Time management is one of the most essential skills for both work productivity and mental wellness. If you miss a goal or waste time, you'll only feel more stressed and overwhelmed later. Especially while working from home during Coronavirus quarantine, distractions and upended schedules are digging into work productivity. We've previously written about how to stay productive while working remotely. Here are a few more frameworks you can use to plan, prioritize, and execute.
In the LIFE Intelligence app, we cover time management in Mission 4 (out of 9 essential topics for your self, career, and relationship development). One piece of this program provides a framework for prioritization, utilizing a matrix introduced in Steven Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. You can use Covey’s four-square matrix to classify all items currently or that you know need to be on your proverbial plate as 1) urgent/important, 2) not urgent/important, 3) urgent/not important and 4) not urgent/not important.
LIFE Intelligence helps users create and evolve self-development skills, which fall into the "not urgent/important" category and is accordingly marked as an area on which to focus. We don't inherently have to focus on self-development, but it's incredibly important to do so.
Things that are pressing fall into the "urgent/important" category and, when such items are truly on our plate should take priority. Professional deadlines exist for a reason. Exams test knowledge and occur on fixed dates known well in advance. Certain appointments have to be kept for the sake of our health and well-being. When these items are on our lists, they should take priority.
Sometimes, tedium is necessary to keep the gears turning. I have reporting days/blocks of time at work. I don't love logging notes and contacts with students, but I certainly appreciate the value of having a record and reference in place if called on to discuss it for any number of reasons, from helping a student to determining how to reallocate and restructure elements of curricula, programs and resources. Avoid making this your key focus, but also acknowledge the importance of strategically blocking off chunks of time to get it done.
Finally, there are times when we simply need to take a break. Scroll Instagram. Watch an episode of trash TV. Beat a level. Take a walk. Breaks keep us grounded and provide numerous benefits to us at work and school; when we feel depleted and burned out it's ok and even necessary to prioritize these at the top.
At any given point in time each of your wants and needs will fall into one of the quadrants. The matrix then becomes an excellent chart on which to place all of those items, which can then be assessed and ranked based on your personal and professional needs. Once you’ve ranked all of your action items, you can develop a plan to achieve them, then allocate time accordingly.
Consider what you’ll have accomplished at this point. You’ve considered and physically manifested your needs and wants for a period of time. You’ve ranked them based on what’s most important for you as an individual, employee, student, etc. You’ve created a timeline over the course of which these items must be accomplished, and established goals/checkpoints within. Now it’s simply a matter of apportioning your time and finding the best method for that.
Take your to do list a step higher with the Ivy Lee Method. Prioritize the next day the night before by writing out no more than six must-do items the next day and prioritizing them. That next day, you’ll simply work through each item one at a time, with no distraction, ensuring what you’ve deemed most important gets done and eliminating the inefficiency that is multitasking. The idea is that if you write too many goals, you will spread yourself too thin, unable to manage any of them. Rather, really focus on prioritizing only the top 6. Then, anything that you don't finish, you can move to the top 6 for the following day. Not only does this make your day look more manageable, but it forces you to really cut some to-dos that aren't worth your precious time.
Either method and anything in between gives you the option of something to work through. Anything that doesn’t get completed can also be factored into the next round of prioritization to be re-evaluated, organized and deconstructed, giving you a leg up based on experience and new and differing needs in terms of how to structure your time towards tasks.
Another approach might be to use the Pomodoro Technique, first developed in the 1980s, which simplifies time purely by the minutes. In a nutshell, you’ll block off 25 minutes to work followed by five minutes to take a break. This can help train your self control muscle. While that’s the approach in its strictest sense, feel free to play around with the numbers and figure out what works for you. A 2014 study found that 52 minutes of work followed by a 17-minute break led to peak performance. Ultimately, your exact numbers may vary, but the principle can be sound. You just need to figure out your peak productivity settings.
As you’re considering what method or combination of methods of time management work best for you, factor in your individual traits and capabilities. What are your responsibilities as a person, partner, employee, student, etc.? What blocks in days and days of the week are available? When do you function at your peak capacity? Older research points to the block between 8am and 2pm, but your individual peak time(s) may vary -- learn and structure your time to the most important tasks accordingly. During your peak and/or most available productivity times, put your phone on airplane mode or simply out of reach to avoid the distraction of a chime or vibration.
"It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it." - Seneca
Ultimately, time is one of our most limited resources. At LIFE Intelligence, our goal is to help you make the most of yours. For many more professional development skills, download our app for free today and begin the journey of your best life.