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8 Ways to Be Ruthless With Your Time

8 Ways to Be Ruthless With Your Time
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    There are a million and one demands on your time and, whether or not those demands are legitimate, it’s hard to carve out the time necessary to take care of your responsibilities. You have to be ruthless with your time — you have to take care of important tasks before handling issues that just aren’t crucial. You have to set up your own rules for deciding how to spend your time, and those rules may not make everyone around you happy. But you are the only one who can decide what you’ll do today — decide ruthlessly and get your work done.

    1. Say no. Expand beyond what you were told and say ‘no’ to any requests on your time that don’t actually move your work along. You can be nice about it, but avoid taking on new projects. I know that you’re thinking that you can’t just going around telling everyone that you aren’t going to help them, and, sure, if you have some time to spare, there isn’t anything wrong with lending a helping hand. But your work must come before helping others.
    2. Stop hitting snooze. I will struggle with my alarm clock until the day I die. But giving in to the temptation of the snooze button will only lose both you and I precious time. It’s a bad habit to start, and a hard one to stop. As long as you are getting enough sleep, though, you need to get up when the buzzer goes off. If you need another hour in the day, why would you spend an hour dozing in bed after your alarm’s gone off?
    3. Procrastinate. In fact, I suggest that you procrastinate shamelessly. As a freelance writer, I make a point to work on projects in the order of their due dates. This means that I’m often finishing up projects hours or even minutes before they’re actually due. It also means that I don’t have to worry about incorporating last minute changes — because I can do it the first time around. I’ve had plenty of projects canceled midway through, as well. If I procrastinate, I can avoid wasting my time on work that I might not get paid for.
    4. Put big tasks first. Get your biggest task or project done first thing in the morning. You’ll need the most time in your day for the big projects. Small tasks (even if they’re important) can be done in the fifteen minutes between meetings or waiting for the bus. Develop your ability to estimate how long a task will take you: do you need to sit down and spend some time to get it done? Or can you do it on your way to your next stop?
    5. Leave early. If you can get somewhere even a few minutes early, you’ll probably have to wait — which is a waste of time, right? Wrong! Remember those small tasks you want to get done today, but haven’t gotten to yet? Make use of those few valuable minutes to return a phone call, write a memo or plan out tomorrow. You may need to drag along a few office supplies — I keep a notebook and pen with me at all times, personally — but you’d be surprised what you can get done. If it’s a nice day, consider just sitting in your car with the windows down. You’ll even get the benefit of a little extra fresh air.
    6. Ignore irrelevancies. As painful as it is to turn off your email for even a few minutes, it’s probably not relevant to the project you need to be working on right now. Be ruthless with yourself and turn off your email and other distractions (instant messenger, phone and anything else). You can always respond later — and if it’s a real emergency, like the building is burning down around your ears, somebody will probably come in to your office to let you know.
    7. Stay aware. At about two o’clock each afternoon, I feel like the only thing I want to do is take a nap. But I know that I can make myself more aware — enough, at least, to concentrate on my work — by taking a walk out in the fresh air and downing a soda. Keeping yourself focused is key to getting a project done and over with: if you’re less than aware of what you’re working on, you not only run the risk of making a mistake, you’re also likely to take much longer to finish your project. And the more time, you spend on a particular task, the less time you have for every other thing you want to do today.
    8. Plan your day. While you may need to have a flexible plan for your day, you still need an outline of the day. List what you absolutely must get done today, what meetings you have planned and any other notes you’ll need for the day. While you don’t have to be strict to the point of refusing to do anything not on your plan, having an actual schedule for your day can help you to be ruthless with others’ requests on your time: “I’d love to help you out, Jane, but I’m completely scheduled today.”

    Just as you have to be ruthless in how you handle how much responsibility, you have to be ruthless in making sure that you get your own work done. You can’t tell yourself that you’ll only slack off this one time, because one time becomes two, then three, then enough that you’ll be wondering where all that free time you used to have went.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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