When time rushes by as it sometimes does, I have the sense that I’m simply existing, rather than really living.
Some of this may be a by-product of the society we inhabit but when I am focused and productive in my working hours, I have a greater sense of being present in my life, rather than getting swept along on the ride.
Here are five actions that work well for me.
1. Get clear about what’s important
Spend an hour writing out clear, measurable and time-framed goals for each area of your life. Include relationships, health, career, finances, creativity, living environment and giving back. Create a mix of longer and shorter term goals.
Break down each of your goals into manageable action steps. If it feels too difficult to name all of the steps, just write down the first step you need to take.
Next, find a time management system that works for you.
I use a free tool called Asana and it’s brilliant. Within Asana, I’ve created a list of the ‘projects’ that relate to different goal areas, and within those projects I list each of the small tasks required in order to achieve that goal.
Every Monday morning I review each of the projects and move tasks out of the project folders onto my main task list. I leave everything else in the relevant project folders so I don’t feel overwhelmed.
The tasks in the main list are my priorities for the week and I do my best to stay focused on those. I’ll explain how shortly.
2. Batch emails, social media and phone calls
The best time management experts agree that it’s more effective to batch the tasks that can otherwise eat up hours of your day.
Set aside blocks of time (first thing in the morning, the middle of the day and afternoon) to work your way through your inbox as efficiently as you can.
Get into the habit of reading your emails only once and responding straight away where possible. File completed emails into relevant folders so you’re not wasting time running your eyes over them again.
In an ideal world, clear your inbox every day or at least get it to the point where you have some white space visible under your messages.
Use the same batching technique with social media and phone calls. Set aside one or two blocks of time so you’re not distracted throughout your day.
3. Block out time in your diary to do the important work
I work with many clients whose diaries are full of meetings and they find it impossible to get their important done work during the workday. Invariably, they work evenings and weekends to catch up and end up burning out.
Block out at least a few hours every week to complete the tasks that will genuinely move you in the direction of your goals. Do your best to be strong about sticking to these boundaries – once the people you work with know you’re committed, it’s likely you’ll find they’re understanding and respectful.
4. Stay focused during your day
Most of us are easily inclined to procrastination (surfing the internet, making a phone call, looking at social media, chatting to a work colleague) and then we find an hour or more of productive time has been wasted.
Once you find yourself in the block of ‘important task’ time, do your best to stay focused so you make the most of that time.
If you’re struggling to start an important piece of work, tell yourself you’ll stick with it for five minutes. Put pen to paper and write whatever is in your mind. The key is to create some forward momentum – often that’s all you need.
5. Get up early and take some time for yourself
For me, this is the one action step that makes the most significant difference in my life. I’m not naturally a morning person and it took me years to feel happy about being up before dawn, but the trade-off is truly worth it.
Exercise, meditate, journal or just take the time to sit and have a quiet cup of tea before the rest of the world wakes up. It’s the perfect time to set an intention for how you’ll approach your day.