It’s a known fact that people who are planning their time, simply achieve more. Not only do you get visualization of your time when you plan it, you also figure out, right on the spot, which tasks are important, and those which aren’t. When you have a clear picture on what you need to do, everything is a breeze. Until you start to procrastinate, but with careful planning, that can be avoided. People who are planning are happier, achieve more and overall more effective than people who aren’t investing their time properly. If you don’t have time to plan, you’re planning to fail. Let’s focus on what we can do, in order to plan smarter!
Step 1 – Get a pen and paper – I always start planning offline and away from computer. It allows me to mind map my day which unleashes my creative potential. This is crucial, because you can make a clear visualization of your day. If you are not mind mapping, I still recommend using a pen and paper. This will move you away from computer, which is a source of distraction itself. When you are alone with your thoughts, and pen and paper, you have a crystal clear idea of what you need and don’t need to do. One of the tricks that can motivate you into using pen and paper, is actually getting yourself a great notebook and pen that you might enjoy. I am using these a lot, but I am always thinking of getting myself a better notebook, one without lines, so I can excert more freedom over recording my ideas. But I can’t seem to find the proper one in the local bookstores. I am used to my pencil and I am using the same brand for a long time and I got used to “my pen“. I adore technical pencils ever since high school. They are symbol of productivity in school in my modest opinion. While other kids were sharpening their regular pencils, I would just click on the back end of the pencil and I could continue writing again. I am still thriving for a fancy looking notebook, without any symbols in it. Pure minimalism on the inside, but something that will make me proud to own, that has great design on the outside. Leave your recommendation in the comments, if you have some cool notebook of your own.
Step 2 – Weed out unimportant tasks by using Brian Tracy’s method “ABC” you should put priority of tasks. When mind mapping I use different colors for different priorities. For top priority tasks I use red… For unimportant tasks, I skip use of the color. Or you can use a scale of colors you choose to range the priorities of your tasks, thereby creating a hierarchy. That way only the important things catch the eye. You can also use symbols or colors to encode a group of tasks. You can personalize it according to your own preferences. When you start prioritizing you will figure out what tasks are bringing in “most bang for your buck”. Buck in this case is your time. If we look up to Parreto’s 80%/20% rule, we will figure out, that 20% of our activity are accounted to 80% of our productivity. When you focus on priorities you will skip those unimportant activities (examples: Facebook, Twitter, excessive reading of unimportant tasks) and you will focus on those activities that are core of your productivity. When you complete your most important “core” tasks, you will feel happier and more confident. Somehow I know when I hit “the flow” of work, I feel energized and I get things done with ease. Afterwards my free time is better as well, because I know that I did most important things for that day. If you weed out unimportant tasks, you will be left over only with golden nuggets of work that are actually delivering the results that we so much strive for. Skip those easy tasks, that you like doing most, like “reading emails”. Those tasks will never run away, you can always do them later. Especially emails.
Step 3 – Plan your locations – If you have various different locations that you need to visit during the day, make sure you make the most of your time spent in the certain area. If you are going to make frequent visits to certain locations, make sure that you know the services provided in an area. It’s utterly important that you complete all tasks in the single location, as much as possible. Careful scouting of the area is critical. Smart phone can help you here a lot. Instead of walking around and seeing what you can find here and there, cleaver search of Google maps and Google places can be of benefit by providing you with several options and lead you to many different benefits. Also don’t be surprised if you find some great deals provided by Google, or through Yelp. A Smart phone is your friend in this endeavor, so make sure to actively collect information that might save you time, and effort until your location planner “cliques”.
Step 4 – Avoid tasks that are urgent to other people. Just because it’s urgent to them; it doesn’t mean it’s urgent to you. In order to achieve your highest level of productivity you will have to learn to be a little bit selfish. I am always a man of my word, but am up front and honest about my ability or lack of ability to accommodate others’ needs. If I can help, I give people a realistic time frame in which I can do so. When I want to hit “the flow” of work, which is awesome state of mind, I cut everything off. I reject calls if I forgot to shut down my cell phone, I tell everyone who interrupts me physicality to contact me later, because I really am busy. When you get to work, and someone interrupts you, they are killing your time. Literally. It takes a lot of time to get back to the task after interruption. So respect yourself. Teach your coworkers, family, and friends to respect your work time and teach them to wait. This might sound selfish, but if you get back to them with increased energy and satisfaction you got from your completed task, it’s reward enough for you and your close environment.
Step 5 – Review and track your time. Rescue time is great app for Windows, that monitors your time spent on your computer. It is critical to monitor your working hours. I don’t recommend using time tracking applications all the time. I would rather set them for the time when you actually want to focus. This will hack your mind into self monitoring mode. You know you will have the information delivered to you at the end of the week, showing how productive/unproductive you were. You know that each moment you spend working, will show on the graph boosting your morale when you see it. Or you might be motivated by the fact, that you don’t want to see yourself unproductive. Reviewing doesn’t directly connect to planning, but it’s important feedback! When you figure out how you spend time, you will know how to weed out those unimportant tasks and to contain them to a reasonable level. Just remember, our goal is not to become working machines. Our task is to make our working time insanely productive, so that we can enjoy the benefits of free time, and the wonder it does to our minds in departments such as creativity, and the freedom to find solutions. This alone makes me ditch YouTube, Facebook and other distractions. Me knowing that I am monitoring myself, hacks me into focusing. If it works for me, it’s gonna work for you as well.
Step 6 – After you complete your task list, import it into your smartphone and print them. Especially if your work requires a of lot of traveling. My android phone has widgets on its home screen that are always reminding me of the things that I need to do. It’s synced with my Google account; so each time I make change in GTasks it reflects my laptop and desktop. If it’s long term goals that I set there, I print them out and put them out on a visible location in my work environment. Making a desktop background of your goals is also a good motivation. This is something you should do during your leisure time, and should be something that you enjoy. By being able to edit your list “on the go” can make you insanely productive compared to anyone else. If you don’t have Android, but instead you’re the part of the Apple cult, guess what, there are even better apps for you!
Step 7 – Take time out and clean your mind. Put aside some strict leisure time where you’re inaccessible. We are not working machines. We work in order to live. It shouldn’t define us. I bet you think that this is counter intuitive to say something like this on a blog that talks about workplace productivity, but let’s view this phenomena from the perspective of our mind, and from first hand experience. We know that our mind is passively seeking for solutions when we aren’t actively doing the work. I know this from even back from high school days. I was using this principle to learn large chunks of material in short amounts of time. This principle can apply on everything else. Never underestimate the power of the dormant brain. Work has a certain rhythm, and we can’t focus on one, single thing longer than 50 minutes. My focus time on a topic is limited to 40 minutes. I like the fact that I know my limitations. Fifteen minute breaks away from the computer are great. I answer my missed phone calls in that period of time, communicate with my friends, or I simply take a walk. Breathe in and relax…