We all want flexibility, and to work on what we want when we want.
But it’s hard to get all of your things done when there are tons of demands on your time. You only have so many hours in a day, and when many of them are taken up with other people’s needs or meetings or conferences or travel, it can feel like there is no time left for the things you need to get done.
But really successful people manage to squeeze more juice out of the lemon; they find little ways to get more out of their time than anyone else. How do they do it?
The reason most people don’t squeeze the most out of the lemon is that it’s actually hard to do in the moment. There’s always a good excuse (I’m tired, I’m too busy, I didn’t get a chance, etc), but here’s the thing: every time you excuse yourself from maximizing your time, you are holding yourself back. And you’re going to feel bad whatever else you do with that time because you didn’t follow through.
Successful people know they have to maximize every hours (even the hours that feel too busy or filled with unavoidable lost time).
If you’re ready to start being more productive and getting more out of every day, here are some of our best ideas for how to do that.
Outline your most important goals beforehand
You have to be deliberate about your goals all of the time. A to-do list is great, but it’s not enough if you are going to be a time management superstar. Planning hours is just the beginning; really successful people do more than look at the time on their calendar. They look at the meaning behind every hour.
If you are going into a meeting, think about what you want to get out of that meeting.
Do you want to learn more about something? Do you want to express an idea?
If you are going to a conference, think about why you are going. Is it to build relationships? To learn? To network with future customers?
There are lots of ways to spend your time productively. But you have to choose the ways that are actually meaningful to you. If you go to a conference and learn a lot by sitting in talks all day, that’s great — unless the reason your boss sent you to that conference was to network with your customer base. You have to know your target in order to hit it.
When you know the why behind what you are doing, you will use your time more efficiently. If there is no good reason for you to do something, cut it out of your schedule. If you know exactly why you’re doing something, you’ll get to your goal faster and you can move on to the next thing.
You can even write out these plans. Answer the questions: why am I doing ____? What do results do I hope to get out of ____? How will I know if I am successful at ____? What would my manager/team/org say are my biggest priorities here?
Working in transit
For a long time, I used to chalk flights up as lost time. For some people, they are super productive; they are disconnected from everyone else’s demands and they can get focused on work they really need to do.
But try as I might to write blog posts or work on presentations, I just couldn’t focus while sitting in an uncomfortable chair during turbulence, and so I figured I just couldn’t be productive on a plane.
However, just because I can’t do high-focus work while flying doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. Now when I fly, I spend time writing to-do lists for the week or doing simpler tasks that don’t require as much focus, like scheduling social media posts. Even though this doesn’t allow me to knock huge items off my to-do list, it does mean that when I land and am back in a place where I can focus, I have eliminated all the minutiae and can get right down to work.
This works if you’re driving too. While you can’t do computer work at the wheel, you can schedule all of your meetings to take place by phone that day and talk hands-free. That way, once you get to your destination, you are free to focus on the work that you really need to sit down and do all by yourself, uninterrupted.
How can you make the most of transit time? I bet you are undervaluing the pockets of time you have or missing opportunities to make your life easier.
Schedule your downtime
When you’re running around all day, it is easy to want to collapse in front of the TV at the end of the day. However, being passive in your downtime actually makes you feel worse and doesn’t help you get any of what you need.
You have to be deliberate about all the time in your day, from when you wake up to when you go to bed.
This doesn’t mean you can’t ever relax and have TV time, or that you need to be productive every hour of the day; actually, you can’t be productive every hour and you shouldn’t try to.
It just means you have to decide when and how you want to relax. You should literally block this time off on your calendar; take your relaxation as seriously as any other appointment. If you aren’t valuing it, then it’s not really worth doing. If you’re not going to be fully present and relaxing, you might as well be working.
Listen to your rhythms
When are you most productive? I bet you already know the answer to this. And I bet you already know you should be doing your deep, focused work during this time.
Now…when are you least productive? What is the best way to use that time?
I tend to lose energy in the early afternoon. Those hours, then, are when I plan to do less focused work than I do in the morning or the evening. That’s when I’ll try to plan to respond to emails or do phone calls where I can feed off the energy of other people to keep me going.
If I have a blog post to write, I won’t try to do it then; it would take me 2 hours to write something that, a few hours later in the day, would only take me 1 hour. So it’s not a good use of my time to try to do it then.
Instead, I also usually take a break during those hours so that I have lots of energy and momentum going into my more productive hours in the later afternoon.
Train your brain
The more you practice following through and maximizing your time, the better you’ll get at it. Once you become super productive, you’ll start seeing more and more opportunities to do even better, and you will begin to stop having wasted downtime. When you normally would run out of steam or chalk a half hour up to lost time between meetings, you will start to see the little things you could do to make that time productive.
There are so many things you can do with a spare 15 minutes or a period of low energy.
KateM actually keeps a running list of these things so that she always has ideas for what to do with these chunks of time. It might be reading an article you’ve saved, sending an email to check in with a contact, or typing up meeting notes. The more often you do this, the more you’ll think of ways to spend this time efficiently.
If you make a decision, just go with it
When you’re just starting out, you might make a bad decision about how to spend your time. You might accidentally over-schedule yourself with more things than you can do in a day; instead of bailing out or canceling, though, just stick with it.
One very busy day might be tiring, but it is only one day. And it is worth it to keep building a reputation of someone who doesn’t cancel things last minute and who can be counted on.
Once you start something, don’t stop unless there is a very good reason to. It is better to ship an imperfect product than to have something perfect only halfway done. Don’t get sucked into multitasking or working on too many things at once; focus is the key to success.
Follow through, every time
You want to be known as someone who never lets people down. When you put something on your schedule, make sure it happens.
If you must change plans, follow up with any other people involved immediately and let them know your new deadline and expectations. But this should only happen really, really rarely.
You become indispensable not when you’re the only one who knows how to do something or where all the passwords are, but when you are someone that everyone can count on. You want to be valued by your peers and your team because you are their favorite person to work with. You should be bringing your very best all the time.
To be truly successful, you need to be present and aware throughout every day. This doesn’t mean planning every minute, but instead it means understanding how every minute is best spent. Your decisions should be deliberate and based on what will make you happiest or most successful.