So you’ve decided: This is it. The year 2013 is finally when you are going to take control of your schedule, rather than have the schedule take control of you. Call it a resolution, if you will. Because this time, you are really, really serious. You’ve bought a calendar and everything!
Now, how do you go about making the best use of this time-controlling tool, especially when there are so many things you have to do each day? Most time management experts will tell you that the first step is making a distinction between being “busy” and being “productive.”
Busy or Productive? Know Which Is Which
Personal development blogger Brad Bollenbach’s post on the subject from over a year ago remains the second most popular entry on 30Sleeps. “Busy-ness is impressive,” he writes. “Emails get exchanged, meetings fill up your schedule, worldwide teleconferences become the norm — there’s even the occasional hope of revenue exceeding expenses. You’re like a rock star without the music.”
Visualize Work and Personal Tasks With Calendars
Good time managers use calendars to keep them focused on one task at a time. There was an actual research study that showed workers who let emails and phone calls divert their attention from completing a project experienced a greater drop in IQ than marijuana smokers.
That’s not to say answering email isn’t necessary or engaging in an IM session now and again isn’t a useful divergence. But by blocking out two separate hours on your calendar for specific work tasks like answering emails will encourage you to devote more energy and attention to more important projects.
Once you’ve got a handle on those daily to-do’s, you can start looking at your weekly duties. This includes personal as well as professional. Exercising at mid-day has been proven to do wonders for job performance, so pencil a yoga class and two 30-minute walks into your afternoons.
Limit Quarterly Goals
Now you’re ready to really grab the reins and not just be more productive but also advance your goals. Tara Jacobsen of Marketing Artfully has a good suggestion — to pick no more than three things you’ve always wanted to accomplish and concentrate on those goals alone for 90 days.
“If you have purchased training, no buying any more until you watch and master what you have,” she writes. But don’t cheat by adding a fourth item to the to-do list or switching one out until the 90 days are up. “If it is REALLY a great idea it will keep and be even better when you can devote honest time to making it work,” says Jacobsen.
This kind of quarterly calendar planning is like the black belt of productive time-management. The people who can achieve this are the ones who can leave their work behind when they’re at dinner with their family. They’re the one who get promoted. They’re the one who have elaborately involved hobbies. They’re the kind who can enjoy a vacation getaway without glancing at the Blackberry. You could do all that too, you say to yourself, if you just weren’t so busy.
Chris Lenois is a freelance writer on business and productivity tips for Vistaprint, offering thousands of personalized gifts and promotional items such as personalized calendars, mugs, t-shirts, and much more. Chris has been a professional journalist for over a decade, and has been featured in Wired and the New Orleans Times-Picayune.