Originally published on Inc.com.
You are frustrated because you didn’t get enough done.
You are not alone. The lack of time (and lack of time management) is an epidemic and a virus eating away at your productivity.
Sure, there are thousands of ways to manage time. Smart phones, planners, whiteboards — there are tools galore. But unless you consider and refine the one variable that is the same in every time management scenario, no amount of tools, tactics or gadgets will help you.
That variable is your mind. How you think about time and how you organize it in your mind is key.
You already know that jumping from one thing to the next, project to project, putting out fires may be exhilarating, but it is not sustainable or productive in the long run. Here are some ways to think about time and getting more done.
1. Take two minutes to imagine your productive day.
Before you get out of bed, or while you are starting your morning routine, make an appointment with your mind. Spend two minutes imagining your peaceful, productive day. Imagine yourself responding to emergencies with ease and grace, working diligently and in a focused way on your projects, handling all of your email and incoming messages. Imagine yourself with a clean desk, results-producing appointments and a happy disposition.
2. Create a theme and a personal promise.
Maybe you’re working on a lot of projects and they all need your attention. You can create a theme for your day that will remind you how will approach these tasks, not how to do them. Take out a sticky note (I like the bright pink ones) and write this:
“Today my theme is __________”, and fill in the blank with how you will approach today. Maybe your theme is “positivity” or “peace” or “grace” or “fast” or “focused”. Stick it somewhere where you can refer to it throughout the day to remind you of your personal promise for how you will be today.
You can also do a theme for a week, a month, a year and even for an hour! Themes are looser than goals, but will allow you to keep on track with projects and stay calm and balanced throughout.
3. Make appointments with yourself.
To respect yourself and your time, make appointments with yourself on your calendar. And keep them. Sometimes your appointment with yourself will simply be one hour to tackle some tasks. That’s okay, as long as you respect yourself as much as you would respect anyone else with an appointment. Don’t be tempted to cancel on yourself because of someone else’s emergency.
So what do you do when someone calls to make an appointment during your scheduled time with yourself? Tell them you’re busy and offer another time. If you feel anxious that you might lose a customer or opportunity, think of it this way. When you make an appointment with the dentist, do you tell them when you will be there an expect them to juggle, or do you fit your appointment into their schedule and availability?
The dentist tells you exactly what times you may choose to sit in his or her chair — it’s not the other way around. It should be the same way for you.
4. Schedule your week by types of tasks.
First, determine the types of tasks you do regularly. These may include administrative, email, proposal writing, appointments and so on. Schedule regular blocks of time to do these types of tasks. Take client appointments in the morning and make return calls in the afternoon. Put these time blocks on your calendar and stick to them for maximum productivity.
5. Or schedule your week by types of time.
There are four types of time: Focus, Flexible, Family and Free Time. (Yes, there is free time but you have to create it — it doesn’t just happen).
Focus and Flexible time are the most often used at work. Schedule focus or uninterrupted time by the hour. Then turn off anything that is a distraction and get to work. Family time is obvious. Make time for family to maintain balance and happiness in your life. Free time means free from what you have to do and do what you want to do.
Educate your co-workers and anyone who might be interrupting you during your Focus Time about your plans. You might want to have a special “do not disturb” signal or door hanger, some visible sign, that you are having uninterrupted time and will be available later.
6. Train your brain to get to work during focus time.
Develop a ritual that trains your brain to go into focus time. Music works well. Use a headset and choose music that has no words, only calming tones. Start the music right before you want to focus. Do it every time and pretty soon you will anchor yourself to focus each time the music plays.
Do these few things or just start with one and your productivity will soar.
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