Before I sat down to write this article on how to focus and spend time productively, I took a quick look at Twitter and immediately saw two posts that dealt with the same concern.
In Harvard Business Review, Elizabeth Grace Saunders wrote about How to Allocate Your Time and Your Effort. In BlanchardLeaderChat, Kern Lewis presented slides showing 8 Secrets To Accomplishing More Each Day. Later that day, I received an email from leadership blogger Dana Theus addressing a similar concern. In it she wrote: The world is noisy. You can decide what music to hear.
Whatever the reason that these topics coincided with my own plans, it is clear that many of us want to reevaluate how time is spent and to determine how to use it most effectively.
With so many entertainment, information, communication, and productivity tools available, one can spend an entire day flitting from website to website, application to application and never accomplish what really makes a difference in life or career.
If you look online for time management tools, you will find an overwhelming number of articles, resources, tools, and learning opportunities. You can find activity logs, to-do lists, organizational plans, email and electronic files management strategies. All of these are worthwhile skills to develop.
If you check book sellers like Amazon, you will find over 6,000 books and resources tied to the topic.
With the number of resources available, it would seem that we should be able to master this problem. Instead, I believe the number of resources indicate the level of need.
We can certainly find many strategies, but the first step in mastering our use of time is taking a step back and considering attitudes and typical behavior. How do I think about use of time in line? What are my priorities?
I offer a few ideas about how we can cut through the jumble of activities and thoughts that can prevent us from being the person we want to be and doing the things we believe are most valuable in our lives and careers.
1- Be clear on mission and priorities. Only when your mission is clear is it possible to say no to the many other activities that seem worthwhile at the moment. One yes is a thousand no's.
2- Use technology; don’t let it use you. It is possible to spend hours on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or other social media sites. The key to effective use is deciding when social media serves a purpose and when it is mentally zoning out while avoiding more worthwhile pursuits.
3- Frequently ask yourself whether your current activity helps you to meet your goals. Certainly, take time to recharge and relax, but recognize that how you spend your time is a choice. If you ask yourself why you are spending your time a particular way, you may make different choices.
4- Calendar your tasks. As you set priorities for the day or week, place your most important activities on a calendar. Make appointments with yourself to accomplish each important task.
5- Investigate and use the most efficient digital applications. Find the information and communication tools that save you time rather than using it up. Make use of RSS feeds to follow those who bring value to you. Use project and filing software such as Evernote, composition apps such as Dropbox, task software such Todoist or Basecamp, and calendar apps such as Google calendar.
6- If necessary, find a colleague, coach or mentor who can help you set priorities and accomplish your goals.
A particularly helpful resource for using your time online productively is Howard Reingold’s book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, in which he discusses five literacies individuals need as they become more effective and intentional digital citizens. The first literacy is the skill of focused attention.
I hope you will also take a look at my 17-page e-book How to Get and Stay Organized, which offers keys to organization, tips to avoid procrastination and how to deal with information overload.
Every day is a good day for a new beginning. If staying organized is an issue for you, I hope today is the day you get it under control.