As a jill-of-all-trades, I thought I had the efficiency thing down. Turns out, my time management strategies weren’t as refined as I thought. A quick scan through a couple of books and a few courses later, I’m proudly reporting that I’m staring at a completely empty inbox and a notebook filled with listed items crossed out.
Maybe you’re already doing some of these things, but I’m willing to put down a bet that you haven’t given all of these a try. It might seem time and resource intensive up front, but trust me, this will make your life easier and a lot more manageable in the long term.
My Top 5 Time Management Strategies
Get Rid of Useless Email Categorization & Get to Inbox Zero
I always thought I was really on top of my e-mails. And, truth be told, I was pretty good at it. I always aimed to read through all new e-mails and categorize them immediately. Unfortunately, that meant that I would sometimes read them, put them in a to-do pile, then re-read them and procrastinate some more. I would sometimes re-categorize. Oh yeah, I spent a lot of time categorizing. I had a “Waiting for Reply” pile, a “To-do” pile, an “Urgent” pile, “Sometime next week” pile. You get the point.
And then I found out that I can have zero labels and zero e-mails in my inbox every single day. Yup! As in, not just hanging out there in the inbox to re-read later, but literally an empty inbox. It was amazing. This required some up-front time investment. I basically archived everything older than 3 months, and started to go through all the e-mails one by one and seeing whether they’re things I needed to follow up on, schedule, or discard. Once I was done with the e-mail, I archived.
That’s basically it. As soon as I get done with it, I archive. If the e-mail is something that can get done in under 5 minutes, I reply on the spot. If it requires more time, I schedule the block of time it requires in my calendar and attach the e-mail to the event. You can do this directly through the Gmail system. I basically schedule it in so it becomes accounted for, and so does my time. If I respond to an e-mail, I don’t keep it in my inbox. I archive it. There you have it. Zero e-mails.
Schedule a Quarterly Brain Dump
This one requires about 1-2 hours every quarter. Meaning, every three months, I have a calendar task that tells me to use my prompts list to write down EVERYTHING I need to do or that’s on my mind. This is categorized into personal tasks and professional tasks. I basically write down everything on my mind, and for the next three months I incorporate any of those tasks that I wrote down. This allows me to clear the mind-space to actually focus on things instead of thinking of everything I have to do.
I’m including a good prompts list from Getting Things Done master, David Allen, but if you good brain dump list you can find a lot more resources.
Download the PDF: Mind_Sweep_Trigger_List
Six Gathering Places MAX
Let’s say you have one e-mail box (hah!) and let’s say that’s where you get all your mail. That’s one gathering place. Let’s say you have a work e-mail. That’s gathering place number two. Let’s say you have a table you throw stuff on randomly. That’s gathering place numero tres. And the 10 different drawers stuffed with random stuff? That’s 10 more gathering places. Your voice mail is another one.
Ok, I think you get it. The point is, you need six inboxes MAX. A few months ago I got one big box and threw all the things that didn’t belong in the drawers, on counters, in bags, in pockets, in cabinets into that box. I then went through the box and either threw the item away, processed and filed it, responded to it, read through it and threw it away (in the case of magazines) or put the item away in a place where it belongs (hello random change in kitchen drawers, welcome to your new home, the piggybank!)
Get it? No more random gathering places! Now whenever I have an item, instead of wasting time processing it on the spot, I throw it in my box that I keep by my work desk. Every day I devote 30 minutes of my calendar time to processing the box. This includes my physical inbox and my e-mails/voicemails. Otherwise, I don’t switch between tasks and waste time throughout the day.
So get your own physical inbox and consolidate your gathering spots. It’ll save you brain power and time in the long run. Added benefit is you’ll know where everything is!
PS. My current inboxes are: my notebook where I write all my notes and to-dos, a physical box next to my work desk, my work and personal e-mails, and my Evernote.
Prioritize Your To-Do Lists for Your Most Valuable Activities
I start every single day with a to-do list. Sometimes I write out my to-do list the night before, when I’m done with the previous day’s activities. It’s a habit I built up after several months of consistent to-do list use.
Typically, you want to write down all the items you must or need to accomplish that day. Some people like to separate work and personal to-do lists but I write everything down in one column. Most people stop there and start tackling.
I go a step further and pick my top 3 tasks that I MUST focus on that day. I put an “A” next to those. “B” goes next to items that are second in line in terms of importance. The items that aren’t time sensitive or won’t make much of an impact if left undone get a “C.”
Train Yourself For Non-Phone Use
This is kind of a no-brainer in the time management strategies realm, but it’s one of the toughest. Putting your phone away whenever you need to concentrate can make a HUGE difference in your productivity. There are tons of suggestions about placing your phone in airplane mode, or just putting it in another room completely.
My favorite technique has been using the app Forest. You basically set a timer for however long you want to focus and the app scolds if you try to close out of the growing screen. You grow your trees, earn coins, and can then use the coins to plan actual trees! Yay! Now you’re doing good with your productivity!
Speaking of intense focus, use the time you gain from not being distracted to quickly pump out some content for your own blog with this technique.