A few weeks back, I shared some higher level “time relationship” strategies to help you get a better handle on your day – both at home and work. There are also some ‘quick hit’ tips that might help you even more. These are a bit less mindset focused, and a bit more tangible for your daily scheduling. They have helped me immensely, and many of them have been learned from other awesome individuals.
Break Large Tasks into Little Pieces
Most of us start with a big goal or project at hand, and we are so excited and empowered about getting this done. Whether it’s “I am going to work out EVERY day from now on!” or “I am now going to reorganize my entire house and eliminate all clutter!” or “I’m going to complete this enormous work project that has been assigned to me in this really tight timeline… Yay!”
Whatever you set out to do, or what someone else might have set you out to do…. BREAK IT DOWN. As much as we want to be these amazing large-scale accomplished beings, it’s extremely hard to avoid feeling overwhelmed if you don’t break it down into actionable, smaller pieces. That not only puts work into smaller chunks, it allows you to see the progress as you move forward and maintain momentum. Maybe you decide to focus on working out THIS week first, or work on ONE room first, or complete the first part of the project this first day or week. Whatever it is- break it down and start to see how it’s possible.
This is a really hard one for me, but extremely crucial. Whether it’s 15 or 30 minutes, force yourself to focus on the task at hand for a solid chunk of time. It could be cleaning, writing a blog post, or accomplishing one of the pieces of that large work project.
Did you know that one hour of un-focused time is equal to 4 hours of unfocused time?
That is crazy. That means for the ONE hour (or two 30 minute chunks) you are able to force yourself to focus on the big task at hand, you are saving yourself 3 hours!! 3 HOURS that you could be using on something else! For those of you that feel you already work too much, using this at work can drastically reduce the hours your are spending at the desk. Ignore email, turn off the internet, or turn up the music loud and concentrate on what you need to get done. It will change your life.
This is my favorite part. When you are able to actually focus like you promised yourself, or accomplish some parts of that large project… give yourself a treat! Today, I did NOT want to go to the grocery store, but I did. I allowed myself to get a fun treat at the store, and now we can all eat dinner tonight. If you can, set up the reward in advance, so that you can keep that in the back of your mind as you work towards that little goal. I often reward myself with a morning of sleeping in, 20 minutes of silly internet surfing, or a fancy coffee drink. Whatever gets you motivated to get work done- do it!
Set Timers, and Stick to Them
Often we’ll find ourselves getting sucked into an activity- fun or mundane, and realize that we’ve just lost an hour of our life. Timers are a HUGE help with this. I use them when I clean the house, when I’m surfing online (as a reward), and even when I’m taking a nap. It’s like a deal you make with yourself:
I’m allowing myself to do this activity right now, but I’m consciously choosing to only do it for X minutes/hours.
When you make that deal with yourself, and that timer goes off, you will reach a decision point. You will have to have an internal dialogue that goes something like, “Ok- I told myself I would only spend 20 minutes on this. Should I keep that deal or negotiate a new one?” It’s up to you what you do at that point, but it kind of stinks if you are re-negotiating with yourself over and over again.
Chunk Your Activities
It’s been shown that every distraction or shift in activity (at work or at home), will cause our brains about 20 minutes to get in the groove of the new “thing.” That means that for every time you are working on your ‘focused’ activity- and pause to check-out Facebook or email- that you are causing your brain to shift gears as well. As much as we think that’s great for our brains- it’s not. We are not great multi-taskers, and not great at moving back and forth, over and over. We spend much more mental energy and time switching back and forth.
A great way to maximize your time with the different activities you do throughout the day is to accomplish them in “chunks.” Pick 1-3 times a day to focus ONLY on responding to emails, writing project plans, or talking on the phone. Although we can’t map out every activity throughout our day, taking control of the time you do have at your disposal is key. Responding to emails uses a specific set of mental and physical functions working together, and analyzing a detailed excel document for errors uses an entirely different set of functions. Keep your energy high and your brain working for you by chunking similar activities together.
#6 Bonus: SAY NO!
For those of you that know me well, this is something I can scream from the rooftops and shout from my office. SAYING YES TO EVERYTHING does not help you in any way. Choosing where to spend your energy and where to NOT spend your energy will help you maintain momentum and focus on what really matters. I would love to be that mom that could do those amazing home art projects or design crazy cooking activities for my kids. But I don’t. I said NO to those activities about a year ago, when I realized I wanted to spend my extra energy on this blog and developing a business. It’s ok to say no to things. It’s ok to make tough choices.
Read more here on saying NO. You need to, I need to, and many of us don’t do it enough.
I hope there was something here the might serve you well. I fall off the focus wagon quite often, but falling off only gives us the opportunity to get back on and try again. Give something new a try, and maximize the time you have.