Dear 25 year old me,
In previous posts, I’ve written about the amount of projects and responsibilities that I currently have in my life and have mentioned that time management was key to any of this being at all possible.
Well actually; time management with the addition of knowing my limits.
I do juggle a lot of projects and tasks at one time, but I’m very mindful of giving each and every task the attention and care that it deserves with the time that I’ve allotted to it. Apparently, this is a skill? Some would dub it multitasking, but I’d like to think that it’s less about multitasking but more about managing time.
My tasks vary so much that it’s essential to be flexible with them and in doing so, give myself the best chance to perform (and kick goals) as best I can. Not only do I need to be in the right mindset and have different modes, I must also be able to recognise when these modes are in effect so that I can make the most of them.
I find it odd when people tell me that this is a skill that I have because it seems somewhat, ordinary… I certainly think that I can always improve my time management, but I’m happy to share some of the things that have helped me along the way so far.
I didn’t go and do a course or buy books about it; these are things that I’ve just adopted over time and they seem to work for me…
I’d really be interested to hear what the time management gurus out there have to say though!
I don’t let software push me around and nor should anyone else. Push notifications are fine in theory but they can also be very distracting and break trains of thought very easily. If you want to be in control of your time, then turn these off during your productive windows.
Pro tip: airplane mode does wonders when you truly want to be distraction-free.
2. Checking emails
If you’re like me and receive hundreds of emails every day, it’s easy for you to just be completely consumed and controlled by your inbox. Take the control back and dictate your terms. Set aside 15-minute intervals at different stages of the day to check through as many as you can during that allocated time.
Pro tip: inbox zero rocks my world.
Clear out your inbox as quickly as you can. Can the email be sorted, forwarded or replied to in under two mins? Then just do it.
Otherwise, move it to your action folder and don’t think about it again until your next scheduled action block of time.
3. Scheduled blocks
With so many tasks on the go, it’s hard to know what to focus on when there are other things in the back of your mind. That’s why I’ll allocate recurring blocks of time into my calendar for the active projects with plenty of breaks and change-over time in between. It sounds obvious to literally add entries into the calendar, but I’ve learnt that not everyone does this. Without the time set aside, it’s often too easy to get distracted and stray onto another task or to simply opt to veg out.
It’d be fair to say that there are a limited amount of hours in a week, so once you’ve added in these blocks, you could gain clear visibility on how much available time you actually have (rather than what you think you have).
Pro tip: be flexible.
Know what mode you’re in e.g. strategic, creative, pragmatic, ordered etc and if practical (not urgent), adapt the task you’re working on to fit to that mode.
Swap with other scheduled days for the most effective outcome. I prefer to schedule in “block types” rather than specific tasks and then I pull from my list (in order of priority) to tackle the next thing on the list.
4. Have discipline
Hold yourself accountable to the tasks that you’ve set out to achieve and stick to this. If you find yourself constantly falling behind then force yourself to be realistic about the goals that you’re setting and perhaps it’s time to do less. Finishing one task to your satisfaction is obviously going to feel better than to not finish three tasks that you set out to do.
Pro tip: set a countdown timer as you start the task so that you can focus on maximising that time as much as you can.
If you see that you only have 15 minutes left to go, you’re instincts will go into survival mode to get it done!
5. Say no
This will probably be the hardest task of all but will become easier once you have the visual clarity of what your real capacity is to take on projects and tasks.
You don’t necessary need to close the door and say no to something that you are truly passionate about just because it doesn’t fit, though; you can always assess whether there’s something that you are already working on that might not be as committed to and replace with this project. It’s not ideal to chop and change, but it’s important to be realistic about what you can take on, especially if you’re someone – like me – who just wants to be part of all the exciting projects (fomo case study right here)!
Pro tip: sort your life like a lean startup.
Have a list going that has immediate things that you want to achieve (MVP) and categorise these accordingly into the type of tasks that they are – perhaps you’ll want to sort these by your block types (above). Then, create a separate list for projects that have bigger picture concepts or down-the-track things that you want to work on.
I’ll write another post about what tools I have tried but I’ve simplified with these particular ones that I use daily which fantastically, are all free:
I have (several) Trello boards set up to help me manage tasks into categories, priorities and include checklists. The drag and drop for each of the ‘cards’ helps me to re-order things and ensure that anything with a high priority can be flagged. It’s perfect for me to add my to-dos for projects and all that I’m planning down the track so that I don’t forget an idea that pops into my head at 3am.
Momentum is a chrome plugin that helps me focus on my smaller tasks in the simplest quick-see-do interface. It’s really divine for the smaller hit list things that can just be easily knocked off. Unfortunately, it’s only available for desktop currently. It would be a handy one for being on the go and replace the bloated checklist apps.
It’s Apple life all the way for me and this is mainly due to the calendar. Not much explanation needed here, but like with any tool, it’s how you use it which defines how effective it actually is.
7. Schedule sweet nothing
Don’t forget to make sure that there are plenty of blocks that are set aside just for “you” time. Don’t add anything specific to these blocks but instead, give yourself permission to take a break, get outside, and soak in some rays and fresh air. Even if you have looming deadlines, nothing is more important than your health and wellbeing (absolutely nothing).
Pro tip: don’t rely on the tool, find the tool that will suit how you are comfortable with working.
I really do especially love the excitement of starting new projects and working in different teams, though. Variety is the spice of life and I believe that in the same breath, good things are easier to appreciate when there are lights and shades. All with balance!
Some people call me crazy, I think I might agree with them.
A wise colleague of mine just today sent me a tweet reminding me of a quote by Mozart; perfect timing for this post “the music is not in the notes, but the silence in between” – thanks, Richard!
Until next time!