Commenting on “Measure Your Time,” my friend, LynnDee wrote, “I have been figuring out that if I start planning ahead and being more prepared that it will not be as difficult to finish tasks, and I will use my time more wisely.” That’s an excellent observation and an excellent comment (thanks for commenting, LynnDee!), and I want to build on her statement about planning ahead.
As I have written before, I am drawn to articles and books about time management; I have been reading them for years. I guess you might say that I am obsessed with being productive—at least being productive in my “most important things” (MITs). If I major on the MITs, I expect that when I am a wise old woman, I can look back on my life and say, “I didn’t fritter away my life on stupid stuff.”
Because of my long-standing relationship with all things “productivity,” I have picked up a thing or two here and there that has become second nature to me. As such, I could easily assume that these same practices are second nature to others, as well. LynnDee’s comment reminded me of a couple of principles that I have incorporated into my lifestyle and I feel are key to me getting things done—the right things (which reminds me of David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done).
Principle #1: Plan Your Week in Advance
The first principle ties in nicely with the main concepts posted in What Would You Do If You Had More Time?: Plan your week in advance. As Laura Vanderkam so convincingly teaches in 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, it is a paradigm shift to start viewing time management in week-long increments before looking at the 24-hour day. I kind of see this initial phase of planning like working on a jigsaw puzzle. At the beginning of the week, you take a broad, bird’s-eye view of your week, and then, based on what is important and valuable to you, you start plugging in activities (puzzle pieces) around the hard-and-fast commitments such as sleep, your work day, appointments already scheduled, and appointments with yourself (more about that momentarily), etc.
When I first learned of this principle, it did not come natural to me, so I actually created a recurring task in Microsoft Outlook (my time management software of choice), so every Sunday, this “task” pops up on my To Do List: *Plan coming week. The asterisk is my shorthand for letting me know that I have a note attached to that task (if I didn’t remind myself, I might forget that I had made some notes). In the note section, I have written some leading questions to prompt my memory further (in brackets , I have written additional comments or specific actions that might need to be taken if the answer is affirmative):
- Any guests coming this week? [If so, I need to make sure the guest bed is changed, the room is clean and the bathroom is stocked. I might need to add some items to my shopping list, and I would schedule a to-do for getting the room clean.]
- Babysitting grandchildren? [A “yes” here reminds me to be sure I have something for them to eat when they come. Again, add items to shopping list.]
- Any special work/projects (closings, listing calls, meetings, etc.)? [Some of this jargon relates to my real estate business. Not only do I need to make sure the appointment is on my calendar, but I need to be sure I have all paperwork ready to go.]
- Are workout clothes washed and ready? [I added this question after planning to go running one morning and sadly discovering that all my clothes were dirty. I think I pulled something out of the dirty clothes!]
- What days will I run? [Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are pretty standard for me, BUT if, for instance, I am babysitting one morning, or if I have an early closing—which is like payday!—I rearrange my schedule accordingly.]
- What’s on the menu? [Another reminder to add any necessary items to a shopping list]
- Do I need to place any special orders?
- Any specific phone calls need to be made?
The idea of looking at your week in advance is to maintain some control and order, to NOT be driven by the tasks at hand. For instance, if I do have guests coming, I don’t have to wait till the last minute to get the room ready, but on the other hand, I don’t have to do it right away either. If guests are coming on Friday, I can look at my calendar for the coming week, and “plug in” that chore around the other things going on in my life that week.
Principle #2: Plan Your Day in Advance
Planning your day in advance is the obvious next step to carrying out the plans you made at the beginning of the week. But it is really more than that. To look over your schedule, your plans, your to-do’s for the next day is to set your mind for action. Productivity guru, Brian Tracy says that the simple act of planning your day the night before will immediately make you 25% more productive.
Principle #3: Make and Keep “Appointments” With Yourself
Another purpose of planning your week in advance is to allow for “appointments with yourself” (aka, “me time”). ‘Me time’ is not about being self-centered. It is a time to rejuvenate yourself physically and spiritually. It is a time to prepare to meet your public with inner grace, strength and poise. It is a time to “gain a heart of wisdom.” It is a time to strengthen your foundations and to deepen your roots. It should be considered a non-negotiable. We must plan for “me time.” It will not happen otherwise.
Do you practice these three principles? Do you find any one of them harder or easier to practice than the others? Do you have other time-management principles that you live by? Please share your thoughts via a comment. I’d love to hear from you on this subject.