Your time is your most precious commodity – and you need to treat it that way. One of the most common complaints I hear from clients, at least in the beginning of our coaching relationship, is that they don’t have enough time to get it all done.
They feel “out of control” most days. Back in my Corporate career, we’d try to make light of that feeling and say “I’m drinking from the firehose” again. What an image. It’s a terrible feeling to have, and if you’re experiencing that day after day the side effects of elevated stress, constant pressure and feeling out of control can be harmful to our health and wellbeing.
What if you could add more time into your day, giving you the ability to accomplish all your important tasks and still have the free time to do things to support your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing, like go for a walk, meditate, exercise, read for fun, and spend quality time with your loved ones?
Here are 3 proven ways to add more time into your day, so you can keep your stress levels low and productivity high. When you implement them, you’ll begin to see the benefits add up over time, including feeling back in control and better quickly.
1. Get Clear and Focus
Clarity is power. Getting clear about what’s important to you is the first step in taking back control of your time.
Then, focusing on and prioritizing daily tasks related to these important items is key to adding more time to your day.
Once you’re clear on your priorities, you can start minimizing, delegating or eliminating what’s not important to you. That frees up more time in your calendar for the important things.
Anytime someone asks for a meeting with you, asks you to volunteer to lead a project, or some other request comes in that will involve your time and energy – be vigilant and strong in your response. First ask yourself: does this investment of my time support my highest priorities and goals? If the answer is no, stay strong and decline the request.
I worked with many professionals that felt they could never say no. They were the most frustrated, stressed individuals who felt their time was not their own, because they made it that way. Remember, you do control your time, your calendar, and what you say yes or no to.
Sure, that sounds good, but what if you’re working in a high pressure environment where your manager or others are directing how you spend your time? I worked in that kind of environment for the majority of my Corporate career. What I found very useful when the tasks were piling up and beginning to get out of control, was to remind my manager of the priorities already on my list, and ask where these new items fit in.
There are a limited number of hours in the day and workweek, so other items will have to get eliminated, delegated to someone else, or postponed if new urgent items become the priority.
The goal to regaining control of your time is to focus on your top three: the three main things to accomplish at any one time. You could then do your best work. And as distractions came up you’ll be able to control them and refocus on those three items. By the end of the day you’ll have made significant progress on these three things, maybe even completing them all. How would that feel?
When was the last time you had a day like that? What if all your days could be like that?
Take action: how to get clear and focus
Writing things down helps provide clarity; just the power of writing things down helps most people feel less overwhelmed.
Let’s try a little exercise:
Write down all the things, big and small, that you want to get done this week. Write it all down – it’s so important to get it all out of your head and onto paper, your computer or mobile phone. Include the tasks, meetings and communications you need to handle and the required results for each.
Prioritize the list. Get clear on what is most important and prioritize your list so you know what to focus on first and what absolutely has to get done this week. If you’re like most people, you probably have 20 or more items on your list.
Human beings can only focus on a limited number of things at one time, and the smaller the number at one particular time, like 3 – 5 items or less, the less overwhelm and stress we’ll feel. Aim for 3 – 5 things at the top of the list that are a must for you to accomplish this week.
Next, we’re going to chunk it down even further into a more manageable plan.
2. Chunking: Replace Your To-Do List with a Daily Plan of Action
Chunking is a way to sort your to-do list by common and related tasks to make the list smaller and easier to accomplish these items.
It’s a psychological way to organize your list and to focus on desired results.
I learned of this concept from Tony Robbins, and here’s an example from his RPM overview page:
Original Task List:
- Buy dog food
- Buy cell phone for daughter
- Wash and fold laundry
- Prepare for meeting with CFO
- Review draft of Tax Return
- Drop off daughter at gymnastics
- Drop off son at soccer practice
- Create training plan for running group
- Run 6 miles in target heart zone
- Pick up daughter from gymnastics
- Pick up son from soccer practice
Chunking related items together:
- Prepare for meeting with CFO and Review draft of tax return go together
- Create training plan for running group and run 6 miles go together
- Dropping off and picking up children go together
- Buying dog food, cell phone, and washing and folding laundry all seem related to the house and family and can be grouped together
Now it’s your turn. Take your weekly list that you created earlier and look for commonalities.
You can break it down into common life areas like work/career, finances, relationships, health, spirituality, etc., and be sure to tie it back to the desired outcome you have in each of those areas.
By thinking about the bigger reason for your desired outcome, like a better relationship with your spouse, or to have more energy during the day, your ability to see the results you’re after and then to prioritize and focus on them becomes easier.
For example, if one of your results is to have a successful career and get promoted with a pay raise this year, items related to work can be chunked together and prioritized, like preparing for a meeting, having important conversations with your staff, and working on your departmental budget to reduce costs this quarter.
They all share the desired result (successful career, promotion, pay raise) and as you are prioritizing them and completing them, that desired result is a focus point.
So, chunk down your list to a smaller more manageable list with clear desired outcomes as the driver.
You’ll feel more productive and less stressed when you look at your to-do’s as desired outcomes you’re after, and as an action plan to get you closer to your biggest desires, rather than just unrelated items to check off for the day.
3. Use Timing Strategies to Your Advantage
Have you ever looked at the time and wondered to yourself where the day went?
And then felt frustrated or stressed because you felt you were working hard but didn’t get much done toward what’s really important in your life?
One way to increase your efficiency is by chunking specific work into certain days or time periods. Some people call it time blocking.
For example, you may want to begin every work day with 10-15 minutes to review your schedule, your task list/priorities/desired outcomes, and scan your email for any urgent items that came in overnight.
For weekly tasks, like when I do laundry on Saturday mornings, I also get my business paperwork and financial tasks done (paying bills, transferring money, etc.) since I’ll be at home anyway. I block out that 2 hours in my calendar and make it a recurring event. If I’ve got weekend plans or am teaching a class on Saturday, then I move that event in my calendar to Friday or late Sunday for that week.
What also works well for many people is assigning a limited amount of time to getting a task done.
This is an effective strategy for those of us who lean toward perfectionism and spend way too much time before completing something. For example, if you have an important presentation to draft, schedule 1 hour in your calendar, set a timer, close your door and ask not to be disturbed. And get it done.
Batching is another form of chunking that works really well, especially for reducing start up time for similar items. Take something you do every day or week and batch it. A lot of podcast producers batch their weekly shows, recording say 4 or 6 shows in one day, and doing that only once a month. It saves them time with setting up the equipment, getting prepared to record, etc.
Cooking meals is another thing you can batch. Busy families or even single or two person households can do most of their cooking for the week on Sundays. They’ll make a large meal or a few different meals that they can enjoy throughout the week, and possibly freeze some for another week. This way they are not having to focus on what meal to prepare, preparing it, cleanup, etc., every night of the week when they don’t have the time or energy for it after a long day. Just take it out of the refrigerator or freezer, heat it up and enjoy!
And one last thing about timing strategies, don’t try to multi-task. There’s no such thing as multi-tasking, our brains don’t work that way.
I worked remotely for the last 8 years of my corporate career, and with the numerous demands on everyone’s time, the attempt to multi-task was widespread. But here’s the thing: multi-tasking cannot be done with good results.
You may think you’re doing multiple things at a time, like answering an email while trying to have a conversation on the phone, while also reading and thinking about how to answer an urgent instant message. But that’s how errors are made.
Our brains work in a sequence so even though you may think you are doing these all at the same time, only one thing can be focused on and the other two are in a holding pattern until you return your attention to each.
I can’t tell you how many times I was talking on the phone to a colleague when I knew they weren’t listening to me. I could hear them typing on their keyboard, or I’d ask a question and get no answer. It was a waste of time for both of us – ineffective and frustrating.
Our brains cannot multi-task, they can only focus on one thing at a time, so if you want to be efficient and accurate and do things with a high level of quality, please stay focused and do one thing at a time.
Take Action Today
When it comes to adding more time into your day, try out one or more of the suggestions above to stay focused, balanced and frustration-free.
There are so many things competing for and demanding your attention in life. I ask that you make a conscious effort to decide in advance which things you’re going to focus and spend your time on, based on the areas in your life that truly matter.
This will help reduce any patterns you may have of being in constant reaction mode to the demands of the moment – the things that tend to stress us out and compromise our health and wellbeing.
Take action today and see how much better you feel, knowing that you do have control of your time and your life.
– Photo by Ellyot on Unsplash