Managing Time & Avoiding “Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda”

Time!  There’s never enough of it and when we do have it we seem to find ourselves spinning in circles figuring out which task on the never ending list to do first.

Part of being organized is simply about knowing how to manage your time so that you can get the most done in the time that you do have.  I strongly believe that we sometimes sabotage ourselves to keep from being more productive in fear that we won’t know what to do if we actually aren’t as busy as we’re made to believe we should be.  Or that we won’t be able to compare ourselves to all the other “busy” people we interact with in our daily lives.  But you know what?  We need to get out of that mindset right now, and tell ourselves that we’re going to figure out how to get our crap done when it’s supposed to get done!  Then, we’re going to enjoy our family time, our alone time and stop constantly thinking about what we “should” be doing.  AND, even better, we’re going to celebrate by actually enjoying the downtime we do have without experiencing the guilt of “shoulda, coulda, woulda” in our pajamas with a glass of wine or chocolate.  Or both – no judgment here.

So, how do we get to a place where we say the day’s work is actually done…and actually feel as though it was productive?  Here are a few things that you’ll need to do to get started:

  • Start figuring out where your time goes during the day. Track your time for the next week.  Keep a spreadsheet or a notebook and write down blocks of time and what you did during those blocks of time.  You don’t need to waste time being too detailed, but keep up with when you spent time on actual work projects, checking email, phone calls, in meetings, etc.  Then, also write down when chunks of time where taken up by non-related work events such as co-workers’ visits, helping restock toilet paper in the bathroom (true story), etc.  This will quickly help you realize where your time is going when you feel like you’ve worked all day but you’re actually not spending it all on “work.”
  • Identify your “timesucker(s).” This is when it’s time to be brutally honest with yourself.  What is your distraction that you turn to when you don’t want to start the next project or when you “only have 20 minutes” left of the day?  Is it facebook, candy crush, solitaire, chatting with co-workers, scavenging for food in the work room?  Be honest…what do you do when you’re avoiding working?

Now that you’ve done some self-examination, here are some simple changes that can quickly help make your day more productive and will help you get the most out of your time:

  • Using what you discover using your time log, come up with a general game plan for your days’ schedule. Each day may look different if you have meetings scheduled but you should have a plan for when you’ll be at your desk and when you’ll be up and around the office.  If you are most productive in the mornings, you need to be at your desk in the mornings.  Tell yourself that your “visiting” half hour can wait until the afternoon when you need a little energy and then do all of your stops at once so you don’t spend more time than needed going back and forth to your office.  Set an alarm on your phone to keep you on track.  Or that your second cup of coffee doesn’t come until after emails are caught up so that you don’t set yourself up to be in the workroom for an extra half hour before you’ve accomplished anything in the day yet.
  • Set a plan for yourself for how to use your timesucker. For example, you can set a reward for yourself that you can get on facebook for 10 minutes (again, set an alarm) once the most important project of the day is completed.   If you are distracted by facebook or other websites, there is a website called focalfilter.com that allows you to temporarily block yourself from websites.  You can set the time limit and the sites so it’s an extra reminder that you’re supposed to be getting that project done first!  If your timesucker is something more like a chatty coworker or just getting generally distracted on a number of things, set an alarm on your phone every hour at 10 minutes to the hour.  It will be a regular reminder to stay on track and will give you a way to excuse yourself to an imaginary meeting or conference call if you’re in a conversation that should have ended 15 minutes ago.
  • Many times we like to feel productive by doing the easiest, quickest things on our list first. However, if you’ll pick the two hardest or most time consuming things to get done first then the rest of the day will be much easier, more productive and you won’t have the big projects looming all day.  If you get distracted easily, you can use http://inboxpause.com/ to temporarily pause your incoming emails until you finish the project so that you don’t feel like you have to stop working on your project to answer them. If you don’t have gmail, just close your inbox.  It won’t hurt them to not be seen for just a few hours while you concentrate on finishing one thing from start to finish!
  • One of the best ways to be productive is to have a plan when you walk in the door in the morning rather than spending the first 30 minutes figuring out what you have to do that day. This can easily be accomplished if you follow my guidelines of cleaning your desk, to do list and inbox at the end of each day.  You can find out more about how to end each day so that tomorrow is more productive in these 3 posts:

There’s No Stress in a Clean Desk: Simple Steps to Getting and Keeping a Clean Desk

You’ve Got…No…Mail: Simple Steps to Getting and Keeping a Clear Inbox

Much To Do about Something: How to Create and Manage a To Do List That Actually Works

 

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