When we think about our goals, whether at work, at home, or our personal ambitions, there’s often a big difference between activity and achievement. We may have the best intentions and a strong sense of commitment, but if we don’t put in the hours, there’s a good chance we’ll fall behind. Even worse, we may lose steam and simply give up. It’s not an easy feat to manage time well as we have a lot of distractions to contend with; anyone with a cell phone and a few addicting apps will testify to that. Add in a busy office or home environment, a couple of kids and a stomach that won’t stop growling and you’ve got distraction central!
This month’s theme is all about time management; why it’s important and what steps we can take to get better at it. When we’re more organized, we’re more productive, and when we’re more productive, we’re more successful; it’s that simple. Managing time is more than just being productive however, it also allows us to earn more time as we get more efficient…more time to do the things we love with people we enjoy. So how do we work on managing our time better? One way is by carefully planning our day and blocking off units of time to stay focused and stay on track. It isn’t difficult, but does take some willpower.
What is time blocking?
As the name implies, time blocking is a method to carefully schedule our morning, our day or even our week into pre-determined, uninterrupted blocks of time – the smaller the block the better. It’s not just a ‘to do’ list, it maps out a more controlled, effective use of our time. As most of us can relate, switching between activities is not an effective because of the vast amounts of time and cognitive energy it takes to reorient ourselves to each task when we switch our attention. Even a ‘quick phone call’ or responding to ‘just a few’ emails can send us into a spiral of ‘activity’ with no achievement. With time blocking, the phone call and emails have to wait.
First, get started with writing down the day’s priorities, and start with the biggest, most important one. For example, if we’re preparing for a job interview, that’s a broad task involving smaller units. We have to block off time for: gathering references, working on the portfolio or other documents, preparing our wardrobe, researching the company, and rehearsing interview questions and answers. By not blocking off smaller time units, not only could we miss an important step, we also might run out of time by not carefully allocating it. A simple case of having a printer out of ink could send the most organized of us into a rabbit hole and before we know it, it’s time for the interview and we aren’t even dressed yet!
Secondly, write out the expected times for each task. The more you do it, the more exact you’ll get with your time. Start with the minimal amount of time to complete the job as this pushes us to work faster and harder. If it’s too unrealistic, adapt it for next time but by only a small fraction; it’s a terrific challenge.
It’s also important to communicate with others about our time blocking. Even stating to a colleague or family member: “I’m going to be busy for the next 45 minutes – I’ll check in with you then” will help eliminate disruptions. Turning off ringers and notifications also helps to focus more clearly, as does working independently. Another great trick is to put headphones on; people are less likely to interrupt!
Despite our best intentions, effective multi-tasking is largely an illusion. When possible, it’s best to work on something until completion before moving to the next priority. I urge you to give the time blocking method a try; there are several apps or online tips that can also help with the process. There’s no greater satisfaction than a job well done…except maybe a job that actually gets done, on time, and with as little stress as possible.
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” – Zig Ziglar