I can't count how many times I sat down at my computer to pound out something that should have taken me about 15-20 minutes, only to find about an hour later that I hadn't finished it yet. And it wasn't because I wasn't working,I was! I wasn't scrolling the Internet mindlessly or getting lost on social media.
My so-called time management techniques just weren't actually good time management techniques.
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
- Time to write a blog post, I want to link it to this other blog post, I better check to see the keywords of that blog post.
- Blog post B hasn't been updated since I rebranded. I should whip out those graphics real quick.
- Photoshop takes forever to open.
- Finally open, I haven't checked on my page yet. I should just check on that real quick before I get into these graphics.
- I need to post something there, I'll just search for a quick meme.
- Before I get off Facebook, I should check into my group and see if anyone has commented or asked any questions.
- I should post a blog post here, I'll need to check blog post C to make sure it's post-worthy
- Blog post C hasn't been updated since the rebrand. I should whip out those graphics real quick.
Do you see a pattern here?
I was working, but I was basically working in circles — constantly in motion and constantly trying to get through all these tiny, seemingly related and important tasks, but getting nowhere. And it wasn't just reserved for activities related to my blog, either. My cient work often fell into a similar pattern of inefficiency:
- I need to finish this chapter for that book.
- Oh but I need to reference a particular blog post, better go check the language.
- That blog post hasn't been updated in a while, better email and double check that the information is still okay to reference.
- Oh look, email from my other client with feedback on their book. I should let them know I got this and check it out.
- But before I respond, I need to check and make sure I got their social media captions ready to send, they probably want to see those.
- And the cycle continues.
And even though there are a ton of distractions inherent to the home (in fact, maybe even because of all the distractions in the home), working from home usually means being able to stuff more work into fewer hours, which means you have to be able to manage your time to get it all in. Sitting down and allowing my to-do list to run my day like this often meant that by the end of the day, that first blog post I had tried to write never got finished. Or if it did, it was usually late at night or sometimes even the next day.
To make matters worse, I was tired at the end of the day.
Our brains have a bad habit of counting every hour at the computer as “work” – even if we aren't working all that efficiently or getting anything done. And that's because consuming content feels like work to our brains. They are still processing everything you're taking in. So those few minutes spent checking my Facebook page or my group to post something felt the same to my brain as writing out an entire blog post. So by the end of the day, I was tired, unproductive, but I had been working all day.
I had to learn new time management techniques to break out of this cycle and start getting more done.
Of course, we all work differently, and what works for one person may not work for everyone. But, if you find that on most days you're chasing your to-do list and not getting anywhere even after a full day of work, then some of these may work for you.
Here are the time management techniques that helped me the most.
First, make a plan and break it down. Start by figuring out exactly what you want to get accomplished. What's your next big goal? Break this down into the ongoing tasks that will need to be taken care of on a daily or weekly basis. This will give you a specific roadmap of things to do before you can accomplish that goal.
This is also separate from your to-do list. We're going to get to that later. Right now, just figure out what steps you need to take to get to your big goal.
Next, write out your to-do lists. List out any other daily or weekly tasks you may have. This will likely include things like blogging, emailing your subscribers, interacting on social media sites, etc.
Finally, put together your work at home schedule. I like to use time-blocking for mine, but you can use any method you like. The real key is, if you're just learning how to set goals and achieve them, make sure the first three tasks that you place on your calendar every day are the tasks you pulled out of your big goal roadmap.
When we work from home, we have a tendency to try to organize our to-do lists by some sort of priority. We go by time-sensitivity, or revenue generating, or urgency, or ease. And these are all fine things to prioritize.
But if the tasks you've prioritized as the most important, most time sensitive, or easiest aren't also part of that roadmap to get to your big goal? Then getting them crossed off the list isn't going to get you any closer to what you want to accomplish.
Once I switched to goal-based to-do lists, everything changed for me. Now, the first three things I finish that day have to do with my main goal… even if I get nothing else done, I know at the end of the day that I'm three steps closer to my goal.
Finally, stop multitasking.
Part of the beauty of time-blocking is that it takes out the need to multitask. This was probably the hardest aspect for me to get used to — stop multitasking. For decades, I worked by doing so many things at the same time. It felt natural to me. Check my email while I drank my coffee. Write a blog post while I listen in on a meeting or listen to a webinar. Do market research while looking for engagement posts to share.
If this is you, then believe me when I tell you that I get it.
Learning how to stop multitasking is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do — it's right up there with quitting smoking! Switching to one task at a time just feels unnatural at first. But the benefits are astonishing. By allowing yourself to fully concentrate on one task at a time, all your energy goes into completing that task, which in turn allows you to finish it faster. Additionally, the time you spend away from work, feels like an actual break from work. Which gives you a chance to rejuvenate before jumping back in.
In the end, the tasks on your to-do list will take as long as you allow them to take. Using Google Calendar for time blocking allows my notifications to get me moving from one task to another, but you can accomplish the same thing using an egg-timer if you prefer to have the physical timer in front of you. Once that task starts, set your timer and go.
Try not to stop, pause, switch tasks, or move on until you've finished the task in front of you. And once the timer goes off, stop. If you've already finished, great. If not, reschedule a new block of time to finish that task, and get to it later. Eventually, this method will allow you to train your brain to work when you need it to work, and take a break when you need it to take a break.
And, as with anything else, take some time every now and again to evaluate what's working and what isn't.
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