Who stole my time? – 8 tips to getting more out of your day

There are 540 minutes in a typical 9 hour working day. After those 540 minutes have expired, and despite the organized approach most of us take to list everything out, why is it that by the end of the day you have even more on your to-do list than you’ve crossed off?

Have you ever watched that programme – Secret Eaters, where people are filmed munching on everything from sweets, fruits, chocolates to huge tv dinners? When asked what they ate, they deny everything, as if it never happened. What’s strange is that they genuinely don’t register actually eating anything at all in that period.

I think this is the same with time.

We all think we manage our time well, but most often we are working in an unconscious manner, not aware of where our time is going, or who is stealing it.

How can we become more conscious of our work time and make the best use out of it?

Better planning is key. Here are a few things that work well for me:

1. Set a goal to finish at a certain time – often overlooked, but working with the end in mind, is a good way to ensure that you maintain focus throughout the day.

2. Make a plan – not just a list. Lists are great, but they can appear overwhelming when they just get longer and longer. Appeal to your motivational side and break the list down into days of the week, allocating tasks across the week instead of just writing them as a long list. If you’re working on multiple projects, break the list down by projects and then by days of the week.

3. Work out what your absolutely critical items are for each day – this is fundamental to keeping you on track for your finish time, and ensuring that your work life balance is restored. Sometimes the things that are absolutely critical might be very complex, which leads me to my next tip..

4. Break down complex tasks into smaller manageable chunks – not only will you get more clarity on what you need to do to successfully complete the task, but it’s very rewarding being able to turn it green instead of red!

5. Visually manage your plan – a simple way to keep your list clear, but also highlight what you’ve done on each day, versus what you didn’t manage to do – red = not done, green = done – or perhaps a 🙂 or 🙁

for those who have trouble with colour. For those items not done, simply allocate them to a different day.

6. Make it your bible throughout the day – constantly referring to what you’ve done so far and what is still left to do, helps you to stay focused when those inevitable chatty time thieves pay you a visit. Stay strong, you can do it!

7. Focus for 25 minutes then take a break – A lot of studies show that the adult mind can only focus for 90-120 minutes before flitting off into something else (google ultradian rhythm for more info), but for me that’s too long, I go for 25 minute bursts then switch my attention to something else for a few minutes before returning.

8. Reward yourself for all those completed tasks!

Effective planning on a Monday morning (or even Friday afternoon for the following week if you’re that keen!) can save you many wasted hours of unproductive working during the week. And don’t forget, planning is a continuous process… once new things get added to your list throughout the week, remember to re-plan and reprioritize those critical work items so that you always feel in control.

Just like everything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Happy planning!

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