Happy new year!
Do you have a big project or two, a new initiative, or a renewed sense of what is important to you to dedicate time to throughout this new year?
Looking ahead to the new year I have seven big initiatives (one of which is developing, improving, and refining this site), each with many projects, that in turn each have what feels like a gazillion to dos. This is not a problem - in fact I find it exciting and inspiring. The biggest challenge is time allocation.
There is no wrong way to spend your time. But there are smarter and less smart, more effective and less effective ways for sure. I am not advocating for filling every moment with tasks or activities – we all need rest, creative time, and some quiet think-time. I would like to for us to make the most of each day, week, month and year, by using our time in ways that fulfill our values and priorities.
It is like a budget: we know how much time we have in a day, in a 24 hour cycle, and in a week, a month, and a year. Being able to fit all of our inspirations, priorities, necessary activities, and other tasks into that framework requires some prioritizing and time-budgeting.
Two hours in a day is a relatively large time investment. It costs a significant amount of a 15-hour day of awake time. And not unusual to be the amount of time in one meeting, or on Facebook, or watching Netflix, or clearing unimportant emails. So if more meetings, more time on Facebook, more Netflix watching, or more email time, is one of the tasks that helps you to reach your goals for this year, then great. If not, well….
Here are a few techniques that I have been working on. I hope these are helpful for you, too.
Put things in order. Literally! Number your tasks: what first. Then what next. Having a lot of tasks and projects on the go can feel overwhelming. It seems obvious, but too often people have a mile-long to-do list that mixes nice-to-do with important-to-do and urgent-to-do items in no particular order. This can cause stress rather than relieve it! Our brains can tackle one thing at a time. So putting things in a order helps us to get started, keep going, and focus on what is most urgent or important to us. Focusing on one thing at a time, in the order they need to be done, helps us to complete things efficiently and effectively.
Map out projects and their most major tasks in a quarterly view and a year view. This can be done using the calendar and weekly planning space in notebooks set up to do this, like the planners and journals available here at Noteabler. Or you can also create a simple Excel spreadsheet with each month across the top, a section for each project down the left column. Major tasks can each have a space in the project section, and their implementation timing noted with colour blocking across the rows of specific months that task will be focused on.
I do both. I create the spreadsheet to see a simplified overview of the year and ensure I am not planning to implement too many major tasks all at the same time. Each project is colour coded, with colours that also correspond to each project my iPhone and Outlook calendars. I also use a planner notebook, because I find it more helpful for the monthly and weekly implementation management.
Where could you streamline and simplify? When life and work get super complicated, in order to move forward or up to the next level, it is necessary to streamline and simplify. We often want to start new things in the new year. Or dedicate more time to things that are most important to us. But we forget that we often need to stop other things in order to make this shift possible. Can you remove anything you have been doing that is no longer as rewarding or interesting to you as it once was? For example, are you involved in or doing things that might be interesting but not helping you get closer to achieving your goals – and therefore time to replace with new activities?
You have likely heard about and read about batching to optimize your schedule. Have you tried it yet? What similar tasks in your life could you batch up in a week and do all at the same time? Usually email is a top candidate. There are others for sure. See what happens when you put all similar tasks into one or two time-blocks, like an hour or two in a day or a week, and refrain from doing each one ad-hoc, or in pieces, or whenever it tries to hijack your attention.
I think of this as defragging. When we degfrag - which means defragment - our computer, it is reducing unusable space and optimizing the space that is used by tightening it up. The result is that the used space is more efficient and other space has been freed up that can now be used. Where can you do that in your calendar?
Are you doing the most difficult and important thing of the day first? This can be tricky to get into the habit of doing, but it’s a major stress reliever! And it is an important technique in making each day feel more enjoyable. Whatever it is that is difficult, important (and maybe tempting to avoid for a little while longer), get it done and over with! Then you can move on to other things without the stress of knowing you still really really need to get to that thing. Just do it! As early in the day as possible.
Optimize your scheduling. Are you doing things when you are most suited to those kinds of tasks? Some of us function best when we exercise or do creative work first thing in the morning. Others of us are at our best doing those same things in late afternoon or evenings. Maybe there’s something you do evenings that would be more productive as part of your morning routine.
For example, I want to exercise more this year. (Like almost everyone! LOL.) I also often work through lunch and want to move more. I know I won’t get up earlier in the morning to exercise. And evenings are very productive creative time for me. Plus I am usually too tired and/or hungry to exercise in the evening and I often have to work at evening events. So I’ve recommitted to going for a 30 minute run on my lunch break or mid afternoon three days a week.
Make more time in a day. Ok, sure, getting up earlier or staying up later is an obvious way to give yourself more time in a day. Is this something you could do, at one end of the day or the other? I often have to work late into the evening on events, so my leeway time is in the morning. In 2020, I am committed to getting up 30 minutes earlier to make more time for my personal passion projects. Not a huge jump all at once – 30 minutes is manageable for me.
This is not just a general idea that I will get up earlier and hope to get more done. Otherwise why get up earlier, if it is likely just more of the same as the rest of the day? This newly added time is allocated specifically for one of my top priority activities, and a specific task that is directly related to achieving one of my goals for my personal projects this year. I am clear the night before about what I will be doing with that time the next morning – not wasting it due to lack of clarity of what I want and need to do that day. (And, as studies have shown, now that I have shared it with you, I am more likely to do it consistently. Sharing with someone else creates more self-imposed accountability.)
Layer activities. This gives you double the time, in a way. Multitasking usually means doing nothing very well. So I believe in focusing on what you are doing in any moment. But layering a passive activity with an active task is one way I find I am effectively doing more than one thing at a time, and therefore giving myself double use of that time. For example, I write posts (active) while on the subway (passive). I love listening to informative and inspiring podcasts while driving. And I love when I can have a meeting with one or two people over a walk rather than at a table. Are there areas in your life where you can layer more of your activities and priorities?
Use the small spaces of time. Waiting time is particularly useful. The 5-10 minutes before a meeting, when you arrive a little early for dinner with a friend, or are stuck in a lineup. I use that time to edit my poems or write a portion of an article for Noteabler. This is different from fragmented focus time. These little snippets of time can be like little gifts that are just for you to do something you really enjoy for a few minutes. It is far more productive and satisfying than just randomly wasting time deleting emails. Even just a few minutes of doing something interesting is useful, productive, and satisfying. The added benefit is that these enjoyable tasks and activities are kept more top of mind and often completed sooner than if I did nothing on them until I had an hour of time to dedicate.
How else might you make your calendar less jam-packed with unimportant or uninteresting things - and use your time even more effectively to achieve your goals, fulfill your priorities, and do things that are important to you? I’m constantly working on it. And I’d love to hear what is working for you!