I just finished a great book called Getting Things Done, by David Allen. It was about more than time management – it focuses on really managing all you do rather than letting it control you. I’d definitely recommend it as a great read.
Though at this point in my career I can see how a lot of his advice would be helpful, there are levels of his system that just don’t seem to apply to me. For instance, I’m not a file-folder-in-filing-cabinets person. Plus, maybe it’s that generational thing, but I need a system that will only take me 20 minutes a day to manage
And, even though it may not be good for me, I can’t give up multitasking all at once. But I’m working on the time management thing. So, I thought I’d share my favorite five tips for getting things done.
1. Separate projects from tasks. This was one of the main things I gleaned from Getting Things Done. It’s not exactly what Allen prescribes, but it’s how I adapt it to my life. I have two lists – one of projects, one of tasks. Most of the tasks have to do with the projects. I revise and print my task list at the start of each day so I’m starting out fresh. The projects list I look at once a week to make sure I have written down tasks that move each of my projects forward. I also put spur-of-the-moment stuff on my task list. So far, this has saved me tons of time and helped me keep working on all priority level projects and tasks.
2. Learn the power of the verb. Now that my projects have their own list, every time I write something down on my task list, it begins with a verb. No matter what. No more is my daily to-do list filled with projects like “Communication Plan for HR” or “Client Newsletter.” Now, I can easily navigate through tasks like “Draft Proposal for HR Comm Plan” and “Select Three Topics for Client Newsletter.” Golden. There really is something to the power of the verb.
3. Use technology to manage tasks and projects, but don’t get distracted by it. Programs like the task manager in Microsoft Outlook are great, but don’t get so caught up in them that you spend more time using the programs than doing your actual work. Take the time to learn the programs and use the functions you really need.
4. Get your information at regularly scheduled times; don’t let it interrupt you. Turn off instant messaging, close your e-mail and take calls only when you can be disturbed. Most experts recommend checking e-mail once an hour. This is admittedly one of my main weaknesses. I’m in a line of work where I deal with people who expect to be called or e-mailed back pretty quickly. So, I’m starting small by checking my e-mail only once every half hour and returning phone calls once or twice a day, unless it’s urgent.
5. Don’t seek out distractions to give your brain a “break.” The average worker wastes at least two – three hours each workday, and for most young workers, much of that time is online. You may think that checking out what’s new at PerezHilton.com will give you that brain boost of distraction you crave, but it will probably lead you to what Britney Spears just posted on her website, and on from there. Even if you try to keep it work related by checking the business section of CNN.com, do you really need to know about the seven-year-old who heroically saved that kennel of dogs from drowning? I didn’t think so. Keep your online reading habits in check. I think we’d all gain tons of time each day if we could just take this fully to heart.
There’s a few of my top suggestions for getting things done. I’m sure there are tons I’ve missed, and these may or may not work for you, so please share your time management / productivity tips in the comments below.