A few days ago, Ben Yoskovitz invited some bloggers to tackle the question of “what is the secret to being productive?” One of those people was Adam Kayce. Adam tagged Dawud Miracle. Dawud suggested that I join the fun, so here I am. (Thanks, Dawud!)
One of the key secrets to productivity is advance planning. I do planning in three stages.
- Weekly reviews. I look back over the past week and ahead to the coming week and beyond to update my appointment calendar, capture impending deadlines, and schedule tasks that feed into meeting my goals and deadlines.
- Morning planning and reset. Every morning, I review the day’s appointment schedule, and budget my time for the day (more on the time budget in a moment).
- Evening debrief. Before I stop for the day, I look back over what was accomplished, note what wasn’t done, and forward unfinished tasks to a future spot in the calendar.
Here’s what daily planning looks like for me:
I list all the tasks I have to accomplish, including appointment hours. There are two columns of numbers. The right hand column of numbers (in the middle) is my estimate of how much time each task will require. I total my estimate before I start working, aiming for roughly eight hours. The left hand column is the amount of time the tasks actually took.
Let’s say I’ve budgeted 45 minutes to write a blog post. When I start working, I set my kitchen timer for 45 minutes. When 45 minutes elapses, if I’m not finished I time how long I needed to finish up. I record the actual time elapsed which allows me to more accurately budget my time on future days.
Here’s what the “time-budget” system has done for me:
- I’m far more accurate in estimating the time tasks require.
- I rarely overbook myself. When I budget nine hours worth of work, I can pretty much guarantee nine hours will get it all done.
- I am more efficient and focused because I know if I’ve budgeted eight hours worth of work, I have eight hours to get that work done. Period.
- I worry less about what I’m not getting to because I know I’ve budgeted the time elsewhere. As long as it’s on my calendar, I know I’ll get to it and I don’t have to fret over it while I’m doing something else.
- I think through all the activities tasks require. For example, if I schedule an hour-long coaching session with a client, I know I must also budget 45 minutes to write the summary of the call to email to the client afterward.
- I have more time to do things other than work. This is the best part. When I started doing these time budgets, I didn’t understand why I could never find time to exercise or walk the dog. I was shocked to discover that I was routinely “working” eleven or twelve hours a day. What I was really doing was working about eight or nine hours and wasting two or three additional hours. With my time budgets, I waste less time, get more done, and have enough time and energy left over for exercise and family time.
- List what must be done.
- Estimate how much time each task will take.
- Record how much time tasks actually required by using a timer.
- And as Dawud pointed out, focus, focus, focus.
Your feedback and comments are welcomed.