Writer Laurie Huff of Quo Vadis interviewed me about how to improve time management skills. Since it’s information that everyone can benefit from, I thought I’d share a snippet of the interview where I answered questions about distractions and scheduling:
These days when people are so busy and tasks are coming at them from all directions, how can they minimize distractions and focus on the task at hand?
Turn off your computer and phone notifications. Neuroscience tells us that we can lose 60 seconds in brain restart time whenever we switch tasks. If we get an average of 100 notifications each day, we’re allowing ourselves to lose 100 minutes each day just from brain re-start time. Instead of allowing yourself to be constantly interrupted by those throughout the day, check your email and texts and social media notifications when your brain is ready to receive that information. You can decide how often that will be – every few hours or every 15 minutes. Even just 7 minutes of focused work time is more productive than constant interruptions.
What are your top scheduling tips for busy people?
In my book, The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer (New World Library), I teach the concept of 3+3. At the end of each day, schedule your top three priority tasks into your calendar for the next day. This helps you to create a more realistic to-do list. The “+3” is your bonus 3. If you finish the Top 3, you can move on to the +3 after patting yourself on the back. If, however, there is a glitch in completing those Top 3 (as often happens when you rely on other humans or technology), instead of wallowing in stress and overwhelm and shutting down, you can move onto to those +3. You may have to get things done in a different order, but at least you’ll be completing other priorities, instead of low-hanging fruit. In my book, I also teach how to schedule long-term projects so that you’re not scrambling at the last minute to finish those up.
What is your top recommendation (or top 3 if you like) for how people can be more effective with their time?
In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, learn how to pause when you’re asked to do something. Our instinct is to say yes to everything and promise an immediate completion because we want to please people. This is what leads to our overscheduling. Instead, pause for a moment, ask yourself how high a priority this request is, and open up your calendar to figure out when you will be able to complete this. And then schedule it on your calendar. If it’s a higher priority, you might move it onto today’s to-do list and move something previously scheduled for today to a later date. If it’s a lower priority, you can schedule it for a week or two down the road. And, yes, it is possible to do this even if it’s your boss asking you! If you learn to pause instead of jump, you will cut back tremendously on overscheduling yourself.
Hacks are so popular, but they’re not the key to better time management skills. Strategies are what will get you to where you want to be. When you understand the thinking behind successful time management skills, you’ll be able to tell your time what to do.