Simplifying Productivity In An Overcomplicated World
Like most things in our busy, distracted, and increasingly complex lives, we often make time management way more complicated than it needs to be.
There are countless systems out there for running your life “better.” And probably as many time management techniques as there are things to spend your time on in the first place.
However, getting a handle on your time isn’t (and shouldn’t be) some complex process.
At FocusMe, we spend a great deal of energy on the various systems people use to conduct more productive lives. So we know all about the best productivity software programs on the market. And yes, we are well clued in to “The One Thing,” The 80/20 Principle, Pomodoros, The Eisenhower Method, Timeboxing, GTD, Don’t Break the Chain, “Tiny Habits,” the list goes on and on…
One thing we’ve noticed, though, is this…
Many Time Management Techniques Follow The Same Basic Principles
And if we were really to boil down the essence of time management…
…Into a simple package that would save you the ironically large amount of time it would take to read all the books, learn all these various systems, and put them all into action to try them out…
You could sum the best of them up with these 5 different rules.
Simplified Time Management Technique #1:
Look For Ways To Protect Your Time
One of the most important time management principles to understand is that plugging up holes that waste time is the easiest way to capitalize more on what you’ve got. In this study here by a business consulting firm, they found that business owners and key execs were spending more than 30% of their work week essentially wasting time on low-value or no-value activities.
Once you understand this simple crisis in wasted time, there’s plenty you can do to take it back.
Some of that you’ll find on this list and can minimize just by implementing these other ideas (setting better goals so you focus on the right things, minimizing distractions, having a more organized office, etc).
But two other core principles that help you protect your time include learning how to say “no” to people and decisions that will eat away at your time if you don’t safeguard it, and delegation or automation. Both of these areas are pretty multifaceted, so individuals should figure out how to best implement them based on the work they’re doing and the resources they have their disposal.
Simplified Time Management Technique #2:
Plan Your Time So You’re Working On The Right Things
“One of the very worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not be done at all.” – Brian Tracy
Goal-Setting is a main focus of many time management strategies. This is another thing that can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be.
It IS crucial to set goals so you can spend your time on the right priorities. We simply don’t have time to do everything we wish we could do, so we need to define what it is we will actually accomplish.
These goals shouldn’t change on a weekly basis, of course — write them down on an index card and carry it around with you.
Prioritizing On A Daily Basis
Many experts may teach you a fancy system for scheduling, like prioritizing your to-do list with numbers and letters. We recommend just knowing what you want to do most so you can choose tasks that support your goals more often than tasks that do not. Pretty simple.
If these tasks need to be scheduled to get done, so be it, but the human brain is pretty good at prioritizing when it knows what’s important.
Of course, any discussion of goals and tasks wouldn’t be completely without mention of one of the most common time management techniques we see popping up from system to system.
Do The Most Important Work First
This advice is universal for multiple reasons — but the main one is the “Planning Fallacy.”
Humans aren’t very good at estimating how much time they need to do things. The tasks in your day are almost guaranteed to swell, and emergencies are guaranteed to pop up.
So, if you want to move the line on the goals in your life, work on them first thing in the morning before they can get pushed out by the rest of your day.
If your most important objectives in life aren’t tied to your work, well, you better start getting up early in the morning before you even leave the house.
Simplified Time Management Technique #3:
Know How To Start Fast And Consistently
Just doing something to defeat the gravity of procrastination can radically change your days completely. Often, time is simply wasted because you delay work, find other things to do, or even sit down at your computer only to cave into distraction.
If you could just start faster and start more often, you would get a ton more done.
Because generally, the performance drain of procrastination solves itself if you just get the ball rolling.
How To Stop Procrastinating
We don’t need to give it a fancy name (though many have), but the most effective method we’ve found for starting is to lower the pressure by telling yourself you’ll only work for 5, 10, maybe 20 minutes and then starting a clock.
You’ll find that once you get going, you almost always just get caught up in the work. And if you make this a regular habit, all the times it does happen will make up for the few times that it doesn’t.
To do this more consistently, set a schedule for starting work several times throughout your day. The more times you start, the more you inevitably get done.
Consider it an appointment to yourself, show up, and get the clock going.
Simplified Time Management Technique #4:
Control Your Environment
To make the most of your time, control your environment before your environment controls you. Because if you don’t, it most certainly will.
How do you set your life up to get work done in a timely manner?
The most important factor here is having a quiet dedicated space dedicated to getting work done. Controlling your environment is about minimizing distractions.
Do people know to leave you alone while you’re working, or do they have free rein to barge in and start talking to you whenever they want? Is there a door you can close? If not, can you cut out the noise with something like Rainy Cafe and a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones?
Your Digital Environment
Of course, the conditions in your computer also create a crucial component of your total environment. If you have a computer that dings at you every time you get a Facebook message, you obviously have not set up your environment for success.
Try FocusMe’s web blocking software to lock yourself out of distracting websites completely (so the temptation isn’t even there during work hours).
Being organized is also a key part of controlling your environment.
The authors of this study on student performance in the UAE found one of the most important factor affecting student academic performance was searching for lost papers and other resources when they were supposed to be working.
Simplified Time Management Technique #5:
Get More Out Of The Time You Do Have
Sometimes being more efficient and effective really just comes down to knowing your industry better. And getting better at what you do. Sometimes we can force ourselves to work faster, but having a better skillset or slowing down to get it right the first time can may create better results and reduce time making up for poor work later.
So the best way to increase efficiency often depends on your specific industry.
But many time management techniques encourage creating work blocks to get more done with your hours. Kind of like sprints where you give the work your undivided attention and get yourself in the zone.
You’ll get a lot more done this way than with divided attention spread throughout the day. Focused work time is a universal recommendation across the time management sphere.
All this makes sense because multitasking can be a horrible drag on your brain’s performance. Some experts think multitasking can bring your IQ down 10 points and make you 40% less productive! You can use FocusMe to cut yourself off the internet during these focused work blocks and get a ton more done without distraction. Try the Pomodoro feature.
Similar focused blocks are also great for batching things like email. This report here shows that people who batch email, spending longer in their inbox to handle everything and get out of there (rather than checking whenever an email comes in), experience less stress and are more productive.
Another great way to make the most of the time you do have is to combine activities…
This might sound like a contradiction since we just tore apart the idea of multi-tasking. But there are ways to use your time for multiple purposes that do serve you.
You might learn more about your industry through podcasts and audiobooks while driving, working out, or taking a morning walk. Another way you can multi-purpose your time is to reuse work for multiple purposes.
For example, rewording snippets of your blog articles for social media posts while you’re writing. Or, if you’re reading new books to update your knowledge in the industry, you could turn your notes into articles for marketing your business online. A student could even run a blog about his major while going to school and build up a little side income by the time he graduates.
Simplified Time Management Technique #6
Make Time For Actually Living Your Life
We’d never recommend a time management plan that didn’t make room for the things that matter most to you outside of work.
Because the units of time aren’t just a metric. They are the moments of your life. Not to mention that you need rest, relaxation, and recreation to perform at your best when it’s time to work again.
Of all the time management advice we’ve seen regarding work/life balance, our favorite is probably the “Unschedule” technique from “The Now Habit.” I don’t personally use every step in Unscheduling as outlined in the book, but their time management technique of planning your “fun” first, and then planning all your work and other responsibilities in the time you have left over, is one of the best pieces of wisdom in this area.
Try it for yourself, especially if you’re a remote worker with a lot of freedom on your hands. Don’t be that person who neglects to plan their fun and then ends up filling time between work with meaningless trivia. Or even worse, the person who always has to turn down plans because he procrastinates, but then uses that time to procrastinate more.
By planning your fun in advance and committing to your recreational activities, you force yourself to do your work in the time that’s left. And become more efficient.
While making sure you actually take the time to live your life.