Every successful person I have ever known has had one common trait: They invest time each day crafting a schedule and prioritizing tasks before them. This doesn’t have to be a “sit at your desk and stare into space” exercise. For some, this is done in the shower each morning. For others, it’s what they do while enjoying a cup of coffee. Yes, some do sit and stare into space. The point is not how they do it, but that it gets done.
To plan your day out, you need to understand 3 key concepts:
- Structure is key
- Limit time sinks
- Take care of you
Let’s take a look at each of these in a little depth.
Structure is key
Just like Steven Covey was saying, you need to take control of your day as early as possible and set the priorities. If you don’t, they will be set for you. Not every task that is a priority will be fun. An important concept in structuring your day is understanding why you are prioritizing a task, and not just what it will take to complete the task.
We do this for developers all the time. We explain why a piece of code needs to be written, rather than just focusing on what needs to be written. This is so developers can make more intelligent decisions about the how by understanding the why. Investing 15 minutes each morning in organizing your priorities will help you make sure that the important tasks get your focus.
Limit the time sinks
There are a lot of things standing between you and productivity. Many of them are what we classify as time sinks. These are the tasks that take up more time than necessary for the productivity they yield. As someone in charge, you have to be accessible, but you can limit your accessibility to a few important people.
Since it became a commonly acceptable means of communication, email has been a time sink. Instead of checking your email regularly and having it pop up on your phone, tablet, and watch, be purposeful about when you check emails.
- Schedule specific times during your day to check emails–don’t keep your mail client open on your desktop at any other time.
- Turn off notifications to your devices for all emails. If you can’t do that, limit the notifications to only emails from certain people.
For many people, social media has become a go-to task for when they don’t want to focus on the task at hand. For instance, as I’m writing this article, I forgot to close the browser tab for my favorite social media network, and I’ve checked it half-a-dozen times so far. (There, I’ve closed it.)
Turn off notifications on all devices for instant communications platforms. Like emails, if there are people you absolutely have to respond to, then make sure you limit your notifications to those that are urgent or time-sensitive.
Communication platforms are worse than email, because they are easier to use. It’s real easy to get distracted by trying to “catch up” and follow the conversations that are going on. As a general rule of thumb, you need to be in as few channels as possible. As with other time sinks, turn off the default notifications, and tailor them to only notify you when certain people talk to you or certain words are used.
Meetings are another huge time sink. If you aren’t careful, you can become so wrapped up in a parade of meetings that your day goes by without you actually having accomplished anything.
Yes, some meetings are necessary, and you should not shirk those. However, learn to evaluate the purpose of the meeting and the agenda and make sure that you will actually accomplish something by attending before agreeing to attend.
For every meeting you agree to attend, make sure there is:
- A stated purpose
- An agenda
- A timebox
These three things will help keep the meeting on track and eliminate the risk of finding yourself in a time sink.
Time sinks steal time away from priorities without delivering any productivity. They are also disruptive to your train of thought for tasks that require focus, such as writing. Each time you stop what you are doing to check your favorite social media network, read email, attend a meeting, or check a communications platform, you are resetting your focus clock. Since there is only so much time in a day, resetting it too often means you won’t spend time on your priorities.
Take care of you
Prioritization and keeping a tight rein on your schedule are important, but both pale in comparison to making sure that you are both mentally and physically sound. Keeping yourself in good shape should be your first priority, because without that, none of the rest matters.
- Make sure that you get enough sleep
- Make sure you get daily exercise
- Make sure you carve out time to get away from everything else and just sit
Staying physically and mentally fit is important. Without your health, you can't accomplish any of your goals.
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