As we approach the Holiday season I find that my “free” time gets eaten up quite quickly by school performances, family gatherings and other various activities. OK, who am I kidding? It’s a misnomer that “free” time even exists. It doesn’t, especially if you have kids.
So if “free” time doesn’t exist, what are we left with? We are left with having to make our own decisions of how to best allocate our time so that we don’t waste any of these precious resources and stay as productive as we can while still enjoying life without all the stress and pressure. Sound like an impossible task? It’s not.
Planning this sabbatical while working a full time 40+ hour a week job and being a good husband and father at the same time while still making time for some of my own interests like photography has been problematic and trying to say the least. At times there are just not enough hours in the day and I am left scrambling late at night to get things done. These 10 tips are things that I have come across that have made my life less stressful and more productive. I hope they can do the same for you.
- Time boxing – this is an idea that Mark Powers posted about just this last week and something that I have been doing for awhile now. You basically take a block of time (I have been doing 1 hour but I’m giving Mark’s suggestion of 30 minutes a try) and work on a designated task exclusively for that block of time. The goal is not to complete it in 30 minutes but to put in some serious dedicated effort without distractions. When the 30 minutes is up you stop and move on to something else, maybe a different task or take a break. For me I’ve found that this works really well and I have increased my productivity and degree of concentration immensely.
- Remove Distractions – Something that frequently happens to me is that I sit down to work on something and after 5 minutes I find myself on Facebook or looking at my Flickr feed or staring off into space. If I have Twitteropen I am constantly getting those notices and then I feel compelled to go and check the latest and greatest. Or maybe the phone will ring or a message will come in on Skype or an email will pop into my inbox inviting me to read it. There are lots of things out there all biding for our attention so it’s no wonder that our attention spans have shrunk. Turn it all off. Eliminate all the distractions that you can. At first this may take getting used to because you might feel that you are missing out on something. The thing with social media is that it makes us feel connected all the time. When you are not connected you wonder what is going on. What am I missing? You don’t have to be in the mix all the time. Others will survive without you. You will survive without others. The world will go on. Besides if you implement the time blocking approach, in 30 minutes you’ll be back in the action AND you will have accomplished 30 minutes worth of kick-ass work.
- Get Organized, Make a List, Have a Plan – One of the things that always kills me is not being organized. I have a high level idea of what I need to get done but without a road map I have no idea how to get there. I am a list kind of guy and I realize that not everyone operates in this way so bear with me. What I like to do is make a high level list of my projects. Then under each project I list out the steps I need to take to accomplish that project. These steps become the tasks that I then timebox out. I’m also a fan of mind maps as they offer a visual representation of what I need to do that provides a neat perspective on whole the pieces relate to the whole. I enjoy using Mind Meister for this. Mark Powers has a great post on Creating a Plan of Attack that mentions mind maps.
- Utilize Every Minute –How often do you find yourself sitting around waiting for something? Maybe you are waiting for an email, stuck in traffic, sitting in a doctor office waiting room. These are opportunities to not just sit there brainlessly doing nothing. Use this time to get stuff done. Learning a language? Use your commute time to listen to a pod cast. Have a smart phone? Spend your waiting time making notes on a plan of attack; write out a blog post. It’s all about spending whatever time you have productively. I have about a 15 minute walk to work and I spend all of that listening to podcasts on learning the Indonesian language rather than spending that time walking mindlessly.
- Learn to Say No – This may not seem like a time management/productivity tip but this has really helped me better manage my time. I am the kind of person always willing to lend a hand when asked. But at some point you have to say no otherwise you will become so overwhelmed that you’ll freeze up. It’s OK to say no. If you really don’t have the time to help you can always offer the services of a friend to the person. Connecting people together is a great way of saying both ‘no’ and ‘yes’ (you’ll figure that one out). This doesn’t mean be rude and burn bridges. It means be honest with people. We can only do so much.
- Take a Break – All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. If you find yourself sitting at your computer just spinning your wheels take a break. The magic probably isn’t going to happen at that time so why try and force it? You’ll just get more frustrated and make matters worse. So take a break. Go out and do something fun or if you are a real productivity animal switch to a completely unrelated and different task. Mixing it up can often keep the interest level high.
- Be a Perfect Non-perfectionist – Far too often I find myself working on something to get it absolutely perfect. Eventually I realize that it will probably never fit my perfect standard. Don’t get too caught up in the details. I could spend hours tweaking the logo for my blog but is that time really well spent? I mean it’s not a bad looking logo but is that what people come to a blog for, to ooo and aww over the logo? No, of course not. They come for the content. Most things don’t need to be perfect they just need to be functional and serve a purpose. Make sure your effort is where it should be.
- Work When You Are at Your Best – I am not a morning person. There I said it. I tend to do my best work in the evenings and nights. You may do your best work in the morning or afternoon. Whenever your “peak” time is, that is when you should be scheduling your time blocks. These are the periods when you are most creative, more focused and amped up to kick ass. Use this to your advantage and you will find yourself being more productive and doing better work.
- I Don’t Multitask – I do not multitask well. I am most productive when I can sit down and concentrate on one task at a time. When I try and do too many things at once I find I am easily overwhelmed. Instead of trying to do 4 different things all at once, try to schedule (block) them out. Work for 30 minutes exclusively on one task and then move to the next.
- Use Technology to Your Advantage – We live in a techy age so why not exploit it to your full advantage? Technology is there to make our lives easier and more efficient. When I am out and about and an idea pops into my head I grab my iPhone and either make a voice memo or create a note in Evernote. I just recently discovered “Remember the Milk” a task manager that is compatible with a wide range of devices including Google Calendar, Twitter, iPhone and Gmail. You can create lists or task clouds, share them, and have it email you reminders. I just started using it a day ago so I’m not totally sure what I think as I have yet to explore all the features but so far I think it will be a nice tool to use.
And there you have it. I know this is a long post so if you made it this far I really appreciate it. Give yourself a round of applause! Planning for a sabbatical can definitely be overwhelming, especially during the holidays. But there are plenty of techniques and tools at your disposal that can help you better manage your time, be more productive and lower that stress level, allowing you to make great progress on realizing your dreams. I hope that you find these 10 Easy Time Management Tips helpful.
Have some techniques of your own that you think are worthy of mention? Leave a comment and share it. I’d love to hear from you and how those techniques have helped your productivity.
If you enjoyed this article be sure to sign up for the 1 Year Sabbatical newsletter over in the sidebar, as well as take a look at the RSS Feed.