Has control over your own time (and therefore over your energy) constantly eluded you? It certainly mystified me for years. So how do you transition from the "managed chaos" of your life now to:
- Having full control over how you use your time
- Being able to accomplish everything that's really important
- While giving yourself more free time for the things that matter most to you
Let's Talk About the BASICS
If you need to get hold of your time better, you need to SEE your time visually.
- Open a new Excel spreadsheet (or use a spreadsheet from Google Docs, as discussed in the previous post).
- Across the top, label the columns Sunday to Sunday. Having the extra day's overlap at the end of the week is something I find visually useful. Down the side of the spreadsheet, put the time in half hour increments from the time you get up until the time you turn out the lights.
Planning based on a one-week time period is vital for clarity. Yes, you need to have clarity on your goals for the year, the month, etc. However, planning concretely on a weekly cycle is the most effective.
Once you've got your spreadsheet ready, don't start filling it in quite yet. First you need to jot down the various role you play in your life. Those could be spouse/parent, technical expert or business owner (or whatever your work is), friend/adviser, volleyball coach, etc. You should not have more than 7 major roles.
Then decide what your top three objectives will be this week. Those could be all in one of your roles or spread across two or three. You should never try to accomplish more than three major objectives per week. These are the objectives that will give you the greatest satisfaction and contribute the most to your long range plan.
Here's a screen shot of one of my weekly schedules from June. I've had to reduce the size to fit it in, so the text is too small to read, but you get the idea. The color coding refers to my own particular "roles" in life.
And mine runs Monday to Monday, simply because Kathy, my amazing accountability partner, holds my feet to the fire on Mondays - that's when I have to come clean about my use of time over the previous week!
The Ironclad Rules of Scheduling and Effectiveness
Yes, the rules. Following RULES is what separates the super-effective "life-hacker" from the rest of the bumbling masses. You have a choice - either YOU decide what you will do and when, or other peoples' agendas will take over and smother you. It's up to you. And it's a lot easier to preserve your independence and safeguard your time if you follow the rules.
1. Take your top 3 priorities and double the amount of time you "hope" it will take you to get them done. Then insert them into your schedule, as early on the given day as possible.
NOTE: Insert them where YOU would like them to go. If you start saying to yourself, "Oh, I can't put it there because I promised Mable I'd talk to her about the bridge club then," your thinking is plain backwards. Put your priority into that time slot and reschedule with Mable. The point is that if you allow other peoples' ideas and expectations to get in the way, you're sunk already.
2. Next, schedule time for the following, using the order below:
- Exercise and fitness
- Quality time with friends and family
- The 1-3 things you would most like to do this week
- Admin and household chores
3. Color code your spreadsheet, if you wish, for greater visual clarity
4. Be sure to leave extra time for transit from one location to another, eating and necessary bodily functions. In other words, avoid the common trap of scheduling things too closely and underestimating the transition time from one task to another.
5. As for all the "urgent" things that typically come up like weeds and choke the time away from those few really important activities that actually matter, this is where you need some care. Allocate no more than two times per week where you can batch the seemingly "urgent" tasks together and get them done. It's vital to keep the "urgent" in its place; otherwise you'll always be reacting to the minutiae of life and never have the time to move forward.
6. Work when you say you will. Use a timer (such as e.ggtimer.com) to keep you on track and instill a sense of urgency. When you work, stay focused and don't allow distractions until you get to the end of your allotted time. Working in blocks of not more than 60 minutes works best.
7. STOP working when you said you would stop and play when you said you would play! This prevents the phenomenon called "bleed" where you say, "Oh, I'll work just a little longer on this," or "I'll just stay and chat with Betsy for a few more minutes." This will trash your schedule for the whole day.
8. Eliminate Distractions. First, check email not more than three times during your workday and NEVER before completing work on your top priority in the morning or just before bed.
Also, refuse to attend meetings that have no clear purpose or where no decisions will be made. And learn to politely refuse interruptions from colleagues who just want to chat. Ask them to send you a calendar invite to coffee next week.
9. Go over your schedule the night before and begin your day by visualizing how it will go, feeling wonderful about accomplishing everything.
The Bottom Line
Why go through all this planning? Why live your life by these abstract rules? Simple... it works! You see, the whole idea here is to:
- Force you to differentiate what's truly important from what's really not. This will vastly increase your personal effectiveness.
- And to give you much more FREE TIME and FREE ENERGY.
- Increase your mental clarity
- Put you in a position to accomplish your most important objective each day by noon (and often much earlier)!
Follow these simple procedures and you'll find that your life just got a whole lot easier. If you're not finding that, there are a few probable causes.
First, you may find yourself thinking, "This weekly schedule thing just doesn't fit MY life very well. Maybe it won't work for me." Well, nine times out of ten, that kind of thinking is self-delusion. It comes from a hesitancy to make the "tough" decision to defy the "priorities" other people have already inflicted on you. Taking back control of your time means thinking differently, doing things differently and quite possibly annoying others who have unrealistic expectations of you.
Second, it looks great on paper but falls apart on implementation. The most common cause is that you didn't allow enough time per objective or you're trying to do too much at once. There's also the issue of your mental habits. If you schedule something and then, when the time comes to do it, you say "I just don't feel like writing those emails right now," you'll never get anywhere. You've got to do it.
Building your personal resilience is never easy, and taking back control of your time is no exception. Yes, the process is simple and if you do it you'll see great results. Yet it does require a new way of thinking.
So go build your schedule, put it into action and be sure to share your results with everyone on the blog or email me directly. We'd love to hear about it!
~Dr. Symeon Rodger