Experience has taught me one true thing: That maximizing your productivity, happiness, peace, or impact can best be accomplished if you clearly understand a few rules that could lead you to maximize time and enjoy a better life.
1. Have goals
Being more efficient with your time is irrelevant if you don’t know how you want to spend it. In managing time, the compass is more important than the clock. Know where you want to go and spend your time on the things that get you there.
Many people spend energy trying to be more efficient without first doing what’s important: setting goals. It’s like being lost on your way to a new city. Driving faster doesn’t help if you are going in the wrong direction. Figure out what direction to go in and head that way.
Once you’ve prepared it, your list of goals will reveal what is important to you.
2. Analyze how you spend your time
It is always good to know how you’re spending your time right now. You can track this by setting a timer to go off every 15 minutes; whenever it sounds, write down exactly what you are doing. Alternatively, divide your day into 15-minute blocks and record each activity you do.
Once you have your time logs, examine them. How do they compare to your goals? Are you spending time where your priorities are?
3. Keep a to-do list
This sounds too simple, but it really is the basis of all time-management systems. Your to-do list can be electronic, on fancy paper, bound in a notebook or loose-leaf. The key is to have everything you want to accomplish on one list. My to-do list might have a one-line item on it, such as “write annual report,” which refers me to a much larger file or even a file box on that item.
4. Prioritize your list
Once you have the list, determine which are the important items. Mark these with a highlighter, a red pen, or in any other way that makes them stand out.
I sometimes find my to-do list is too big. Every item on the list calls out “pay attention to me!”, even though most of them weren’t highlighted as important. In these cases, I take a blank sheet of paper and cover my to-do list and write down only the three or four most important items. Those are the ones to focus on.
5. Control procrastination
I use a number of tricks to break any lingering tendencies to procrastinate. For instance, I happen to like having a hard copy of my digital to-do list. I reprint it every few days as new items are added and completed ones dropped. It is at these times that I look for the items that I’ve marked as high priority, but which are just not getting done.
People often say I have great self-control. In truth, though, much of it is environment control. I control my environment to eliminate things that I might use to procrastinate. Take games off your computer, for example, sell your TV, and get rid of the busywork jobs that you use to avoid the important tasks.
I have developed one effective habit that has helped break me of procrastination: “Do the worst thing first.” At the beginning of every day, I do the one task that is causing me the most stress, and that I haven’t been getting done. Sometimes I just give it a quarter of an hour.
Hopefully these few tips just mentioned, whether at work or at home should make it easy for yourself to complete each task by taking life one day at a time.