Hack Your Week: 7 Time Management Tips for Optimal Productivity
Everyone has 24 hours available in a day. However, some people just get more done. What’s the secret? Organizing time into a productive daily schedule. In other words, it’s important to get good at time management. Having a clear plan for your day ensures you can find time to accomplish both short-term projects and long-term goals.
If you’ve been feeling like you just don’t have enough hours in the day, here are seven tips for organizing your day more effectively. With them, you’ll be able to find time for those back-burner goals that you always intend to work towards (but never actually get to).
Map your energy levels
Everyone’s energy has ups and downs throughout the work day. So, before you sit down to plan a schedule, spend a week or two prior mapping your natural highs and lows. Your goal is to find patterns in your productivity and energy levels so that you can strategize how you schedule certain projects and tasks.
Making an energy map is as simple as creating a spreadsheet and dividing each work day into 15-, 30-, or 60-minute increments. For the next week or two, set a timer and get to work. When the timer goes off, log what you accomplished during that time period and next to each entry roughly rate how productive you felt. A 10 means super productive, while a zero means you were basically asleep.
Identify productivity windows
After you’ve mapped your energy patterns, analyze your spreadsheet and identify patterns when you’re most productive. Everyone has slumps in the day, usually in the midmorning and directly after lunch. Rather than trying to push through them, make the decision to fully embrace them.
The key to being productive is to allot tasks that don’t require much concentration to your low energy periods and schedule important tasks to periods when your energy is at its peak. Don’t think that you have to organize your time down to the minute. Instead, divide your day into blocks and assign tasks to them.
Focus on 2-3 major projects per day
To ensure you’re always working on larger projects and life goals, identify two or three to work on every day. Write your tasks at the top of your daily schedule, assign them 90-minute increments during periods when you’re most productive and you need to think critically or creatively without distractions.
Do you know how much time each task requires? Write that down too so that you can identify how many big tasks you’ll have time to complete during the week. Then, design each day around them. To make sure you’re not avoiding projects you dread, aim to do those first. Make a point to ask your team not to interrupt you.
Batch tasks, don’t multi-task
It’s easy to get distracted by the inevitable day-to-day emergencies that pop up unexpectedly. Focusing on them can make you feel like you’re always busy when you’re really not getting much done. And while you might think that you’re great at multitasking, studies show that your probably wrong. In fact, multitasking reduces your efficiency. Over time, it even reduces your brain’s ability to filter irrelevant information, effectively lowering your IQ.
To stay at peak productivity and limit distractions, group small tasks into batches–like answering email, proofreading, or making phone calls. When you start working on them, make a point to set a timer and limit yourself to whatever time you’ve allotted to them. This way, you won’t allow small tasks eat into your day.
Schedule breaks and incentives
Most people’s brains only work at their peak for 90-120 minutes before they lose focus and their interest wanes. To give your brain a rest after big tasks, give yourself a break so that you can come back refreshed, refocused, and ready to get more done.
Don’t forget to add several five-minute and 20-30 minute breaks to your daily plan. It’s a good idea to set up a system where you incentivize yourself to complete your tasks. For example, after you complete a batch of small tasks, give yourself a five-minute break to grab a snack. The completion of larger projects should earn you bigger rewards, like 30 minutes to go grab coffee with coworkers.
Build a holistic schedule
Don’t forget to include all other tasks in your day—even the ones that don’t involve work. Do you enjoy reading while you’re drinking coffee every morning? Add that to your schedule. Wish you had a hour every day to go to the gym, practice meditation, or a take walk? Add those activities to your schedule too.
It’s important to organize your day in a way that promotes real work/life balance so that you don’t burn out. Treat every task as an unbreakable appointment with yourself and respect each one. You wouldn’t cancel a work or client obligation, so why would you cancel one you have with yourself?
End your day with a plan for tomorrow
Take 10-20 minutes at the end of each day to process what you’ve done and prioritize tasks for tomorrow. At this point, you’ll have a clear understanding of how well you achieved some goals and got derailed on others.
Each week, it’s likely that a few days will go off-course, especially as you’re getting used to better time management. Just keep working towards achieving more and more “model days.” If you can’t bring yourself to write out a full schedule, jot down everything that needs attention tomorrow so that you’ve got a head start when you wake up.