Here are 7 simple strategies to clear some space in your day so you can get on with the things you really want to do:
- Decide what you want to achieve for the year/quarter/month. Map out a plan so you know where you're headed. And list the elephant tasks so you have a clear picture of what to focus on. This will stop you getting bogged down in the minutia. And it will give you a filter through which to make decisions about each task that crosses your desk. If something doesn't fit your plan, discard it (unless of course it's an emerging or important business priority). Be very clear about what's important and what's simply 'busy work'.
- List the top 5 things you want to accomplish each day. You know this one, but are you doing it? If you only achieve 5 things each work-day, you'll accomplish over 1200 important things per year. Pretty impressive! So quit trying to tick off ridiculously long to-do lists each day. You'll only get frustrated, feel like a failure when you don't achieve them all, and quickly get over-whelmed and burnt out. Make a decision about the 5 most important things for the day, stick to these, and feel good when they're done. Then get on with doing the fun stuff you want to fit in your day.
- Use a system for processing emails. Emails are the productivity Armageddon. They're a time vampire that will suck you dry every day if you allow them. Be disciplined in how much time you commit to attending to email. Remember that emails are other people's priorities being communicated to you. Don't get sucked into spending your entire day dealing with other people's priorities in preference to your own. I love the Inbox Zero system by Merlin Mann. The main tenet is to only process emails 3-4 times a day, clearing your inbox to zero by making decisions about what to do with each. The full system is available in my 5 day day online course 'Clear the Inbox Chaos'. This system will help you to break the ties that bind you to your Inbox, so that you can move on with doing the stuff you really want to.
- Clear the clutter. Free up space in your mind and your environment. How can you possibly hope to have the time to do the things you want when you are clawing your way through clutter. Simplify what's around you by clearing your desk. Schedule a morning to clear your desktop, create files for things you want to keep and trash those you don't. Do the same for your electronic work-space. And clear mental space by writing down everything that's spinning around in your head. It's hard to get on with doing the things you really want when you're feeling guilty about all the other tasks zipping around your mind. Once they're out on a list, you can schedule them, know they won't be forgotten, and you can get on with enjoying the things you want to do without guilt.
- Use systems to remind you of the important things. By definition, systems are methods or processes that help us to create or maintain order. One of the reasons we waste time is that we don't have a methodical way to get things done that leverages time and effort. Filing systems help you maintain order and save time trying to find things. Communication systems help you to maintain order and understanding in your relationships with others. Plans are systems to help you get things done. Inbox Zero is a system for processing emails quickly and easily. Journalling is a system to capture ideas and tasks. Using Outlook tasks or scheduling appointments in your calendar is a system to help you stay on track. Whatever systems you choose to help you stay organised, use them regularly and with discipline.
- Ask yourself "Is this the best use of my time right now?". Benchmark your effectiveness by checking in regularly with this question. Be honest in your response and if you find yourself off track, change course. Stop the time-wasting activity immediately and get onto the thing that IS the best use of your time. Often, we allow ourselves to become distracted. Use this question to re-focus. And if you need, set an hourly reminder on your phone to remind yourself to ask it.
- Plan time in your calendar for the fun stuff you want to fit in. The vacuum principle dictates that any free space will be sucked into the void. So you'll never have 'free space'; you need to create it by scheduling it. Create a booking in your calendar for the things you want to fit in and honour these appointments with yourself. Don't downgrade your personal priorities by allowing your time to be filled with other people's demands on you.
Consider the best strategies for you and use them! They may take some getting used to, and even a little discipline, but the pay-off is the satisfaction of achieving what you set out to, and more importantly, that you have time in your day for the things you find most rewarding.
I'm off to play ...