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Published on February 4, 2019

8 Time Management Strategies for Busy People

8 Time Management Strategies for Busy People

Over the 25 years that I’ve worked in corporate environments and coached entrepreneurs, people have always looked to improve their time management skills.

As a coach, people often come to me because they feel they don’t have enough time to achieve everything they want to each day. They are busy, but not working on the things that give them great joy or make a real impact in their business and life.

Being in constant action all day long is the norm. They are stuck in an endless cycle of busyness and filling up time with tasks.

One of the things I’ve noticed about busy work is that it doesn’t make people more productive or creative. In fact, it creates more complication and complexity.

Dealing with emails, going to numerous meetings, multi-tasking and working on low value activities is often not the best use of your time.

What if there was a different way to think about how you manage your time? Do you wish you could manage your time more effectively and finish each day being satisfied with what you’ve achieved?

There are a few simple time-management strategies that busy people can use to become more effective, productive and get more of the most important things done.

Below are 8 time management strategies that busy people can implement right now to simplify their lives and change how they think about managing their time.

1. Take a Time Audit

If you want to take control of your time, the first step is to understand how you are spending your time right now.

You can’t make a change until you have clarity on where you are and what’s working and what’s not working?

This audit gives you a big picture view of the value you are creating and the results you are delivering V the time you are investing in each project or task. It will help you simplify everything so you can understand very quickly whether you are using your time productively or not.

When my coaching clients conduct a time audit they usually do this for seven days straight and I would recommend the same for you.

How to Conduct a Time Audit

  1. Get a blank piece of paper
  2. Put a date at the top
  3. Draw three lines down the page
  4. Title the First Column ‘High Value Work’
  5. Title the Second Column ‘Good Work’
  6. Title the Third column ‘Low Value Work”

High Value Work is work that you love to do, that you’re great at. It is work that delivers the biggest results.

Good Work is work that you enjoy. It delivers good results but is work that is often repetitive and someone else could do equally well or better

Low Value Work doesn’t excite you and probably frustrates you. It doesn’t deliver great results, lowers your energy levels and could be stopped or given to someone else.

For each project or task that you undertake assign it to one of the three columns with the name of the work and the amount of time spent.

At the end of the 7 days, total up the amount of time spent in each column and on each project.

I prefer paper but you can also use a tool such as toggle or harvest. 

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This can be an eye opening exercise. At the end of the audit, look for ways to improve how you spend your time. Ask yourself how can you spend more time doing High Value Work that creates the biggest impact, brings more joy and deliver the results you want.

2. Set Time Management Goals

Without a clear vision or goals, it can become easy to drift, lose focus and become distracted.

By creating clarity on where you are now and where you want to get to, it becomes much easier to focus your time on the high value activities that will help you achieve your goals.

Through setting specific, measurable goals, you can clearly identify what your ideal future looks like, and create a plan and path to get there.

With this clarity, you can simplify everything. You are clear on your destination and know the best way to manage your time, resources and people to get there,

By understanding what you do best and what can create the biggest impact, you gain greater clarity on how best to use your time as well as who else can help you achieve your goals.

Mastering your time is partly about what changes you can make. It is also about who can help you become even more effective.

Setting goals can give you the willpower and motivation to move forward in the right direction, saving you time and reducing busyness and procrastination.

Set goals for every 90 day period and then review your performance at the end of that cycle. Review what worked and what breakthroughs you achieved. Then set up your next 90-day goals.

Learn more about setting goals to get things done in this article: 17 Smart Tips on Setting Goals to Get More Done

3. Delegate and Outsource

When you complete a time audit, you understand exactly where you’re currently spending your time and on what activities.

The key to effective delegation is to understand your unique strengths and the biggest value you create, and work out how you can spend more and more time doing that work.

Sometimes we feel we’re the only people who can get the job done, so we hold onto tasks that we don’t enjoy and tale us away from the things we do best.

We can all get back hours by doing better, more productive work. Work we actually love doing.

Rather than thinking about how you can fit everything in to your schedule, consider who are the people that can take on projects and tasks.

Think about where your creative energy and unique skills could best be utilized.

A CEO of a Travel Agency I worked with got back 15 hours a week simply by hiring an assistant to work with her. She was able to spend more of her time doing the things she did best and loved to do. This included winning new business, spending time with her clients, and getting more referrals.

Try this tip:

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Every 90-days think about how you can eliminate 3 things from your list of Low Value Work list that currently frustrates you, annoys you or you find delivers no real value.

Think of 3 things from your Good Work list that you can delegate or outsource.

Think of 3 things from your High Value List that you want to spend more time doing.

Keep following this process every 90 days to free yourself up even more to focus more time on the things that you do best and bring the highest level results.

This guide on how to delegate will be useful for you:

Have You Fallen Into the ‘Busy’ Trap? Here’s Your Way Out

4. Start Prioritizing

When you are clear and intentional about how you want to spend your time and your future goals, the key is to start prioritizing your time to make those goals a reality.

If you don’t set priorities, you can lose focus, get distracted and start procrastinating. Your time will become filled up with low value activities and perfectionism can creep in.

If you have 20 things on your To-Do list each day, you’re not prioritising. When you have a never-ending To-Do list and bulging Inbox your workload will continually stretch, leading to overwhelm and a loss of clarity and focus.

If you are super busy, the key to time management is focus and prioritization around the activities that will help you reach your goals.

A simple time management strategy is to set a maximum of five things you want to achieve each day. Those are your priorities.

If you manage to complete them, you can work on other things but those five you’ve identifies take priority.

This intentionality will ensure you don’t get distracted and move on to items and tasks that aren’t on your priority list.

Check out this article on how to prioritize better: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

5. Do the Most Important Thing First

This strategy is one of the keys to effective time management.

Start your day by asking yourself:

“What’s the Number One thing I absolutely have to achieve today?”

Once you are clear on that, and you commit to achieving that thing, chances are you WILL actually do the work.

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This technique will stop the disorder, distractions and chaos from impacting on your day.

The reason? You have made a conscious decision at the start of the day, when your willpower is strong.

Have you noticed that as the day wears on you have less and less willpower and energy to focus?

So, do the most important thing or things first.

If you have set up calls with potential clients, do this in the morning.

If you have an important presentation to write, again do this in the morning.

Don’t multitask. Focus on one project at a time and work on it until complete.

Whatever your most important thing is, if you do that thing first, then you’ll never have a day when you didn’t get something important done.

By following this simple time management strategy, you will usually end up having a very productive day.

Sometimes you may have to start saying no more often if the things are not a priority or don’t fit in with your goals. How? Learn to say no from this article: The Gentle Art of Saying No

6. Create the Perfect Morning and Evening Routine

If you’re operating at your peak physically and mentally, you are going to be far more focused and productive.

Creating your perfect morning routine can give you the clarity focus and energy to complete your key priorities for the day.

If you can, spend 60-90 minutes setting up a ‘high performance’ day every day by focusing on what YOU want to achieve.

Have a healthy breakfast, read, meditate, go for a walk – whatever works best for you. Then lay out and be clear on your priorities for the day.

What is the One Thing you want to focus on – do that thing first until completed. This takes commitment and consistency.

It may be hard to start with but, just like going to the gym, can get easier over time, if you start achieving the results you want.

If you want to double your productivity and maximize your time, create an evening routine to support your morning routine.

At the end of each day, give yourself 15 minutes to reflect on the day. Write down 3 things that were great about that day. This could be getting a new client, a great meeting you had, positive comments on your work. Anything that makes you feel positive and confident. This strategy also makes you feel grateful for what you’ve achieved.

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Then write down the 3-5 things you want to achieve the next day, listed in priority order. This will ensure everything is fresh in your mind the next morning and will create a confident mindset.

To add a further layer to this strategy, spend 30 minutes on a Sunday setting up your key priorities for the week ahead.

7. Work in Time Blocks

If you’re serious about gaining more control over your time, experiencing more freedom and conquering any feelings of stress and overwhelm then you must not multi-task.

Instead, work in chunks of focused time on your priority projects. Don’t switch between tasks or projects.

I work on the 60/60/30 principle, working in chunks of 50 minutes, then taking a 10-minute break for the first two chunks of time before then taking 30 minutes out to read, walk or meditate.

This strategy can help keep your energy up throughout the day and give you a real sense of accomplishment as projects will be completed.

Many people use the Pomodoro technique for tracking their time, but you can simply use the timer function on your phone.

8. Take Time for Yourself

How often do you take time for yourself or celebrate small or big achievements each day?

For some, it is a badge of achievement to work harder and work longer hours to get as many things done as possible.

If you continue to do this consistently, you could be in danger of burnout.

By making the maximum use of your time, streamlining your workflow and focusing on the high value activities that will help you achieve your goals, you will have more time to spend on yourself and with the people that matter.

You must give yourself permission to take time out of your business, whether you want to spend this time on personal development or with the family or friends, that’s up to you but give yourself that time.

Dan Sullivan, Founder of Strategic Coach has created a unique time management system to help you focus you time, energy and creativity o produce your best results.[1]

Part of this time management system is a focus on taking Free Days, which is a 24-hour day, from midnight to midnight, during which there are no work related activities.

The aim of this day is to help people rejuvenate and boost energy to ensure they maintain high levels of productivity and creativity.

The Bottom Line

When busy people talk about not having enough time, it’s usually because they haven’t understood the value of their own time and prioritised it in the right way.

How we use our time is often a choice. We actually have a great deal of control over our time. Not complete control, but more control than we think.

Try one or more of these time management strategies. If you find one or more that works for you, keep with it for 90 days and see the difference it makes in both your business and personal life.

More Resources About Productivity

Featured photo credit: Alvaro Reyes via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Mark Pettit

Mark Pettit is a Business Coach for ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners who want to achieve more by working less.

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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