A common myth about time management is that it’s about getting everything done as quickly as possible. Now there’s nothing wrong with doing things quickly per se, provided you’re not rushing and causing errors. The problem really is the word “everything.”
As I’ve mentioned in my previous post about how to manage time effectively, we tend to react to what’s occurring in the moment. Thus “everything” really means ”everything that happens to pop into my mind.” At work, for example, this means whatever is on your desk, whatever is coming in on email right now, or whatever people are complaining to you about.
Got the picture? When you try to do everything, you’re not planning. Without a plan, there is no way you can manage your time effectively.
Let’s look at a key secret to time management: the time chunk.
Divide your time into chunks of related tasks. For example, if making phone calls is part of your daily responsibilities, set aside a chunk of time each day to make all of your calls. If you need to be more responsive than once a day, increase it to two or three times a day. But always make several calls at the same time.
Same goes for email and social media. In fact, setting aside a few chunks of time for checking email and social media is probably the single most powerful thing you can do to manage your time.
Why does time chunking work? Each time you switch from one activity to another, you need to shift your thinking. You need to let go of whatever you were working on, and collect your thoughts for the next task – and this takes time. You may also need to switch computer applications, or gather materials, etc. At home you made need to move to another room or go find something you need in order to complete a task.
Now each task switch may not actually take very long but over the course of a day spent switching back and forth between tasks, you create a veritable vacuum of lost time. In fact, when you are doing truly thought intensive work, it can take up to 10 minutes to get yourself back up to speed with the task, once you’ve been distracted by something else.
How long do you make the time chunks?
The simple, albeit abstract, answer is: as long as you need. But to get concrete, the three chunks of time I like to recommend to clients who are working on time management are: 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and 90 minutes.
15 minutes – the 15 minute chunk of time works very effectively when you’re doing a sprint activity. For example, my husband and I hate cleaning the house but we love it being clean. If we both clean as fast as we can for 15 minutes, we can get it almost sparkling.
15 minutes has the added bonus of bringing down a psychological barrier. If you’re resistant to an activity, knowing that you only have to do it for 15 minutes can make the difference between giving it a try and never even starting in the first place.
You can probably remember a time when you spent 15 minutes dillydallying. It’s a much more effective use of time to spend those 15 minutes acting. Then you can move on to something else – and prevent the inevitable guilt that comes from procrastinating.
30 minutes – A 30 minute chunk of time is powerful because you can actually get a surprising amount done in a focused 30 minutes. Again, it’s a fairly short time period, so it helps with any psychological resistance.
Maximize your time by limiting interruptions – and this gets harder when we’re in the 30 in minute zone. Commit to focusing 100% on the task you are doing and resist the urge to respond to anything that dings, whistles, or beeps. As much as we’d like to blame distractions for getting us off track, we need to take responsibility for not engaging in them. Or take the easy road: shut them off!
90 minutes – this is the holy grail of time management. Once you have figured out how to give yourself two chunks of 90 minutes per week to concentrate, you will be golden. This may mean saying no to commitments, silencing your phone at work, or if we’re talking about managing time at home, getting someone to help with your kids.
Some people can get more than a normal day’s worth of work done in 90 minutes, simply because they give themselves permission to focus on a single task, plan ahead to prevent interruptions, and disengage from them when they do occur.
How to get the most out of these time chunks?
That’s where the planning part of how to manage time effectively comes in. You want to plan your time in advance. As I’ve mentioned in my last post, a once a week calendar or schedule review works for most people.
Think about when you are most mentally clear – that’s when you should do your thought intensive work. Think about when you are groggy – that’s when you should do your easy, mindless tasks. Of course, you need to also think about when the people you need to interact with will be available, we’ll have the resources you need, etc.
Most importantly, identify your priorities and get the high priority items on your schedule first. Lower priority items can go on a list that you can keep with you, but not on your calendar. When you happen to have some additional free time, that’s when you go to list.
Planning ahead allows you to know exactly what you need to do next. It helps you stay focused and on track. And most importantly, it prevents you from wasting your time choosing your next step.
If you’re struggling with time management or defining your priorities, try a little coaching. Feel free to contact me through my coaching website, http://www.lionssharecoaching.com or pop me an email.
Marie Wetmore is a Life, Career, and Professional Development coach who works with clients in person or from anywhere in the world via phone or video Skype. To find out more, visit Lion’s Share Coaching or contact Marie. Sign up for Marie’s personal and professional development e-zine “Be A Lion” to have her insights and strategies delivered to your inbox.
Also, her personal and professional development Podcast, Be a Lion, is available on iTunes.