I recently tried an experiment.
I decided to see if I was a morning person.
Instead of staying up all night writing, I decided to do one of my thirty-day experiments: I spent a month going to bed at 9:30 p.m. every night and waking up at 5:30 a.m.
Though it meant dashing out of dinners early, turning down all night time plans, and going to sleep with work still unfinished, I discovered that I was much more productive this way. By the time most of my friends were waking up, I’d already finished much of my work for the day.
While it did destroy my social life, I learned a lot that month, in part because during those extra morning hours, I began reading books on time management and productivity.
So, in response to several hundred email questions I’ve received about time management, I thought I’d share some of the advice I picked up.
The books from which I picked up the following tips include Getting Things Done by David Allen (a birthday present from Mystery); First Things First by Stephen Covey; and No B.S. Time Management For Entrepreneurs by Dan Kennedy.
Quick Time Management Tips
1. Know what your time is worth. There’s an easy formula to calculate this: Take your earnings for the year. Divide that number by 1760. The resulting number is roughly what you make hourly in a workweek. However, considering that statistically people work at most for one-third of a work hour, multiply that number by three. Now you know what your time is really worth. Treat it that way.
2. Make lists. For those of you who don’t keep running lists of the things you need to do, it’s time to start. Get to-do items off your mind and down on paper. Then prioritize them. One way to do so is to mark them as “A” tasks, which must get done right away; B tasks, which must get done that week; and less urgent C tasks, which simply need to get done sometime in the next six months.
3. Link what you do with your time to your long term goals. With the Internet available as a constant distraction, most of us are constantly busy but not constantly productive. So always ask yourself: “Is what I’m doing right now bringing me any closer to my goals?”
4. Beware of people who suck up your time. Wean them off their dependence on you and teach them to respect your schedule. If they continue to call, text, or bother you, put them in their place politely. Explain, “I’m really busy, so I’m only dealing with things that are urgent do-or-die priorities. If what you need to talk to me about isn’t an emergency, let’s deal with it later in the week.” Handle your priorities first, not theirs. If your door is always open, people will always be walking through it.
5. Turn the phone off while you’re working, and do not check your email, so that you aren’t constantly distracted. Most things can wait. Unless your work requires being available by phone and email all day, set yourself one or two specific time periods during the day when you deal with emails, phone messages, texts, Facebook, and all the rest of the technological innovations that consume your time and energy.
6. To further manage this, narrow your avenues of communication. Choose one medium for most of your indirect contact: whether it’s phone calls, text, Facebook, or email. Create a new phone number or email account and only give it to your inner circle. Then set up vacation responders, voicemail greetings, or autotexts on the rest that tell people who contact you that you’re no longer checking those inboxes due to your current workload. Doing this just with my email account saved me fourteen hours a week.
7. Try to do something active and physical every day. Though it takes time, it improves focus, so you can use the time you do have more productively and feel better about yourself. In general, as you know from one of earlier posts, the secret to happiness is living a balanced life.
8. Keep a log for a week: Write down everything you do in anywhere from fifteen minute to hour-long increments. At the end of the week, analyze it and see how you really spend your time. Then adjust your life accordingly to minimize the distractions that eat away your time and expand on the things that bring you closer to your goals and passions.
9. Since, as a writer, my priorities are different than that of the businessmen to whom these books are often directed, I’ve developed some additional strategies. These are not for everyone, but unplugging your Internet if you don’t need it for work saves countless hours. If there are things you need to research on the Internet, save them in a list and look them all up at once. Even when I’m not working, I always have my ringer and text alerts off on my cell phone, with special exceptions programmed into the phone only for very close friends, family members, and work colleagues. In addition, I will sometimes light a candle when I’m writing and not stop until the candle burns out; this also serves as a signal for people in the house not to disturb me.
10. In addition, here’s a simple rule that most people have trouble following: Do the most important thing first, not the easiest thing to get it out of the way.
11. And finally, have a plan and a direction. Know what you want to accomplish: not just for the day, but in the big picture. I’m going to share with you something Spencer from Emergency taught me: It’s having a five-year plan for your life. If you need help creating one, just download this worksheet I put together for my Game students:
(right-click to download)
You only live once and you never know when it’s going to end, so by making sure you get the most out of your time, you’ll also be making sure you get the most out of your life.
Hope this helps some of you get to your dreams and goals that much quicker. If you have any of your own productivity tips you want to share, send them to [email protected] and title it QUALITY TIME and I’ll share them in a future post.
Yours This Second,