My Grade 12 Chemistry teacher said, “You don’t need time management if you value your time”.
He went on to explain how he was one of the top students of his time. He was using this very principle.
Unfortunately, I enjoyed the narration but missed the point.
Now several years later, I am trying to fit in as many possible tasks as I can in a day. I understand what he was trying to say.
He was talking about making the most of the time available to you. Maximizing the time that you have. I have been trying out several different strategies, around how to effectively make progress on several different tasks every day.
The goal is to put some work every day on the different items(projects, subjects, etc). You don’t want to slog out item at a time, while constantly worrying about leaving the others tasks.
Here are some of the techniques that are working for me at the moment:
There are going to be apprehensions and worries about not being able to finish your tasks or feeling overwhelmed.
These feelings are natural but they don’t help you with making the actual progress.
Start with some positive affirmations, meditation, or anything that helps to set the right mood and start your (action-packed) day.
2. Plan and Use Time Boxes
Time boxes are chunks of time that you will wholly devote to a certain task.
Say you have to work on 3 tasks today and are planning to work for 9 hours. This means, you have 3hours for each task, considering all tasks have equal weightage.
Your goal with each time box is to stay focused on the task at hand.
Focusing for 3 hours might not be possible(at least not for everyone or every day). Find a reasonable block of time you can spend fully focused.
If that’s 1 hour, then you have 9 time-boxes of 1 hour each.
3. Start first and adjust later
Maybe not everyone will have this issue. Even after planning the time boxes, I used to worry that whether I have prioritized it right or not. Have I missed something?
The best thing is to start, otherwise, you are losing time. If something truly is a higher priority it would mostly become evident. You can pick it up as soon as you realize this or on the next time box.
If you really prioritized it wrong, take it as a lesson for tomorrow.
4. Find out how you start focusing
Are you the kind of person who just gets on the tasks and becomes super focused right away?. If not, You need to figure out how you can drive yourself into the state of focus.
One of my friends, while we were in college, used to start studying by listening to music parallelly. After a few minutes of this, he would start to feel that he is able to absorb the material. He would stop the music, and continue fully focused on the book.
Find if something like this helps you get into the focus zone.
It is also a good idea to analyze what usually breaks your focus, and try eliminating such distractions.
5. Hide the clock and use a timer
When starting out on something like this, looking at the clock has the potential to
- Make you anxious
- Make you “watch the clock” i.e If there are only a few minutes left in the time box, it can possibly lead you into just killing around time till the end of the time box
I usually don’t have any clock in my view while working. My taskbar is always hidden so I don’t see the time on the computer too.
Use a timer and continue working till it buzzes.
6. Avoid “idea” surfing, and use a notepad
While working there is a good chance that you will encounter constant stream of interesting insights.
Even though these are great but some of them are not always related to the task at hand.
Don’t give in to this impulse and pursue such things. Its better to save it for later. Put it down(if its an idea) into some kind of a note-taking app (or an actual notepad) quickly. Explore it later once you are taking a break.
E.g. You end up on Stackoverflow, looking for something you need for your task. An interesting question catches your attention, unrelated to work but interesting nevertheless. Resist ensuing on this alternate jouney, bookmark the question and visit later.
Challenges that you will face:
- You want to extend work for one of the tasks. E.g. You feel that if you give 2 more hours you can finish a task today itself, although this might be possible on some days, but, doing so will only be possible at cost of other tasks. In such cases, I like to end the task with some notes about the stopping point so that I can resume the next day using those notes. I keep the last time box 10 mins shorter so that I can use that time for preparing those notes.
- Unexpected events. You might get an important call or a knock on the door in between your time boxing session. Although you can’t do much about avoiding such scenarios, but the way to make sure you don’t lose time allotted for work, is to keep sufficient padding around your time boxes. I usually keep 30mins every day as a buffer for any miscellaneous urgent tasks that crop up.
- Feeling tired. If you feel tired rather than plodding through the day, take some rest. The goal is to be efficient when you are working and with tiredness, you will not be operating optimally.
I usually take a nap during the day which freshens me up and can do a little better the remaining day, than if I had just kept on without any rest.
All of this has been working well right now but I wish I could say that this is the silver bullet or the last productivity strategy that you need. These strategies work based on various factors and life situations. Being able to focus deeply is one of the most important skills needed to make the most of your time. Time allocation strategies just supplement your ability to focus, by providing a structure for regular commitment.