When I share with people how much I am doing, they often ask how I get it all done. I am a father and a husband and spend quality time with my family. I stay home from work with my son two days each week, probably my biggest job. I volunteer with several organizations around DC. I grow my own coaching business, 100 Reasons to Win, which includes coaching individuals, preparing presentations for existing clients and having meetings with potential new clients. I run a meeting every week for Weight Watchers. I travel regularly for work and for fun. I blog for Oy!Chicago.
It is a lot to manage, and I would be lying if said that I don’t get behind on a couple of things here or there. However, these three tips have helped me to deliver the most important projects on time, especially when it really mattered. By the way, I purposely chose three because if you are already struggling with time management, you really don’t have time to comb through a list that is much larger than that. Practice these three first because they are easy to implement and will make an immediate impact. After that, you can schedule some time to contact me for more help.
Have a to-do list but really only commit to three things
If you are “To-Do Lister” and love to make yourself long lists for the day, keep doing it. If you never write out a list, start doing it. Find a system that works well for you; keep it on a notebook; keep it on a sticky note; keep it on a whiteboard; write it on your hand; yep- there’s even an app for lists. Everyone will have a different way that works for them. Everyone will also struggle to finish every task, every day.
My advice for each morning is to choose the three tasks from your list that must be completed that day. Pick the three items, and only three, that you know will result in the most serious consequences, if not completed by day’s end. Anyone can start and finish at least three items on a list. If you get to more than that, awesome, but you always know the most important items will be crossed off the list. If you finish three things each and every day, you’ll have 21 things done each week and 84 tasks brought to completion each month. That’s a productive month that only took a three per day commitment.
You are staring at the computer, working on an important spreadsheet for a conference presentation later in the week. Carrie chats you and asks, “Can we meet to discuss the Stamper account?” You don’t really love spreadsheets and Carrie is just so much more fun to be around than Excel. This would be a perfect excuse to put that spreadsheet off for later.
Wait a minute- put it off and then what? Find yourself staying up late in your hotel room the night before you present crunching numbers for that blasted spreadsheet. Now you show up for the presentation, tired, groggy and wishing you had started to work on that spreadsheet much earlier. All of this so you could hang out with Carrie!
Or you could take a breath and try this- switch your calendar to fifteen minute increments. Put all of your important tasks right into your calendar. It will remind you to get them done and it will remind you not to overschedule yourself. As for Carrie, how about this instead, so you don’t abandon the time you intentionally set aside to get your work done:
“Actually, I am on a deadline and trying to finish up something else right now. Would tomorrow morning at 10:00 work for you, or can we check in first thing next week when I am back from the conference?”
Be realistic when setting a deadline
It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver. I know the feeling, though. A request comes in from your boss or customer. They ask you how long before you can get that report updated, that project completed, that presentation ready to go. You feel the pressure to tell them what you think they want to hear. You don’t want to let them down before you even had a chance to get started.
“I’ll get that to you right away,”
“It should all be ready by C.O.B.,”
“It will be waiting on your desk first thing in the morning,”
Will it? Is it realistic to get all of that done in that amount of time? When a deadline hasn’t been imposed on you by someone else, why not give yourself that extra hour, day or even weekend to put on those finishing touches? Why not pause before blurting out the first offer that comes to mind? You might even consider adding more time to give yourself a buffer if/when something more pressing pops up. Nobody will be mad if you get it done early, but it will be hard for them to forget if you consistently turn things in late.
Here are a few alternative responses that may help set you up for success:
“It will be a challenge to get to that today. Will tomorrow work for you?”
“I can have that to you by Monday. Will that work for you?”
“This week is looking really full right now. If I get it to you next week, will that give you enough time to review it?”
With that, I am crossing this article off my to-do list. In case you are wondering, it was on my calendar and it was on my must do for today. I just have two more to go and plenty of time left to get them done.