What do the President of the US, the Queen of England, you, and the bum on the corner all have in common? Each has exactly 24 hours in a day – that’s 1,440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds exactly – no more and no less. What distinguishes each is not how much time they have, but how they use what they have. Let’s look at 3 keys for increasing your personal productivity and shifting the way you use time.
The great unwashed masses use their time reactively. Their day is largely spent reacting to others around them and to the circumstances that they find themselves in. Too much time spent in catch-up mode and too little time spent planning. Minutes spent in planning can save hours in execution.
Start with a list
Lists are essential for effective time management. You must put your list on paper (or computer). Keeping your list in your head is a sure way to increase your stress level and limit your productivity. You’ve got to get that list out of your head and onto something that you can look at. Some people hate lists and they come up with all kinds of lame excuses about why lists don’t work for them. That’s fine. Peak productivity is a choice. If it were easy, everyone would be highly accomplished. Peak performers always use lists.
Don’t worry if your list is too long. At least when you look at it you can deal with a lengthy list appropriately. Until it is committed to paper or computer, it is stuck in your head and your subconscious is stressing about the possibility of forgetting to do something important and how to get everything done. Getting your list out of your head actually reduces your stress.
Prioritize your list
Chances are your list is scary long. This is where setting priorities comes in. You want to organize your list around the highest priority items and do those first. By focusing on the high-priority items on your list, anything that is undone will always be less essential than what was done.
It is important to distinguish between the things on your list that are truly important and the things which may be urgent but aren’t really important at all. One technique for sorting things out is to ask yourself if you were to look at today’s list from a point in time 6 months into the future, which items would you be glad that you accomplished and which ones wouldn’t matter as much. Tackle the highest priority items first and work your way down in the order of relative importance. If there is more on your list than you can accomplish in one day, the stuff that is undone at the end of the day is of lesser importance than what was done.
Some hours in your day are more valuable than others. Your most valuable hours are the hours where you are mentally freshest and have high energy. Becoming consciously aware of when you are at your peak energy and alertness is essential for achieving your personal peak performance. Once you identify your most valuable hours, reserve that time for knocking out the highest priority items on your list. Protect this time from all unnecessary intrusions and interruptions. Save all the routine tasks like responding to email, returning phone calls, meetings, etc. for the other hours in your work day.
The way you manage your time will determine your accomplishment. Effective time management is about utilizing your time proactively – taking the few minutes that are necessary in order to create your to-do list, prioritize it, and use your most valuable hours for your highest priority items.