Effective use of your time can make a real difference to the impact you have. By employing good organisational techniques, you can achieve much more in those valuable hours than otherwise. Following the lessons I learned as a manager, I wanted to run through a couple of methods I use to structure my day both personally and at work.
Note that these are methods which work for me. I am not writing this as a golden bullet for all time management. It’s important to understand what works for you and tailor a system accordingly.
I have a vision of where I would like to be in 30 years time. This is a loosely held vision as of course, things will inevitably change over the next 30 years. However, it’s a vision of where I would like to be based on where I am today. My vision encapsulates both the lifestyle such as sipping G&T’s on a sunny beach, along with the skills I would like to have acquired such as being able to thrash out a Led Zeppelin song on guitar.
From this I work back and create a set of medium term goals which will help progress this vision. These goals can be anywhere from a month to a year in scope, but it’s important they follow the SMART acronym. This codifies that the goals will have a time bound and measurable definition and ensures I know when I have met them.
Finally I spend 15 minutes at the start of each day clearing my thoughts and writing down 3 things I want to achieve. Again, these relate to the medium term goals I have set and ensure I am focussed on working towards that vision at the top.
Trello is a great tool for organising goals and tasks. I use it as a kanban board whereby I move things I am working on from a backlog into doing and done states. Trello allows me to visualise all the tasks I am working on, along with any sub-tasks and due dates. I also find it useful to create shared boards with other people which is effective for both project work and even home life.
Again, kanban in particular is a method which works for me. Trello is completely customisable and allows you to define your own lists and ways of working with tasks. See here for a post I wrote about working with the Trello API.
The Eisenhower matrix is a tool developed by President Eisenhower to help him prioritise tasks. It works on the principle that tasks can be rated by both importance and urgency. By plotting against these axis, you can bucket tasks into 4 categories – Do First, Schedule, Delegate and Don’t Do. Using this method of prioritisation in combination with Trello will really helps me focus on what to work on
Finally, I ensure that I dedicate focussed time to tasks. It can be very easy, especially in open plan offices, to be distracted by goings on elsewhere. I find that focusing on the task at hand helps me complete it faster and more accurately. There are various methods I employ when carving out focus time. I will block time in my calendar, relocate to a quiet space or even just wear headphones so that co-workers are aware not to disturb me.
What is success?
With the techniques outlined, I find I am more effective at completing my goals and striving towards that grander vision. However, it’s not all about completing tasks. You should make sure that you enjoy your journey and have fun along the way. Make time for friends, family and hobbies or you’ll burn out. Ensure that if you don’t hit your goals, you don’t hold it against yourself. Success can only be measured by how hard your tried. If you feel you did as much as possible, then hold your head high and move on.