For as long as I can remember, I’ve been productivity-minded. Among my earliest efforts to increase my level of productivity and success were efforts to make the best possible use of my time. Since time and energy are among the most important resources anyone can control, I’m still very fond of techniques that help in these areas.
To that end, I am happy to recommend some time-management techniques that may interest you:
Your First and Last Hours
Every hour is precious, but some hours are more precious than others. That’s why it’s helpful to pay particular attention to what you do during the first and last hours of every day you’re trying to be productive (days “off” need not be rigorously managed).
During your first hour of effort, it’s important that you get a good start on the most important task, project, or goal you’ve mapped out for the day. This is the hour when you can “hit the ground running,” before interruptions or other distractions can interfere, and when it’s easiest to build and maintain a single-minded focus on whatever you’re trying to accomplish.
During your last hour of effort, it’s equally important you finish strong, working wisely to arrive at a place that’s a fruitful stopping point:
- A point of clear demarcation between tasks, projects, or goals, so you know exactly where to pick up again next time,
- An important milestone, so you can proudly walk away feeling you’ve “finished” something useful,
- The result of using an important skill, talent, or ability you’ve mastered, so you can end the day carrying a level of productive momentum and marking a solid success.
A powerful time-management technique is to schedule everything you do. This helps whether you put it on your schedule as long as a week, month, or year before you do it, or you simply take a moment to write it down in the split-second between when doing it first occurs to you and when you actually start it.
Making every task, project, and goal an explicit part of your schedule has several important benefits, including:
- Writing it down helps clarify exactly what you are trying to accomplish.
- Fitting it into your schedule makes it easier to prioritize, as well as cluster similar activities and line up necessary resources for exactly when you’ll need them.
- A complete schedule provides a detailed history of everything you’ve worked on, when you began each item, and how long it took you – suitable for study, analysis, and reviewing past accomplishments.
- Scheduling every task, project, or goal eliminates the power of interruptions to control and confuse your allocation of time. The act of scheduling an item converts it from an interruption to a meaningful part of your day, and helps you reject or delay interruptions that don’t deserve your immediate time and energy.
Cull Your Schedule
In most circumstances, you’ll probably add only a few spur-of-the-moment ideas and externally-generated interruptions to your schedule. Instead, it will consist mostly of tasks, projects, and goals you’ve earmarked for future effort.
With everything thus listed on your schedule, you have the means to take frequent, easy opportunities and cull the least important items.
At least once a day – and much more often if you can – take a few moments to cross off (or kick into the future) all the items that:
- Aren’t worthy of your time, energy, or attention,
- Aren’t quite ready for you to work on,
- Can be better handled by a different person, or by you at a later time,
- Don’t need doing at all.
When you take a few moments to review and cull the least important tasks, projects, and goals, you’ll generally find that items have snuck into your schedule almost without your noticing. You’ll be surprised at how many worthless meetings, outdated routines, unimportant activities, and cumbersome procedures you can eliminate before they eat away at your available time and energy.
By deleting them completely, or finding another approach to achieve their relevant results, you can devote more of your most productive time and energy to tasks, projects, and goals that matter the most for satisfaction and success in your work and your life.
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