effort and attention.
The Franklin-Covey method involves splitting the activities of your day into four quadrants. Label the vertical columns right-to-left as “Urgent” and “Not Urgent.” Label the rows on the left, top-to-bottom, as “Important” and “Not Important.”
This leaves you with a small grid, with the quadrants going in clockwise order as 1, 2, 3, 4.
The first quadrant (top left) is, therefore, the combination “Urgent and Important.” This quadrant should include things like deadlines, pressing meetings, and anything that could be categorized as a “crisis.”
The second quadrant (top right) is “Not Urgent and Important.” This section should include things that improve your life and are constructive. Stuff like relationship-building, health and fitness, and personal or professional development belongs here.
The third quadrant (bottom left) is the “Urgent and Not Important” section. This area of the grid is where you should put a lot of the things that crowd up your day—emails and meetings that are more about making a paper trail than being effective, social events that are more about obligation than pleasure, and interruptions.
The fourth quadrant (bottom right) is for things that are “Not Urgent and Not Important.” These are time wasters—the Netflix binges of your week—and true leisure time.
Ideally, you want to spend most of your time doing tasks on the right two quadrants of the grid. When you cannot spend your time on the right side, it’s best to be spending it on tasks that fall in the top half of the grid.
The main idea is to maintain discipline when categorizing and focusing your goals. What are you doing today? Where do those activities fall on the grid? How are they helping you achieve your big picture goals? Always ask yourself these questions and be brutally honest when assessing your day.
If you value your time, you’ll find that you do more valuable things with it.
Bullet journalling has become popular thanks to its association with the rising minimalist movement. The basic premise is that you combine your journal, planner, and sketchbook all in one handy notebook.
This method is great for creatives because you can design your own layouts and spreads according to your own needs. Many say that the designing of the journal itself acts as a stress-reliever. If you aren’t crafty, bullet journaling can be pared down to the bare minimum—customization is key here.
Bullet journaling is also a good way to look back at what you’ve accomplished over the course of weeks, months, or even your whole year.
The focus is on comprehensive and quick logging of both what you have to do and what you have done.
The logging system shows you the tasks that you have no problem checking off your list, as well as the things you keep putting off.
This bird’s eye view of your habits can tell you a lot about how you spend your time. It will show you where you need to push yourself to be as productive as possible.
Forbes published an article earlier this year explaining new research that suggested 98% of people are actually bad multitaskers.
Rather than truly multitasking, all but 2% of us are simply switching back and forth between different activities. This means we’re less efficient than we would be if we simply took tasks one at a time.
If you’re the type who likes multitasking because it keeps you from feeling bored, try setting small, logical chunks of work aside from different projects or tasks. Answer an email, then write a certain amount of that blog post you have to publish this week, then take that conference call, etc.
Our culture tends to value busyness, so we instinctually want to juggle everything at once.
But what we should value is productivity and focus.
Focusing your attention on one thing at a time might feel strange at first, but you’ll see it pay off in the long run.
For me personally, coworkers and staff add things to my to-do list, making me feel sometimes that I’m getting behind when I’m working on projects that are important, but not urgent.
However, putting a priority on focusing on the big-picture tasks in my day helps me accomplish more over time.
Pushing yourself too hard can actually make you less productive. It’s easy to get too close to whatever you’re working on and that can blind you to weaknesses in your project.
Taking breaks helps you reestablish a distance between yourself and your work, so you can refocus and make sure you’re headed in the right direction.
Giving yourself time away from your work can also allow you to seek out advice. There are times when you’re pushing hard to try to overcome an obstacle by yourself, when really all you need is a moment to breathe and a fresh pair of eyes.
Taking breaks saves you from running your wheels in one spot for too long. Sometimes you need to pause before you can actually move forward.
It’s hard not to feel like you need to do everything all of the time. However, delegating tasks that someone else could do takes a huge weight off of your daily calendar.
Knowing when to delegate is a time management skill.
Plus, there’s a good chance that someone else could give these things more attention than you could. This keeps your workflow freed up and the quality of work high.
Improving your time management skills is ultimately about taking a hard look at your habits. Once you assess your weaknesses, you can make corrections. Pointless distractions can take up so much of the day.
There are tons of different strategies out there, and we’ve covered just a few in this post. The important thing is finding what works for you. With the right time management skills, you can avoid filling your day with empty tasks and feel better about your work.
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LAWYER & ONLINE ENTREPRENEUR
After graduating from law school and passing the bar, I struggled to find work, pay my bills, and make ends meet. That's when I decided to take control of my future and start working for myself. Now, several years and a handful of companies later, I'm sharing how I launched a successful business, and how you can do it too.