Successful people all have two things in common.
The first is that they each have the same amount of time in a day.
The second is that they manage that time more effectively than others by using these strategies to get the most out of their working time.
Before getting too far, it's important to note that we define success both as one's ability to achieve their goals as well as having a healthy life balance.
Having material or business success without also having an enriching social life or time for self expression is putting the cart before the horse.
In fact, B.C. Forbes, founder of Forbes Magazine, wrote in the very first edition of Forbes "Business was originated to produce happiness, not to pile up millions."
When you search Google for Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, his biography starts off with both "American Rock Climber and Environmentalist" before listing "Outdoor Industry Billionaire."
These examples are used to clearly illustrate that the time management strategies laid out here are not simply to have you work all day and night, but to empower you with the tools to master getting the most out of your working hours so that you can also effectively unplug and have a well rounded and immersive life outside of work.
The 5 Time Management Strategies of Productive Leaders
1. Make a Plan the Night Before
How much time does it take you each morning to figure out what you're going to do?
How long does it take you to remember what you were working on and what the important parts of that were to move forward?
My guess is more time than usual, but let's just say 10 minutes each morning to be conservative.
Those 10 minutes each day add up 70 minutes each week! That's more than a full hour of trying to focus and wondering what in the world you're going to do that day.
Eliminate this wasted time by finishing each work day by creating a plan for the day ahead.
I lovingly refer to this practice as "Plan Tomorrow Today".
It's the last thing I do before I leave my desk every day, and it completely abolishes any anxieties I have about things left undone and any overwhelm that might come on from the continuously piling amount of work to be done.
These classically negative emotions can't gain any purchase in my mind because I've already created a plan and know I'll be getting to those actions in the day or week ahead.
Implementation Strategy: Take 3 minutes at the end of each workday to write down the most important things to accomplish in the day ahead and leave that on your desk to find the next morning.
2. Do the Most Important Tasks First
The needle-movers. The money-makers. The strategic-dominos.
Call them what you want, but the actions that are going to actually move you forward in the direction of achieving your goals are precisely the actions you should be taking first thing each day!
After a great morning routine, our attention, focus, and creativity are as high as they're going to be in the early hours of the day.
Leverage that state of mind to focus on the action items that make a significant difference in your business and work.
Conversely, if you allow yourself to get caught up doing busy work first thing in your morning, such as answering emails, you're effectively zapping your available brain power with the minutiae and when it comes time to produce the meaningful work, you won't be in the right state of mind to create the quality of work you desire.
Implementation Strategy: Block off the first hour of every workday to focus on your Most Important Tasks and defend that time like your career depends on it, because it does.
3. Pomodoro Style Sprints
Human brains are built to like sprinters, not marathon runners.
We focus and produce best in short intense intervals compared to long stints of effort.
Pomodoro is an art of working that breaks down your effort and rest periods into short timed intervals.
25 minutes work : 5 minutes rest
50 minutes work : 10 minutes rest
1 hour 45 minutes work : 15 minutes rest
The idea is that our focus and attention follow the law of diminishing returns at some point and instead of letting our quality wane, it's best to simply take a quick break before continuing on.
Professional football players take breaks between every play.
Hockey players are constantly switching on and off the ice.
Triathletes even have aid stations spread throughout the course for water.
Despite what you may think, you cannot consistently produce high quality work for 5 hours at a time. You need to give yourself a quick breather every once in a while.
Also, to be rigorous here, checking social media and answering emails is not resting.
Resting means getting up and away from the desk. Go stand in the sunshine. Take a quick walk around block. Make a cup of coffee. Do something that's going to actually replenish you and restore your energy, drive, and clarity.
It's also important to note that each person is going to find a different interval spacing that works best for them, and you should experiment with these to see which one empowers your particular work style best.
Implementation Strategy: Create 50 minute time blocks on your calendar for at least the first 3 hours of the day and work in sprints to get your Most Important Tasks done with high quality.
4. Eliminate Distractions
Humans are already easily distracted, and we live in an era of distraction where every person and organization is waging war for our attention.
In any given moment, we're battered with dings from social media alerts, notifications from incoming emails, and other people calling or showing up in our working space to talk.
Your desk is a battlefield and every day is a new battle.
As just like a general would never go to battle without a strategy, neither should you.
Your mission each day is to be productive and effective, keeping your attention on what you choose for how long you choose.
Anything that shows up as a potential obstacle to that goal is the enemy.
Good generals don't deal with enemies when they show up. They predict that they will show up and deal with them beforehand.
The two most common enemies are the gravitational pull of your smartphone with all those alluring apps and the other being your favorite websites you check while seemingly unconsciously typing in their URLs whenever your attention wanes slightly.
These two strategies will help you effectively deal with these enemies so you can cultivate the discipline to consistently produce meaningful quality work whenever you choose.
The first is to put your phone on airplane mode and up in a closet in a different room until your work sprint is over.
This may seem drastic.
It will be uncomfortable at first because we seem to have created invisible umbilical cords to these cherished devices.
However, it will be so worth it even after the first implementation when you see how much more progress you make in a condensed amount of time.
The second is a browser extension called Strict Workflow.
You can download this extension and input the URLs of various websites that you seem to go to when your attention drifts and it will prevent you from being able to access them for a predetermined amount of time.
In fact, the only way to access one of those websites during the window of time you've allotted for focused work is to go through the process of deleting the browser extension itself.
If websites like Facebook, ESPN, WSJ, or NYT constantly beckon your attention, go download Strict Workflow today.
5. Work When you Have Energy
There are three typical energy slumps that people hit throughout their day.
Mid-morning, post-lunch, and mid-afternoon.
Some people only suffer from one of these while others predictably hit all three on a daily basis.
It's not normal for people to sit down and stare at a screen, otherwise immobilized for 8 hour stretches of time.
This combined with artificial light and air, topped off with a lunch of processed food is a sure recipe for hitting one of these energy slumps.
Luckily, there are easy and healthy ways to deal with these time periods that will have you restore your energy quickly so you can get back to crushing your work!
The most typical energy slump is usually called a "food coma" and comes right after lunch.
Most people instinctively reach for a coffee or energy drink to combat this only to find themselves spacing out an hour later anyways.
An energy restoring alternative is to get outside in the sunshine and go for a walk.
Countless studies have shown that both soaking up vitamin D through the sun's rays as well as moving the body and shaking up that stagnant energy are effective at revitalizing cognitive power.
Taking 10-20 minutes to walk around the block after lunch every day will not only drastically improve your energy levels, but it will improve your quality of work since you won't be at your desk grinding through sludge. As a bonus, getting outside and moving will improve your mood and increase your feelings of wellbeing.
Implementation Strategy: Avoid going straight back to your desk after lunch and go for a 10 minute walk outside.
The second effective strategy for dealing with sporadic energy slumps throughout the day is to give yourself quick energy jolts.
When you notice yourself drifting away from focus at your desk, it's time for a jolt.
Do 10 quick pushups.
Do 10 quick jumping jacks.
If you have a pull-up bar in your doors threshold, do a few pull-ups.
If you have a mini-trampoline in your office, take a few bounces.
Do a few minutes of stretching.
Or get up and treat yourself to another quick walk outside or simply stand in the sun for a few minutes.
Do anything that gets you back into your body, but for the love of all that is holy, do not continue to sit there and do nothing staring at a computer screen that's not going to magically do the work for you if you sit there long enough.
Implementation Strategy: Any time your attention drifts, stand up from your desk and move your body.
Being a master of time management isn't hard.
It simply requires discipline.
It requires paying attention to how your body wants to naturally perform best, and then aiding that as much as possible.
It requires paying attention to what gets in the way of performing at a high level, and then being your own ally and preventing those obstacles from ever arising in the first place.
Taking on any of these 5 strategies and their sub-strategies will greatly improve your ability to get quality work done in a condensed amount of time. Taking all of them on will turn you into a high performance Jedi.
To sum it all up:
Make a plan the night before.
Work on the most important tasks first thing every day.
Work in short bursts with replenishing rests between.
Get rid of potential distractions like your phone and tempting websites.
When your energy and attention drift, stop working and move your body.
Here's to you Actualizing Your Potential!
Founder and Performance Coach @ STRIVENT
"Actualize your Potential!"
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