When is the best time to get something done? There are a lot of different ways that people ask this question, but my initial reaction is: Whenever you have time to do it.
At first, that might sound like a riddle, but I promise it isn’t; it’s just a reflection of the busy lives most of us lead. However there are definitely techniques you can use to get more done within the limited time frames available to you.
A number of men and women, even some of the highest-performing professionals in every field, consistently undervalue and under-appreciate what can actually be accomplished in 10 or 15 minutes of uninterrupted work. You might not be able to finish a big presentation, but you could take the first steps, like making an outline of the first few slides, sending an e-mail information request, or writing an introduction.
Life is full of opportunities to get a few minutes of productivity in, rather than feeling bored or wasting time, if we only take advantage of them. The key is to find and recognize them, while breaking some of our worst habits at the same time.
Here are a handful of tips to help you get started:
- Waste fewer minutes. Many of my clients are not truly aware of just how many minutes are getting away from them in a normal day. You add up all of the minutes spent waiting on phone calls, refocusing after a work disruption, or chatting with colleagues about nothing in particular, and it can add up to hours a week. That should be incentive enough to start taking advantage of that time.
- Prioritize more. It is no use finishing relatively unimportant tasks if you have not finished your most important work yet. Learn to prioritize ruthlessly and work on your most important and time-critical projects first. It might be tempting to move on to something that’s easier, more fun, or more interesting, but doing so will ultimately only cost you more time and stress later.
- Learn to focus. I often advise my clients and seminar attendees to schedule a block of time each morning – around 90 minutes is ideal – to work on their most important tasks and projects. Limit interruptions during that session. That way, they get to start off the day having accomplished something that is critical to their job, or having moved forward on something important. Usually, the momentum from that will keep them productive for the rest the day, or at the very least prevent them from getting too busy to finish their most critical “must do” tasks.
- Maintain a schedule. Not many of us buy things without asking the price first, but many professionals think nothing of treating their schedule as open-ended. When budgeting your money, you apportion set amounts of money to specific accounts in order to be sure the money does not run out before expenses are met. Use the same process for budgeting your time by scheduling groups of like items and putting them on your calendar so that everything fits. Leave some open space for the unexpected.
- Keep lower priority task cards with you. Often, spare moments pop up when we least expect them: You find yourself waiting for an extra 10 minutes at the doctor’s office, or for a meeting to start. That time doesn’t have to be wasted, at least not if you have some of your tasks and projects with you. These would be the easier items that do not require intense concentration. These short blocks are also a good time to catch up on your reading backlog.
The fact is that you have to make choices on how to spend your time. Become a master at prioritizing your day, learning to work on your most important projects first, and then finishing the rest whenever you can, without wasting valuable minutes. You will find yourself getting more done with less stress.
About the Author: Denise’s seminars, speeches, and consulting provide easy-to-implement solutions to many of the challenges people face every day: overflowing email inboxes, stacks of paper everywhere, constant interruptions, and late nights of work. She focuses on how organization helps people cut down on stress and gain control of their schedules. Denise is the owner of Key Organization Systems, Inc. and author of Destination: Organization, A Week by Week Journey. Her articles on productivity appear regularly in national magazines.