What’s their secret? Some magic potion? A Delorean fitted with a time machine? Or are they all secretly time-lords from Doctor Who?
The secret: time management.
By leveraging the right tools and making appropriate decisions, you can get much more out of your time, as you’ll learn in this blog post.
For even more productivity secrets, check out this course on productivity and time management mastery.
1. Know How You Spend Your Time
Scientia potential est
Or: knowledge is power.
Knowing how you spend time is the first step in managing your time effectively. This requires getting a little obsessed with data. Track everything that you do. Heading out for lunch? Great! Now open a spreadsheet and jot down the exact time you left and the exact time you came back. Working on a new report? Then track how many hours you spent on it (and how many hours you whiled away on Facebook in-between).
It also helps to categorize different tasks (‘Work’, ‘Personal’, ‘Food’, etc.).
At the end of the day (or week, or month – whichever you prefer) analyze how you spent your time. Are your lunches eating away an hour every day? Or are your little Facebook detours chewing out a few hours every week? This exercise in analysis will help you spot your weak points so you can work on them later.
There are tools to automate this process as well, most notably, RescueTime, which automatically tracks everything you do online and shows the results in an interactive dashboard.
2. Create Lists
The to-do list is to productivity what a hammer is to a carpenter. It’s the most basic tool in your arsenal, but perhaps also the most important one.
Your to-do list should not just include things you need to do, but also the priority with which you need to do them. Christmas shopping might as well be fun, but is it more important than the project with the Friday deadline? If not, it goes straight to the bottom of the list.
You can create your list and assign individual items letter-based priority, like this:
A1 – Complete report
A2 – Create new campaign
B1 – Find new marketing partners
C1 – Buy groceries
C2 – Christmas shopping
D1 – Make New Year travel plans
E1 – Call Sam
Here, task A1 gets top priority, followed by A2, which is followed by B1, C1, and so on. The lower the number, the higher the priority.
And the letters?
We’ll get to that in some time.
P.S.: There are dozens of fancy tools for making lists, such as Any.do, Clear+, Wunderlist and RememberTheMilk. For most purposes, your humble pen and paper will be more than enough.
P.P.S.: For an in-depth look at how lists can help you get more things done, check out this course on improving productivity and mastering time management.
3. Delegate as Much as Possible
In the list we made above, each item was prefixed with an alphabet. The alphabets act as code words to help categorize our list items.
A = Tasks that absolutely must be performed. Without them, everything goes kaput. These also require your personal input to be successfully performed.
B = Tasks with slightly lower priority that can be put off for the weekend or other seemingly more relaxed time. You don’t always need to perform these yourself
C = Tasks that are important, but not urgent. This will mostly include personal tasks that are often pleasurable (i.e. not work). You can perhaps get a friend, a significant other, or a personal assistant to do these as well.
D = Tasks in this category must be delegated to someone else.
E = Tasks that can be performed in the breaks or gaps between other tasks. Sam, in the above example, is an old friend who’s had a bout of flu and you just want to check on his health. You can call him over your lunch break, hence it goes into the E1 category.
The item that concerns us the most is D, for delegation. Every day, you must strive to get as many items as possible from B and C categories into the D category (A tasks, unfortunately, cannot be so easily delegated). Pore through your list after you’ve made it. Ask yourself: can this task be done by someone else?
If it can be, don’t hesitate to delegate.
4. Get Help
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to try and do everything yourself. Fortunately, there is plenty of help available to make your life a little easier.
Consider something as simple as making travel plans. Sure, you could spend a few dozen hours trying to find the cheapest air tickets, figuring out an itinerary and poring through hotel reviews online.
Or you could pay someone a few dollars an hour to do it for you.
Thanks to the internet, you can easily find efficient, experienced workers to help you get things done, usually for less than $10/hour. You can get virtual assistance on-demand through services like Zaarly.com, FancyHands.com, or even hire a dedicated person to take care of common tasks through oDesk.com, Freelancer.com and other such freelance websites.
Help isn’t limited to virtual tasks alone. Services like TaskRabbit.com make it possible to get help for real-world tasks as well – picking up laundry, buying groceries, etc.
Your decision to use a virtual assistant should depend on two things: i) how much you make per hour, and ii) how much time you can save by hiring a virtual assistant.
For example, a programmer who makes $100/hour might be able to save two hours every week by hiring a virtual assistant (this is where knowing how you spend time will be of help). This means he stands to make an extra $200/week. Therefore, he can safely spend up to $199.99 on a virtual assistant each week and still make a profit.
If you’re running your own business, this course on time management for entrepreneurs will point you in the right direction.
The last piece of the time management puzzle is automation.
If you’re a programmer, you already know the old maxim: if you’ve done a task more than three times, write a script to automate it.
Simply put, what can’t be outsourced or delegated should be automated. Formatting big chunks of data in Excel? Why not write a macro to automate the process? Posting updates to your blog? Write a little program to handle it automatically.
You don’t need to know programming to automate things. A simple knowledge of macros, plus tools like IFTTT can go a long way.
For example, this course will teach how to use IFTTT, virtual assistants and Gmail to boost your productivity 2x.
By leveraging simple tools like this, you can ensure that you get things done and have time to do the things you truly love.
What are your favorite time management tips? Share them with us in the comments!