Have you ever gotten to the end of your day and realized that you didn’t get nearly enough accomplished? Do you wish that you had extra hours in the day?
You’re not alone.
I’m sure most people, especially business owners and freelancers, will relate to a desire for better time management. It seems like there’s never enough time to get everything accomplished.
I used to feel that way. (If I’m honest, sometimes I still do.) And that’s why I set out to learn about new time management strategies. It was clear that my current plan didn’t work. In my research, I found five techniques that changed the way I run my day.
Today, I’d like to share those five strategies with you. And I hope that they make an impact in your life like they did in mine.
Before you ever get into reviewing your daily tasks, you know certain things need to get done everyday. For example, as a freelancer, I know that I’ll spend a certain amount of time on marketing, sales and client management everyday.
I can’t bill for these hours, but they still need to occur.
And because I can’t bill for them, it’s easy to overlook or ignore them when I feel overwhelmed by my to-do list.
Unfortunately, it hurts my business when I do that. I can’t neglect these vital aspects of my business, even if I can’t bill for them. So, to avoid pushing them aside, I block them into my calendar.
Time blocking happens when you set a certain block of time aside for a task everyday.
Regardless of other things you have to do, you know that you’ll do marketing at 10am each morning, for example. Not only does this strategy help me get these essential things done, but it also ensures I never overbook myself with work.
The Pomodoro Technique
Feeling like you can’t focus on anything? Then you might want to try the Pomodoro Technique. The technique is broken down into six basic steps:
1. Select Your Task
It doesn’t matter what task you choose. It could be a huge project or a small task. All that matters is that you’re able to focus on it exclusively for the next 25 minutes.
2. Set a Timer for 25 Minutes
Make a commitment to work on the task for just 25 minutes. It’s a short amount of time. But with focused energy, you’ll get a lot accomplished. Probably more than you think you can.
3. Work on the Task Until the Timer Goes Off
Immerse yourself completely in the task. It’s only 25 minutes. If I can do it, I’m sure that you can do it too. Don’t allow for any interruptions or mind-wandering. Just get it done.
4. Take a Short Break
Congratulations. You finished a Pomodoro. Now it’s time to take a short, 5-minute break. Take a short walk, meditate or do something else relaxing. (I like to grab a cup of tea, myself.)
5. Take a Longer Break Every 4 Pomodoros
You don’t want to fatigue yourself. And you can do that even with the short breaks. To avoid fatigue, take a 20-30 minute break for every four Pomodoros you complete.
Parkinson’s Law states that that time required to complete a task will expand according to the amount of time allotted. Basically, if I give myself 4 hours to write an article, I’ll take 4 hours to do it – even if I could have gotten it done in two.
Measure how long it takes you to do a specific task tomorrow. Then, over the course of the next week or so, start reducing the time you allow yourself to do the task. You’ll eventually hit a sweet spot where you can get it done quickly without feeling rushed.
I’ve implemented this for some of my tasks, and it’s ended up saving me several hours a week. (Not too bad for a simple time management technique.) I’ve found that it works best for creative tasks, because you I can easily spend too much time on them. But you can use it for any type of task you’d like to get done in a shorter amount of time.
After using this technique for a while, I’ve found that it takes away unnecessary planning and worrying. I’ve now got certain tasks down to a science where I know exactly how long it would take – helping me better plan how to use my day.
If you’d like to take some of the guesswork out of your day, I’d definitely recommend giving this one a try.
The Silent Cockpit
Aaron Lynn wrote about this technique at Asian Efficiency. He said:
“The Silent Cockpit is a concept from aviation where the takeoff sequence below 10,000ft in an airplane is done in silence – nothing is permitted to interrupt the pilots during this time.
“In the context of knowledge work, this means setting aside 1-3 hours for yourself either very early in the morning or very late at night (when the possibility of external distractions and interruptions drops drastically) and working on your most important task(s). The key is to do this when no one else is up and about and you aren’t going to be interrupted.”
Most successful people I’ve studied and talked with can attest that this theory works. And it seems like it becomes even more important for freelancers that work-at-home with family or roommates.
Personally, I’ve found that waking up and doing things really early works best for me. That’s when I have the most willpower to knock out that most important task. And then, when I can do that before the phone calls and emails start to pour in, I feel incredibly accomplished.
Pickle Jar Theory
The Pickle Jar Theory represents your time and tasks in a basic illustration. Imagine you have an empty pickle jar. Your challenge is to fill the jar using:
- Pickles = The most important tasks.
- Pebbles = Things that still matter, but not as much.
- Sand = Small, inconsequential tasks
Most of the time, we fill our pickle jar by putting the sand in first, then the pebbles, then the pickles. But if you try that, it won’t work. You simply won’t have the space to fit everything.
It’s the same way in life.
If you put in the small things first, you’ll never finish everything you need to do. And, consequently, those very important things won’t fit into your day.
Instead, the illustration shows that if we put the pickles in first, pebbles in second and the sand in last, everything will fit perfectly.
And there you have it. Five new time management strategies for you to try – all of which will help get your to-do list under control and your business heading in the right direction.
Which of these will you try first, and what kind of value do you believe it’ll add to your day? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.