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“If I could just have a few more hours in my day….” I hear this frequently from my clients, and this month we all do get more hours. They’re coming at the end of the month, in the form of an extra day. This is because 2020 is a leap year. In a leap year, we add an entire day to the calendar to keep our modern calendar in sync with the earth’s revolutions around the Sun. Unfortunately, we can’t add in an hour where we need it to keep life in sync with our obligations. But, we can implement some proven time management tactics to make better use of the time we’re given and, create more time for the things we want to do.

Create a Complete To-Do List

If you follow me regularly, you already know that I am a huge fan of the to-do list. Putting down in writing everything you want or need to accomplish in one place frees up the mind to focus on the task at hand. In addition to the obvious benefit of not forgetting to do something, when you jot down a to-do, you won’t spend brain processing power trying to “not forget” to do something. I always caution my clients to stick to one to-do list. Sticky notes here and there aren’t a to-do list. A list for home and one for work leaves open the possibility of conflict. And a star on your hand (you know who you are) could, among other things, wash off. A well-maintained to-do list effectively documents your necessary tasks, enables you to easily group like activities for more-efficient work and sets the stage for greater focused productivity.

The Simple (But Richly Rewarding) Tool of Time Blocking

Getting into the habit of keeping a thorough to-do list efficiently documents what you need to be doing, but it can also set you up for overwhelm. Seeing right there in black and white all that you have to do might amp up your stress. This is where time blocking comes in. Time blocking is a proven time management strategy. And, time blocking is very effective stress management. It is about getting realistic regarding what you can accomplish on any given day, and slotting it in.

Take a Weekly Approach

A great way to start is to take a weekly time-blocking approach. Spend some time at the beginning of the week reviewing and updating your to-do list. Consider your priorities. Account for your externally and internally-assigned deadlines. Then, pull up your calendar and begin to block off time for getting your to-dos completed. It is important here to be very honest with yourself. In fact, I suggest you be generous with your time. The great thing about time blocking is that, when you’ve over-allotted a segment of time for a given task, you receive the bonus of unanticipated free time. Of course, you won’t want to do this to the extreme, because that in-and-of-itself is counter-productive.

When you block out time for your tasks, you keep yourself from getting into a time crunch on important deadlines. You won’t wake up one morning realizing you need to pull an all-nighter, or cancel important commitments or engagements, in order to meet a deadline. And, the act of simply assigning a block of time to a task you feel anxiety about will decrease your stress level. You’ll be able to relax knowing you’ve set aside time to tackle the activity, which frees up your mind to focus on the task at hand.

Effective Meetings Facilitate Productive Time Management

Scheduling productive, time-bound meetings are a form of time blocking and, when managed properly, they are a key ingredient to effective time management. Meetings can cut out the back-and-forth of time-wasting emails and texts, and they bring the valuable feature of real-time thought interaction. When collaboration is necessary, getting time on the calendar for the key stakeholders is the first step in getting an objective accomplished. Don’t forget that virtual meetings can often be as effective as in-person meetings, and could possibly save commute times. Following the principles of effective meetings – which includes sticking to a clear, established agenda – will ensure you use your (and everyone else’s’) time block effectively.

Pay Attention To What Distracts You

Often, simply being aware of your tendency to become distracted is all you need to push past the problem. I have a friend who is a very busy real estate agent. She recently vented to me about her problem of being pulled off track by text messages. She’d pick up her phone to make a call, see a text, and start down an unintended path that ended up taking her down the rabbit hole. (She would forget why she picked up her phone in the first place). We discussed the importance of acknowledging this time trap upfront. I suggested she respond to texts the same as emails…in scheduled time blocks rather than immediately. Her tools for success here are, first, her greater self-awareness of her tendency to jump off task and, second, her commitment to using her to-do list to foster efficient time management.

Turn Off the Notifications

Sometimes, it makes sense to remove or avoid those things that are pulling us off task. Modern technology can set us up for interruptions that steal our valuable time. Some of the obvious include pop-up notifications, text messages, and social media. I encourage you to turn off your email notifications and instead, set aside a specific time for processing your emails. When I am working, I often turn off my text notifications, opting instead to check my phone once my task is complete. I understand this doesn’t work for everyone. As far as social media goes, I suggest you treat it similar to email. Set aside time when you can dive in. You’ll find it more enjoyable when you know you aren’t actually taking time from something you should be doing. Social media can be a tremendous time thief. Appreciate the temptation of the newsfeed and manage your perusing accordingly.

Pay Attention to Your Work Practices

Modern working practices can also set us up for distractions and interruptions. Many of us work from home at least some of the time. It’s very easy to get pulled into laundry, cooking, tidying up and other seemingly never-ending home responsibilities. Again, we find a case for mind management, and having awareness of the tendency to be pulled off-task is valuable. Because we’re working from home, we don’t have the structured oversight the traditional workplace affords. And, let’s face it, without a supervisor watching we may just believe one load of laundry or one personal phone call is ok. But, before we know it, an hour has passed and our task is still incomplete. For more great ideas for telecommuters read my post on 12 Tips from Working at Home Productively.

The traditional workplace is certainly not free of interruptions, they just may not be of the laundry type. Well-meaning coworkers are often the biggest offenders. It IS ok to set boundaries. You can ask for uninterrupted focused time and close the door when necessary. Try instituting an hour or two of non-interactive work time for your team and see what happens.

Implement Effective Time Management Today

Ready to harness the clock? Establish a to-do list practice that makes sense for you. Begin time blocking to ensure you accomplish what you want to do. Work smarter with smart meetings and a smart mindset. We don’t need to wait until the next leap year (that’s 2024) to get some extra time in our day. With effective strategies and a purposeful mindset, each of us can find more time in every day.

Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

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