As a productivity and time management coach, I often hear “I don’t have the time to work on time management, it just takes too much darn time!” This is true if you choose a complex system such as Getting Things Done, the Franklin Covey system, and others, which require you to learn the system, then “clear the decks” to start implementing it.
However, it is not necessary to implement a complex system to improve your productivity and time management skills in the next few minutes. Here is the start of a very simple, 5-minute system that I often give to my clients as we start working together, and that works whether you are an executive in a large company or a stay-at-home mom:
- Every morning (or the night before if you prefer), write down the things that you need to do that day. Start by defining one to five top priorities. These are the tasks that truly define your day: if that is all you are able to accomplish, your day went fairly well. Trace a line across the page below those one to five priorities, then write the rest of your tasks for the day.
- Make sure to write only the number of tasks that you can reasonably finish that day, knowing that unexpected requests will come up as well. As a rule of thumb, I recommend to leave about 25% of your day open to deal with the unexpected.
- Then take a timer – a kitchen timer, the timer on your phone, an online timer, anything that counts down the minutes and rings when it gets to zero is perfect.
- Set it to 25 minutes.
- Start working on your first priority of the day, in a focused manner, without allowing any interruption to intrude.
- When the timer rings, take a 5-minute break. If possible, take a full break from work (i.e. no work-related task: stretch, do a five-minute game of Angry Birds, a mini-meditation). At minimum shift task completely to do something that is quick and easy, such as a quick email check, filing some papers, etc.
- Repeat the timer steps as often as you can during the day until it’s time to go home.
You’ll be amazed at how much you have accomplished in a day.
This very simple method gives you a good hear start on mastering your time because it is designed according to how our brain works, in particular as it relates to focus. Our brains are able to sustain complete focus for only 20 minutes or so. Working in a focused manner without break for much longer over-tires the brain, which leaves it less able to solve problems, be creative and work fast. Good breaks, on the other hand, allow our brains to relax, recharge and refocus. Put short bursts of very intensely focused work with short, recharging breaks and you have a powerful method to manage your energy and your focus. This will of course not answer all the challenges that you may be faced with during your day – how to deal with interruptions to this routine is one of the first ones – but it will significantly increase your productivity and reduce the time you need to do things, giving you the time and availability to work with a coach to create and implement your own, comprehensive time management, productivity and energy management system.