“A goal without a plan is just a wish”, Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and most of us are living full lives with competing priorities, unexpected complications, and the burning desire to achieve our goals. So, how does a person stay focused? The answer is time management.
Whether you are new to the world of work, or a seasoned professional focused on retirement, finding a way to manage your time effectively will make a world of difference. You will have a better sense of control with a system of prioritization, and you will make measurable progress towards achieving your goals.
Here are some easy-to-follow tips that can help you get more done while keeping your sanity intact:
1. Set Your Sights on Clear Goals: Having clear goals, both short-term and long-term, written down and in sight, is having a roadmap for your future. It guides your decisions and helps you stay on course.
2. Play the Prioritization Game: Not all tasks are created equal, and the immediacy of many tasks can steal center stage and make us feel like we are running on a hamster wheel. Try the Eisenhower Matrix, as a framework for prioritizing, and minimizing timewasters in your life. It's not as complicated as it sounds (we recommend checking out Steven Covey’s best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® for more information on this and other tips):
Split your tasks into four boxes:
o Important/urgent - demands immediate attention.
o Important/not urgent - tasks towards goals without a pressing deadline.
o Not Important/urgent - needs to be done but maybe not by you every time.
o Not important/not urgent – distractions – keep them, but only in moderation.
Organize your tasks into quadrants by asking the following questions:
· Is this urgent for me?
· Is this important to me?
While most of us need to spend concentrated time in Box 1, we will only accomplish our goals by spending plenty of time in Box 2. Boxes 3 and 4 are distractions to accomplishing goals.
3. Make a To-Do List: Pencil and paper or a fancy app, it doesn't matter. Just jot down your tasks and arrange them by priority. It's like a recipe for your day - it helps you keep track of what's cooking. Remember to allow flexibility as things progress throughout the day.
4. Time Blocking for Focus: We're not superheroes and long gone are the days where we believed multitasking to be a good thing; multitasking can be a recipe for disaster. Humans can truly only focus on one task at a time. Assign specific time blocks for different tasks. It keeps your mind on the task at hand and prevents you from getting distracted.
5. Minimize Distractions: Put your phone on silent, mute those notifications, and create a peaceful environment that supports "productivity."
6. Use Technology to Your Advantage: Technology can be your best friend. Use apps, calendars, or any tech wizardry that suits you. They're like sidekicks to keep you on track.
7. If Saying No is hard, try saying “Not Me”: Learning to say "no" is like superhero training. Politely decline tasks or projects that don't align with your goals or are beyond your capacity, and if saying No is hard, perhaps you can make suggestions towards other people or resources who would love to say yes.
8. Set Realistic Deadlines: Don't set yourself up for stress. Be realistic about how long tasks take. Give yourself a fighting chance to succeed.
9. Take Breathers: Short pit stops during the day will recharge your superpowers. Try the Pomodoro Technique – 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5-minute breather (even better when you get your asset out of the chair and stretch your legs a little.) NPR has a new series called Body Electric – Investigating the relationship between our technology and our bodies – and how we can fix it. It is fascinating and filled with insights that can help you live a better life with your devices.
10. Review and Reflect: At the end of each day (or each week) review your time management strategies. What's working, what's not? Make the necessary adjustments and plan better for the next day or week.
11. Balance Your Work-Life Superhero Act: Saving the world is awesome, but don't forget to save some time for yourself, your hobbies, and relaxation. A balanced life is your secret weapon.
Remember, time management is a skill that grows with practice. Focus on progress, not perfection.
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