Do you manage time like a boss?

How do you handle your schedule, and your life?  Are you feeling comfortable with the cadence of your life, or does it feel like everything is coming at you faster than you can manage?  Managing time has so many ripples into every aspect of life… so this is one to get a grip on.  (I am telling myself this is an area of focus this year).  Are there spectacular tips or tricks to handle time well?

Here are a few thoughts that helped me, and i suspect they might help you too:

  1. Set up a routine -Blank calendars allow the opportunity to really plan out the year.  Here are some things you want to think through to create a routine:
    • Routine monthly meetings – Choose a day and time that will repeat each month for continuity.  For example – the staff meeting will occur every 3rd Thursday of the month at 1pm.  This structures the meeting for you, but also provides framework for others to know when meetings will occur
    • Buffer zone time – If you have a job that requires a good deal of either research or thought you will need time blocked on your days that allows you the freedom to just think, or research without interruptions.  Plan and block out times to help you be more productive.
    • Write down project deadlines on your calendar.  It might be helpful to also write down action steps that should occur prior to that deadline.  For example, the project deadline is May 1, but by Feb 1 there should be a framework for progress, by March 15th a status update, by April 10th a review of status with the goal of creating a cut sheet of components of the project needing to be tweaked, April 25th a final review, and May 1 project wrap up meeting.  Having noted these timeline markers on your calendar will allow you to manage everything, and set a cadence for everyone to expect.
    • Along with the project deadlines, consider setting the dates on your calendar 2-3 business days earlier.  This builds in a buffer zone for those last minute things to not blind side you. While you cannot always control those surprises, or unexpected curve balls, you can control your time, allowing a bit of “padding” to correct these unforeseen surprises.
    • For meetings you organize, try to keep them sharply focused, and brief….. use technology where possible, rather than trying to gather people from different offices to yours choose instead to set up a web meeting where everyone dials in, and can share computer screens.  Experts suggest the most efficient meetings should not be more than 30 minutes, have clear agenda and goals, and should be action oriented.
  2. Own your time.  Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, once said, “Never let anyone own your schedule.”  That said, if you have someone helping you with your time be clear on when and how your calendar should look, or who you are available to and who you are not.  I work for someone who is a great communicator about his time… its easy to help him with his busy schedule, and being the gatekeeper of his time because he clarifies his requests.
  3. Be reasonable with your time.  Realize when you are too busy to be productive…. and when you can handle more.  But dont feel the urge to fill the entire day with wall to wall meetings.
  4. Consider your calendar a working document – changes will happen by necessity.  Things come up, people change availability.  Accept being flexible when you can.
  5. keep a copy of your schedule with you as you travel.  These days cell phones, tablets and computers are readily accessible 24/7 and the electronic calendar can be a wonderful tool to assist you with your time. But remember its as good as you are at keeping it updated.
  6. MITs first – Most Important Things should be accomplished first.  Get them done, and your mind and your thoughts are free to attack the next big thing.  There is an old famous quote by Mark Twain: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”  And his point was get the tough stuff done and out of the way.
  7. Audit a week of your life:  Spend seven days straight assessing how you spend the time you do have right now. What are you doing? Record it in a journal or on your phone. Split this up into blocks of 30 minutes or an hour. What did you get done? Was it time wasted? Was it well spent? Where did you spend the most time? The results might shock you, and if you allow, it will help you improve your time use.
  8. Have you heard of the Pareto Principle?  Also known as the 80/20 rule,  80% of the efforts comes from 20 percent of the results.  Can you identify those times, or people that bring the highest reward?  Likewise, can you identify those efforts, processes or people that are not returning value?  This can also be a tool added to the audit mentioned above.
  9. Take breaks in your day – get up and take a walk, get a cup of coffee, or just step away from what you are doing.  Brain scientists tell us their research shows these breaks improve our cognative capabilities.  These incremental intervals of work, and stop allow our brain to clarify, store memory and build better capacity to function.  This is also a fabulous tip for learning – short increments of learning, reading, input should be followed by short breaks… creating threads of thought that are better retained.
  10. Limit social media – in this day and age we are bombarded with every tweet and Facebook post, linked in update, etc.  While social media has its place, sometimes turning it off and stepping away from it for a time will help you focus on what needs to be done rather than rabbit trailed distractions.
  11. Control your email box – Set times during the day that you will respond to your email, and try to stick to the schedule.  Otherwise the mailbox becomes the tyranny of the urgent, consuming time and energy.