There’s just never enough time in the day is there?
No matter how hard you try to make the most of the time you have, something always gets in the way. Plus, there are so many distractions that make ‘just getting on with what you need to do’ so much harder than it’s ever been before.
So how do you make better use of the time you have so you don’t spend every day simply adding more uncompleted items to your to-do list?
Tackle the distractions first
Start with ticking off anything easy but potentially distracting. If you leave something that you think needs to be done, um, undone, then it will have the ability to disrupt your productivity later on or lead you towards procrastination.
By getting the minor things out of the way first - whether it’s hanging out the washing if you’re WFH or replying to that ‘urgent’ text you’ve just received - you’ll be able to focus better on the things that really matter.
Bust the multitasking myth
Multitasking isn’t real! Yes, we’ve said it. Okay, so having a phone conversation while making a cup of tea is easy but trying to complete relatively complex multiple tasks simultaneously is actually extremely inefficient.
We do it because juggling things makes us feel good; distractions give us a lovely dopamine hit. But actually keeping going with something that feels hard produces better results in the end. Just ask any marathon runner!
So stop trying to do lots of things at once, and instead focus on pushing through the concentration pain barrier. This is where you’re mostly likely to achieve a ‘flow state’ - i.e. you at your best, happiest and most productive.
The need to feel busy all the time has become an invasive part of most workplace cultures, and the ‘always on’ nature of modern communications exacerbates the perception that we need to respond instantly to everything.
In fact, we often believe that being busy and constantly connected is desirable and anything less is pure laziness and a waste of our precious time. That belief has become a pervasive presence in our lives, driving our behaviour and the expectations we have of others.
Yet, most of us know that relaxation and ‘switching off’ is vital to mental and physical health, and can help us to be more creative and productive.
You don’t need to stop replying to everything or chuck your phone in the river, but trying to embrace moments of idleness and taking more control of your own time will actually help you be more productive in the long run.
Manage your energy
For many people, first thing in the morning is the best time to get things done and possibly even get into some deep work. But, that won’t be the same for everyone; there are plenty of night owls out there!
So start taking note of when you have the most energy and fewest distractions. Do this for a few days and then use the intell you’ve gleaned to manage your energy and time more effectively.
Of course it’s not always going to be possible to plan your work around your energy, especially when you work in an office, work with others, have meetings to go or kids to look after. But taking charge of your time when and where you can will have a big impact on how you feel and what you are able to achieve.
Escape the to-do list trap
There’s nothing more demotivating than a never ending to-do list, so rather than being a slave to ALL the things you think you should do, instead focus on creating a ‘highlight’ for you day.
First, decide which of your tasks are most important - and this doesn’t necessarily mean they are the most urgent - and then pick one to focus on. This will likely be something that will help you work towards a specific goal or priority.
By focusing on your highlight, rather than the inevitable things that pop up throughout the day, you will feel like you’ve achieved something. Try to avoid distractions and make time to reflect on how much progress you’ve made at the end of the day.
And rather than ticking things off a to-do list, try creating a ‘have done’ list - this subtle shift will draw your attention to what you’ve achieved and will underline a sense of accomplishment and forward motion.
Put simply, you shift the goal from the unachievable feat of making the ‘to-do’ list smaller, to getting the important things done because you’ve taken charge of your time and focus.
Create good habits
Making the most of your time gets a lot easier when you have a routine that makes ‘getting things done’ feel easy. Consider simple things like leaving a pen and paper by your bed at night, and jot down your day’s ‘highlight’ first thing in the morning and your ‘have done’ list before you go to bed at night.
Ultimately, you will procrastinate when it’s the easiest thing to do. So, make it harder for yourself to get distracted. Put your phone in a different room when you want to get some deep work done, turn off notifications for your email, set aside time to check emails rather than letting them creep into every part of your day.
Once you have a routine that allows you to feel in control of your time rather than being controlled by it you will reap the benefits.
Oh, and stop looking at your phone when you’re in the middle of something important…no, really…
More on time management
Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
Atomic Habits by James Clear
Getting Things Done by David Allen
Deep Work by Cal Newport