We’ve talked about prioritizing and organizing, and now it’s time to talk about getting things done.
I always know what my overall priorities are, and each day I know my specific priorities for that day. If I have appointments, they are recorded on my calendar. If have deadlines to meet, they will recorded in my tasks list. Everything else I need or want to do that day is likewise in the tasks list, prioritized.
Now, I am going to depart from conventional time management advice in several things I do that work for me. You can certainly get ideas from other people, but in the end, you have to decide what works for you.
Many experts recommend following a strict schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, and start and end work at regular times. If you have a project to finish, they say, don’t just put it on your to-do list—actually put in on your calendar in a specific time frame. If you work well following a strict schedule, by all means do so. I don’t like to follow a strict schedule; one of the reasons I freelance is so I don’t have to report to a job at a specific time each day. In my current situation, it’s not practical for me to follow a rigid schedule. My husband’s needs don’t adhere to a time frame, so I make myself available to him when he needs me and fit other things around his needs. It works best for me to know what I need to do but work out the details of when and how I do those things—except for scheduled appointments—as I go along. My work hours and the order in which I accomplish tasks varies from day to day. That may not work for most people, but it works best for me.
Another piece of advice experts usually give is to do your most important work early in the morning and leave tasks that don’t require as much thought and concentration for later. That is the exact opposite of what is most efficient for me. I have always had a hard time getting started in the mornings. Several years ago, I wrote a two-part series on how I decided to begin my work day an hour later than my employees and the beneficial effect it had. My best thinking time is NOT early in the morning or when I first get to the office. Generally, I’m most productive in the wee hours of the morning. Unless scheduled appointments interfere, I’m asleep when most people are doing their most productive work before noon. I start work in the late afternoon or evening and tend to routine tasks first. Then after everyone else is asleep and I have no interruptions, I get my most important projects done. I find it difficult to concentrate for the first few hours after I wake, and I’m also distracted if I have a lot of unread emails or unheard voice mails. If you are most alert early in the morning, then follow the guru’s advice and finish your major projects first thing. Save email and phone calls and social media until you’re winding down. You are the only person who knows when your most productive time is and what you need to do to focus best.
I tend to personal items such as feeding the cat and cleaning the litter box before I come to the office, which is a small portable building in the backyard. I do my devotional and Bible readings online and my journaling on the computer, and I usually do those before anything else in the office. Then I go through email—handling each message only once whenever possible, make phone calls, moderate blog comments and write posts (which I usually schedule in advance), and check my feed reader and Facebook. After that, I work on major projects. In between all these, I take breaks to spend time with my husband and help him as needed. Although the way I work is contrary to what most experts recommend, it is effective for me, and I’ve been using the same productivity tips for a long time.
Whenever I change activities, I record the time in my Outlook calendar. As you can see in the image, I color-code different activities so I can see at a glance if I’m spending an inordinate amount of time in certain categories. Sometimes people chuckle when I tell them I record everything I do, but I bill my regular clients in quarter-hour increments, and if I don’t put it on my calendar if I do a small job as I’m going through email, I could easily forget it. And if there were large blank spots in the calendar, I could easily forget (no, I don’t trust my memory) whether I was eating lunch and visiting with my husband or working on a client project. By writing down everything, I know the important items are recorded.
Of course, there are variations in this based on the schedule and priorities of the day. If I have appointments—client meetings or, more likely, doctor’s appointments for my husband—or am on tight deadlines for a major project, I may not open Google reader or Facebook for several days. More likely, if I’m really busy, I will just mark most of the blog posts read and skim through only the top news on Facebook. Knowing I’m getting behind distracts me when I need to be most focused.
I hope this short series has given you some ideas on how to most effectively manage your own time. Your system probably won’t be anything like mine, but it should be fit your natural rhythms, as well as your personal and professional situations.
Share your own time management ideas or ask question in comments, and we can continue the conversation.