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Do some days just fly by, leaving you feeling as though you haven’t achieved any of your objectives? Time management is a crucial skill, and a difficult one to master, as the landscape of working life is ever in flux. New information or trends come to light. New technologies become available. Not to mention interruptions, emails, questions and other unforeseen hurdles. You don’t need to plan meticulously or to the minute, but approaching each day with a plan, and perhaps a regular routine will increase your productivity substantially.

1. Set monthly goals

People tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in the short-term, and underestimate what they can do in the long-term. Set monthly goals and break them down into segmented weekly and daily targets.

Ask yourself: What are your objectives? What will be required to meet them? Planning from week to week, or day to day becomes significantly easier having established that long-term foundation.

Avoid procrastination at any cost, as postponing tasks will only make the end of your month more difficult. Be disciplined!

2. Create a day plan

As Annie Dillard once wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”. Establish a daily routine or pattern and the rest of the month will follow. That way, hitting your daily targets will have you leaving the office with a calm sense of achievement.

At the end of every day, plan what you’re going to do the following day. After sleeping on it, you’ll arrive prepared to be immediately productive the next morning.

Implement the strategies below to help ensure your day plan is effective:

  • Productivity is increased with accountability and deadlines. Be mindful of Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
  • Don’t multitask, monotask (e.g. all calls together; all admin together; etc.). Many people find that completing tasks sequentially is conducive to greater productivity.
  • Try the Pomodoro Technique and set time-limited goals (as Graham Allcott eloquently phrased it, ‘The last moments spent on something are rarely the best ones’).
  • Some people find it helpful to plan out time in blocks, though if you adopt this strategy, allow buffers
  • Partner with colleagues on projects.
  • Vary tasks throughout the day to prevent monotony

3. Stephen’s Covey Time Management Matrix

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important” Dwight D. Eisenhower once declared. This quote summarises the essence of the Eisenhower Method, popularised by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The exercise organises tasks into four quadrants: 1) Urgent/Important, 2) Not Urgent/Important, 3) Urgent/Not Important, and 4) Not Urgent/Not Important.

The aim of the exercise is to move as many of your tasks as possible out of the “Urgent/Important” category. You should ideally have a shortlist of “Urgent/ Important” tasks, and a lengthier list of “Important/Not Urgent” tasks. If a task is neither urgent nor important, it may be worth questioning the value of including it in your itinerary at all. This exercise essentially functions as a reminder of the importance of precise prioritisation.

As Covey writes in his aforementioned (and recommended) book, “Your success in life will not depend upon how many hours you have worked in life but how well you have utilised your time”.

4. CORD Model

Capture & Collect – In an age that is frequently characterised as being saturated with information, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. As David Allen put it, “Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them”. Declutter your headspace by outsourcing your short-term memory and collating relevant data and information.

Organise – Organise this information into groups of projects, and establish the very next actions required for each. Be sure to take your deadlines into consideration during this stage.

Review – Regularly evaluate your progress and identify your next task (may require re-prioritisation).

Do – Manage your to-do lists and complete outstanding tasks. It’s not necessarily about getting everything done; it’s about getting the right things done!

5. Tools & Apps

There is a vast assortment of tools and apps available to you to help you plan your day and optimise your productivity. Trello, Toodledo, ToDoist and Wunderlist are all great project management applications, ideal for creating online to-do lists. SimpleNote and NotationalVelocity are useful for recording searchable notes, and if you think you might benefit from greater focus, the Headspace app provides ten minutes per day of guided mindfulness meditation.

6. Plan Your Day In Accordance With Your Personal Effectiveness

Some people are ‘morning people’, whereas others are definitely not! You will have an idea of what time of day you are most productive and efficient. Take advantage of this and plan your day in accordance with the peaks and troughs of your daily energy levels.

Hopefully, this article will have provided helpful ideas, information, or techniques – the essential next step is to take these principles and apply them at your desk. Don’t count the hours, make the hours count!

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