Better time management means more productivity. Here are 12 tips to help you increase your output that work 99% of the time.
#1 Time block your day
Having a todo list is the first step. Translating it into time blocks is the second one. Schedule your day based on your tasks, and allocate time based on the importance of and the amount of work required by each task.
#2 Schedule in buffer time
Depending on the amount of work required by each task, and the time they will take, things will have the potential to go more or less wrong. For that reason, it’s always more comfortable to schedule some buffer time. If things don’t go wrong and you find yourself with a 30-minute time slot with nothing planned, just enjoy being here, or have a backup plan for when things go right.
#3 You can’t always be productive
Nobody is a machine. Even Bill Gates and Elon Musk have bad days. You can’t work all day, you need to rest and to recharge your batteries like everybody else.
Never underestimate the importance of sleep. At the same level of dedication and motivation, the difference in efficiency between a sleep-deprived and a well-rested person is huge.
Don’t waste time dwelling on the fact that you can’t work all day. Use that time to rest, reflect, and start again tomorrow.
#4 Multitasking doesn’t work
It just doesn’t. Our brains are not made to do multiple things at the same time. If you try to bake a cake while coding a program and writing a book, there are 3 scenarios likely to unfold:
- 1 out of 3 things will be a disaster, the rest will be sort of ok
- 2 out of 3 things will be a disaster, one thing will be sort of ok
- 3 out of 3 things will be a disaster, nothing will be sort of ok
Notice anything? There is not one single scenario where 1 thing out of the 3 will be great, or even good. Trying to do multiple things at the same time is an energy-wasting process. By focusing your energy on one thing at a time, and only one, you will get so much more done than by trying to multi-task.
#5 Set deadlines
We all have deadlines at work, and most of us deliver in time, no matter how hectic the process was. But very few people set deadlines for themselves.
You’re a lot more likely to get your work done if you set a hard deadline for yourself and treat it as a professional task. Getting someone to hold you accountable will definitely help too. Don’t stress yourself, be realistic with the deadlines. Once you put it in the calendar, don’t lose sight of it, and execute.
#6 Set up a routine and stick to it.
A routine will give your work and your days more structure. The more parts of your routine become automatic, the better. This means trying to always work during the same time slots, to always do a specific task at a specific time. If your brain is programmed to be in full focus mode from 1pm to 3pm for instance, you know this is your time and you won’t let anything get in your way.
You can let go of the routine once in a while to relax, like on the weekends. You can also have a relaxing routine specifically for the weekends.
There will never be enough time to do everything, so make sure you know what’s most important and how to tackle it. Prioritisation is one of the most important keys to success, ever.
Identify the tasks that are not important, and push them aside. Chances are, a lot of them never even needed to be done in the first place. Everyday, you should have maximum 3 top priorities to tackle, not more. Anything that is not in your Top 3 should be regarded as secondary and deserve your attention only once you’re done with the 3 most important tasks of the day.
#8 Break down tasks
Rome wasn’t built in one day, and your big projects won’t either. Breaking down the workload into tasks you can do one session after the other is the best way to get to the end of things. This process works hand in hand with prioritisation. Remove the noise and everything that doesn’t move the needle towards results.
Once you start working on one task, you don’t want to get any interruptions. Some people like to work in sessions of 1 hour, 2 hours, some in 30 mins… Find what works best for you, and split your work accordingly.
#9 Always take notes
Just like our brains are not designed to multitask, they are also very flawed and inaccurate when it comes to remembering things. Having a notepad or some note-taking app with you at all times will help you remembering the important stuff, which will lead to better time management. When you have an overview of everything, you can prioritise your time better.
#10 File things where you’ll find them.
Get organised. If you’re the messy kind, working on this aspect of your personality can save you hours. Looking for things because you don’t remember where you put them has a few downsides:
- It’s a waste of time
- It’s a waste of energy
- You will most likely beat yourself up for it, while the “easy” solution is to change the way you work
If you spend even 5% of your time looking for things, that adds up to 2 hours a week on a 40-hour workweek. Make it easy for yourself to find your work and notes by learning to get more organised.
#11 Automate things
Spending time automating some of your tasks is like a successful financial investment, with less risk associated to it. You spend a few hours implementing an automation system for one task once. In the long run, you save 10 times (or more) the amount of time you spent working on the automation, because you remove a task from your calendar.
If you realise that it wasn’t worth it and you’re actually wasting your time trying to automate something that would be better done on a case-by-case approach, then stop trying to automate it. You only lost a bit of time, it happens to everybody. Take a shower, go for a jog and start the next day fresh and positive.
#12 Block out distractions
One more thing you shouldn’t rely on your brain to do. Ignoring distractions. Our brains love distractions and will do everything do get you off track in your quest for productivity.
The best way to cope with that is to create an environment where distractions don’t exist. Putting your phone on silent might not be enough. If you know yourself and you will still manually check your phone every 10 minutes, then put the phone in another room.
Turn off all notifications on your computer, turn off the internet if you don’t need it for the task you are working on. Computer programs exist to fully block apps, websites and other distractions on your computer. I use SelfControl for Mac, it’s amazing. Even if you restart your computer, the websites you blacklisted will remain block until the timer expires.
No matter what, do not let distractions come your way.
Thanks so much for reading! If you want to take control of your time, stop wasting your energy, and prioritise the right things, my free tool The 168 Hours Spreadsheet will help!