Look, you’re either working smart or you’re wasting time. And since time is literally the most precious commodity anyone owns, wasting it isn’t the most prudent thing to do, is it? I mean, if I were to ask you, “Hey, do you want to waste 500 days on Facebook,” would you ever say yes? Yet people have done exactly that. And when I say 500 days, I mean 500 24-hour days.
That’s why it’s so important to become an expert at managing your time, so you can spend more of it having the life you want instead of trying to build the life you hope to have some day. In other words, work smart and you will realize your goals far faster.
You may notice my 21 time management tips below are a bit opinionated. But hey, I’m not here to make you feel good, I’m here to see if I can blast you into major productivity and stellar success.
1. Do the important stuff first. That’s first, before anything else. As in, FIRST. Yes, it’s basic. It’s also amazing how many people check their email and their social media and read the newspaper and check YouTube and so forth before doing the important stuff — which as a consequence, usually doesn’t get done.
2. Say “no.” A lot.
3. Sleep until you’re done sleeping. For most people this is 7.5 hours. Scrimping on sleep means you won’t be as productive the next day. You may think that my staying up late or waking up early, you’re catching a few more hours to squeeze some work in, but your productivity will suffer, and your creativity and decision making will be hindered.
4. Focus. Hey! I said focus. Imagine you’re hypnotized and can only focus on the task at hand. Nothing else exists, including your email.
5. Start early. Start work early in the day, and start on projects long before they’re due. Procrastination will kill your ambitions, your dreams, and your goals. Procrastination is your sworn enemy. Treat it as such.
6. Details? We don’t need no stinking details. Get it done and get it out the door. If you’re shooting for perfection, you’re aiming for failure.
7. Turn your most important tasks into habits. If they’re as important as brushing your teeth and combing your hair, then make them as much of a priority.
8. Blow up the TV. Smash the game console and stop fooling around on the Internet. No, you don’t need to watch that cute kitten compilation video. Get back to work.
9. Set time limits and deadlines. Live by them. Die by them. Work expands to fill the time allotted, so only allot what you need and no more.
10. Take a walk. When you finish one task, take a short walk before you start the next. It’ll clear your head.
11. Don’t worry about your 46-item to-do list. Focus on one thing at a time and only one thing. Work on it until it’s done. Breathe.
12. Exercise and eat like a sane person. You’re given one body and one body only. Treat it like it’s one of your most precious possessions, because until they perfect the body transplant, it’s your one and only home.
13. Do less. This is like saying “no,” only maybe you already said “yes” and now you realize that it was a mistake. Don’t compound the mistake by following through (unless you made a promise to someone else and they’re depending on you.) For example, you were going to write that article, but now you realize it’s a lousy topic. So don’t write the thing. You get the idea.
14. Make Monday better by doing some work on the weekend. Two days of no work makes it darn difficult to get started on Monday. So spend 2-4 hours working on Saturday and Sunday, too. This gives you plenty of time off, and primes you for a roaring start on Monday. Plus, if you really catch up on work, you can now take a weekday afternoon off.
15. Organize your stuff — both physical and digital. Spending 30 minutes trying to find a file isn’t productive. So get organized, and this is key – stay organized. Every day before you quit work, put everything where it belongs so you can find it again when you need it.
16. There is no “down time.” You’re waiting in line? Driving your car? On the elliptical at the gym? Then listen to podcasts that can help you in your business, or do something that’s productive. If nothing else, knit in the doctor’s waiting room – it’s a great stress reliever. Seriously.
17. Lock yourself in. Or more specifically, lock everyone else out. Don’t come out until you finish your current task. Radical, but it works.
18. Don’t flake on your plan. Once you decide to do something, do it. If it’s not worth doing 100%, it doesn’t belong in your plan.
19. Batch it, baby. If you need to make 5 phone calls, answer 12 emails and write two blog posts, then do those things in batches. Once you make the first phone call, you’re in the right mindset to quickly make the others. Once you answer the first email, the other 11 are are a snap.
However, if you need to do several similar things that each take a long time, batching can be a bad idea because of burnout. In that case, do one, take a break while you do something else small, and then go back and start on the second big task. Doing a small task between large tasks resets your head and gives you a better sense of accomplishment.
20. Find time for stillness and silliness. It’s important to practice stillness for a few minutes each day to reduce anxiety and clear your head. Focus on your breathing and on relaxing each part of your body.
Silliness is important, too. Read something funny. Make silly faces in the mirror, or at your child. Jump rope or hula hoop. In other words, play with your inner child each day, if only for a few moments.
21. Eliminate the excess and non-essential. Simplify. Figure out what’s important and what deserves your time, and then ditch the rest.
One last thing… Love your life. Love your day. Love your friends and family. Love your work. Most of all – Love yourself.