Secrets of the time management gurus

Few of us would admit to working stupidly. Yet how often do you get to the end of a day and wonder where the time went? It’s possible to be productive by using what Time Management Ninja calls “brute force”, but this can be exhausting and can quickly turn work into drudge and those ‘someday’ […]

A multi-tasking businessman – time management

Few of us would admit to working stupidly. Yet how often do you get to the end of a day and wonder where the time went? It’s possible to be productive by using what Time Management Ninja calls “brute force”, but this can be exhausting and can quickly turn work into drudge and those ‘someday’ aspirations into pipe dreams.

The alternative is to create a method for managing your time – or borrow from the experts. Not every approach will suit you, and it can take persistence and practice to make new methods stick. But here’s a quick round-up from the experts:

  • David Allen Break down the to-do list process into discrete steps, so you capture ideas and tasks on paper or a PDA without trying to prioritise or make decisions. These are then organised into separate lists and “next actions”. (BNET covers this in more detail here). Too complicated? Steven Covey’s Four Quadrants is a tried and tested to-do alternative.
  • Monitor your time: Take 5 days to track how you spend your time and how long you devote to activities. Review your to-do lists. What’s stealing your time? If you’re stuck, try using RescueTime, a Web based time management tool.
  • Tim Ferriss Analyse, then reallocate ‘wasted’ time: an 80/20 analysis of how you spend your time will often reveal a clear divide between low profit/high maintenance and high profit, low-maintenance activities.
  • Choose how you use tools: Ferriss doesn’t follow anyone on Twitter. Make yourself unavailable — switch off your smartphone and allocate time to check email.
  • Practise the ‘manana’ principle – do it tomorrow. Collect and plan your work for the next day, marking any ‘same day’ items in a task diary. Don’t spend ages prioritising: urgency is self-evident.
  • Don’t multi-task: focus on one thing to avoid the ‘busyness’ trap. But do little, often – 15 minute intervals tend to be more manageable than hours of concentrated slog.
  • David Rock Work with your mental peaks and troughs. Do your most intensive ‘thinking’ and planning work when you’re at your most fresh and automatic tasks (email sorting, for example) to when you’re less so.
  • Visualize a mild fear to get your adrenaline levels up a bit; likewise, bring up dopamine levels by taking a break, reading something funny or visualizing a positive event.
  • Chip & Dan Heath Give yourself clear, ultra-specific directions. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.
  • Willpower is not inexhaustible. Don’t rely solely self control. Create cues or “action triggers” to refocus. For example, you can use a concentration timer to ring a bell every five minutes to refocus your attention on the task in hand.
  • Shrink change: break down big tasks or daunting assignments in the same way FlyLady uses the 5-Minute Room Rescue (by setting yourself just five minutes’ worth of tidying time.)
  • Mind Gym Remove the expectation that work has to be perfect and you’ll stop procrastinating.
  • Zen habits: Go without goals. Just do it. (And find some quiet time to meditate – not necessarily in a New Agey way, just in a quiet-the-mind way.)
  • Gina Trapani Avoid productivity porn – stop looking for the next big list management tool.
  • Matthew Stibbe (that’s me!) recommends 22 ways to stay focused on writing in the Bad Language writing blog.

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