In this week’s episode, we continue our conversation about getting organized, looking specifically at our time and how we can better use it.
Organizing our time
Following up on last week’s episode on getting organized, this week I want to look at getting our time and commitments organized. Many of us have more things to do than we have time to do them, and without a system to keep track of our appointments, commitments, and tasks–and an intentional framework for curating them–we can become overwhelmed, show up late, even miss important events.
Review of what it means to get organized
Remember the definition of getting organized from last week (and think about how it applies to time and commitments):
- Merriam-Webster online dictionary: “to arrange one’s things or one’s affairs so they can be dealt with effectively”
- From one blog post on the Blue Key World website, “Genuine organization is taking control of disorder, getting a grip on the chaos and the mess and doing something about it. Arranging disorder into something coherent and logical is what it means to organize.”
- From Cindy Rushton’s blog: “Being organized means that you are overcoming the hindrances that keep you from doing all you need to do.”
The benefits of getting organized (specifically with respect to time)
- The satisfaction and confidence of doing what you say you’ll do
- Avoid the embarrassment of being late or missing an event altogether
- Calm and peacefulness
Tools for organizing your time
There are no magic tools that will “fix” a chaotic schedule for you. The best tools are the ones you actually and consistently use. That being said, managing and organizing our time and commitments requires three simple tools:
This is for all day-and-time-specific commitments. There are many calendar options–from a wall calendar with big squares, to a paper planner with a calendar section (monthly, weekly, daily); to a digital calendar you can access from all your devices.
I’ve been using the Happy Planner for a few months, but my primary calendar is digital–I use Fantastical because it’s easy to use and syncs all my calendars, including my work calendar, so I can see all appointments, both personal and professional, in one place.
The key things to remember to make your calendar work for you are:
- Every appointment, meeting, etc., goes in the calendar the minute it’s made.
- Note the date and time, obviously, but also purpose (e.g., what the meeting or call is about), phone number or address, etc.
- If you use a digital calendar, use the “travel time” feature to make sure you get to all your appointments on time.
- For work – I attach documents that are the subject of a call so I don’t have to use up time looking for the doc we’re going to discuss.
- Be sure to set alarms if you’re using a digital calendar. Use the settings to automatically set an alarm for 15 minutes before an appointment, meeting, or call (longer if I need more time to prepare). You can also set the alarm 1 week before birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
- Every appointment, meeting, etc., goes in the calendar the minute it’s made.
2. Task Manager
This is the place where tasks go; digital or analog, depending on your preference.
The master list is where you capture every task as soon as possible after you think of it. I use OmniFocus for this, but a notebook would work great and you have the satisfaction of physically crossing things off as you complete them.
In addition to the master list, consider having a separate “Today” list- the specific things off the master list that you intend to accomplish today.
3. Note-taking solution
This is a place to capture ideas, bits of information, etc., so you don’t use up any mental energy trying to remember them. A notebook works great, or a note-taking app. I like Drafts and the Apple Notes app. Whatever you use, though, the key is to have ONE place you put things, so you don’t have to remember where you put that key piece of info or that great idea.
Approaches & techniques
1. “GTD – Based on David Allen’s seminal productivity book, Getting Things Done, and his process of “Capture, process, act, review
2. Time blocking
Set aside blocks of time for certain projects or similar types of tasks — mark them on your calendar. For example, administrative tasks, errands, email, “Deep work”, or creative work. This technique helps by giving yourself bigger chunks of time so you can get deeply into what you’re doing.
3. Themed days
I heard about this first from Mike Vardy (see this post on his blog). The idea of this technique is to give each day an “overarching focus” (for example: content creation, meetings, administrative work, self-care, learning). That’s not necessarily the only thing you do on that day, but it’s a focus for the day. One benefit of establishing themed days is it allows you to defer a task without guilt or anxiety because you know you have a day planned for it.
4. Batching Tasks
This can go hand in hand with time blocking or themed days. The idea is to group similar tasks together. We lose time whenever we switch between tasks, so minimizing that switching helps our brains and us be more efficient and effective.
For example: Say your to-do list for today includes the following: Mail a package, send or reply to 4 emails, call your mother, pick up a prescription, make a doctor appointment for your child, drop off some clothes at the dry cleaner, phone conference with a client. Rather than switching back and forth among these different types of tasks, more efficient to batch them: do the emails together; make all the phone calls back to back, do all the errands at once.
There are many benefits of task batching, such as:
- You save time setting up/putting away (the most friction is at the starting point, so you take advantage of momentum).
- It promotes better focus and attention.
- You also avoid the loss of time to switching back and forth among tasks.
- Reduced stress–instead of 10 tasks (in our example above), you have 3 groups of similar tasks.
Key principles of organizing your time
- Write things down–time-specific commitments (appointments, meetings, conference calls, etc.) in the calendar, with the relevant info right there; tasks into your task manager; ideas, reminders, random info you’ll need later into your note-taking solutions. Writing things down ensure that nothing gets missed, and reduces the stress and distraction of our brains trying to remember.
- The concept of purging that we talked about last week applies here. Be intentional about what you say yes to. What kind of life do you want to live? Keep that in mind as you respond to invitations and commitment requests, and curate your commitments, activities, tasks, etc., just as you would your possessions.
- Be realistic about what you can get done in a day, taking into account your stage of life and current circumstances-including your health and energy level. And don’t compare yourself to anyone else!
- Top 3 MITs–if those get done and you have time and energy for more, you can always look at your master list for something else to do, but start with 3 key tasks for the day instead of a mile-long list that you know can’t get completed in the time you have for the day.
- Leave white space in your calendar
- You can’t always avoid those too-full days, but try hard to leave space between appointments, even if it’s just 10 minutes to get a drink of water, use the bathroom, and gather your thoughts.
- Life happens, and if we’ve scheduled every moment of the day, there’s no leeway for if a meeting runs long, or the toilet overflows, or a friend needs a shoulder to cry on.
- I’m a fan of time-blocking, but not so much of filling the entire day with time blocks. We need downtime.
- Use the simplest tools and systems that get the job done. Getting organized doesn’t have to be complicated or require complex or expensive tools. Tweaking our system and playing with new tools can be a procrastination technique.
- Schedule a regular time each week to review your calendar, task manager, and note-taking solution, evaluate what got done and what you need to follow up on, and plan for the coming week. This is key: it’s how we make sure things don’t slip through the cracks and that we’re prepared for what’s to come. Even just 30 minutes or so of review and preview can make all the difference.
What do you think?
Resources and Link
- TPW181-Time Management & Balance with Susan May Warren
- Task Batching: Top Personal Productivity Hack | Friday.app
- What Is Task Batching? (With a Step-by-Step Guide) | Indeed.com
- Task Batching: Your New Productivity Hack – MintLife Blog
- Cindy Rushton’s blog
- The Happy Planner
- Getting Things Done-by David Allen
- Mike Vardy blog post
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