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Make the most of your time

Why is it so hard to estimate how long tasks take?

We humans are consistently wrong about how much or how little time given tasks will take us. Why? Well, because we’re not machines, basically. We have tons of other data (like feelings and stress and memories) informing our self-assessments and that clouds our ability to do the simple math of: “How long does it take me to clean the kitchen?”.

But don’t feel hope is lost (yet) there are these things call timers that can give us an accurate reading of how long it takes us to clean the kitchen.

In order to plan your day effectively, you’ve got to have a realistic sense of how long a given task takes you. And that means timing yourself. All day. Doing everything.

Starting now!

You can use a real stopwatch or a timer app on your phone, but whatever you use should be portable so you can time everything you do for a day. Time your breakfast (preparing and eating), time your commute (from door to door), time your chit-chat at the coffee machine, time your inbox-clearing, time your lunch (from deciding to go to lunch to resuming work again), and so on.

It’s important to try to time an entire activity, like lunch from the time you decide to go to lunch to the time you actually get back.  That means all the time that you think about doing work, but just waste space at your desk.

If you’re like most people, you’ll find that while you maybe take 20 minutes to eat, you also spend 5 minutes scanning Facebook (as if you had real friends) before you actually leave your office, and then slowly make your way back to your desk afterwards, bringing your *actual* lunch time closer to 35 minutes.

(You should time yourself for one day, since it’s pretty difficult to sustain long term, and doing so isn’t really necessary for the purposes of this exercise. I have to keep lessons within your mental sandbox.)

  • What’s taking too long? What really surprised you (either by how long it took or how little time it took)? Where are you losing time?


Common places we lose time:

  • Interruptions by people, whether to chat or because they need your help.

  • Self-interruptions, like procrastination or multitasking (which usually means not completing anything in an efficient amount of time).

  • Interruptions by tasks, where you need help or more information.


How to stop losing time to these common interruptions:

  • People.

    What do the people who interrupt you want? If they are there to chat, you need to enforce divisions between your work time and chat time. Stay connected to people by setting up regular 1:1s or coffee meetings, and discourage drop-ins by marking a public calendar with your busy time or putting a sign on your door.

    If they are there because they need your help, how can you get them this information in the future before they need to come asking for it? Predict future issues by analyzing current interruptions.

  • Yourself.

    Procrastinating and multitasking both make us feel good, but neither one does us any good. Take note of what triggers these behaviors in you: do you procrastinate when you feel really ahead of the game, and multitask when you feel behind? How do you procrastinate? What tasks do you choose to juggle?

    Create plans and block off time for these activities on your calendar, so you can focus as necessary and get your big priorities done when you need to.

    Don’t let your mind wander; it’s far too small to be let out on its own.

  • Tasks.What tasks hold you up during the day? What questions do you encounter that block you, and how can you get that information in advance next time? Do you need additional skills and training, or do you need to ask better questions up front?Are you held up by your environment or your energy level? Would doing this task in another location or at another time of day make it more productive? Look for ways to make it easy for you to start a task and complete it without stopping the next time you do it.

How to make your calendar your new best friend

Is your calendar your friend?

Yes! Or at least, it soon will be.

More than one-off tips and tricks, a lot of the tools we are sharing with you in this course — at their core — have to do with becoming actively engaged with your time, and being the boss of how you spend it most effectively. Being super productive is as much a mindset as it is a strategy. And you’re getting that mindset. Think of it as your productivity superpower.

But what’s a superhero without a trusty sidekick? Enter, your calendar.

Your calendar should be the trusted guardian of your time. It’s always there to back you up, and it can tell you what the right job for any given time is. Ka-pow!

All you have to do is decide to take your calendar seriously, and follow the schedule you set for yourself consistently and smartly.

  • Block off time for every assignment. No matter how small, schedule time for every little thing you’ve got to do in a day.

  • No seriously, every assignment. You’ll never stop being dragged into small fires throughout the day if your email is always open and you’re always checking it. Someone always wants something — but rarely do they need it immediately (and if they do, they’ll let you know).

    So schedule “Check Email” as a task a couple times a day. Experts recommend not checking email until midday (once you’ve completed your more important work), so try blocking off some time around noon and some time before you leave the office. And that’s it!

  • Make appointments for yourself. If you need to brainstorm ideas for a new project, schedule time for that on your calendar. If you don’t, that time is susceptible to being swept up into something else. Your time is *yours*, so make it as important as everything else on your calendar and give it the block it deserves.

  • Scheduled fun is still fun. Odds are, if you’re as busy as most people, fun is one of the things that gets pushed to the back burner if you don’t schedule it. And scheduling your fun doesn’t make it less fun. In fact, it makes happy hours, date nights, and weekend events more fun because your work life is already scheduled and under control — so there are no nagging commitments to distract you from the good times.

  • But what if I get interrupted? This isn’t really an “if” at all — so what happens to your schedule *when* you get interrupted? Well, that’s up to you and your schedule. Having blocks of time marked off lets you make informed decisions about how you deal with all those surprises that happen during the day.

    Plans can change, but they don’t have to be made randomly. You know what blocks of time can shift, and which need to be firm. Use that to handle interruptions, and calmly go about your day.

Choosing to use your calendar as the ultimate guardian of your time — the place where you stay organized, the place where every single thing you need to do is kept — can be incredibly liberating, though it may sound restrictive at first. But consider the freedom of never having to worry about what you *should* be doing or forgetting about something at the last minute.

When you make an appointment for *everything* you give all your tasks the same weight. You are declaring, “My time for this task matters!”. You stop shifting things aside or compromising the quality of time you spend on things, because the calendar gives all your tasks a place to be.

If you confine all of your tasks to one calendar, then everything has a place and everything is accounted for, and you can clear your mind for more important things.

Ahh, simplicity.

Tags: goals, growth, improvement, productivity, sparks, Strategy, time,

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