“One typical piece of ‘time management’ advice that is contrary to effective task management is to try to estimate how long each task on your to-do list will take,” says Maura Thomas. Thomas and other experts agree that most tasks take longer than we think they will. Not only that, Thomas adds, but also “routinely scheduling tasks on your calendar virtually ensures that you will spend more time reorganizing your calendar than actually getting things done.”
Try these five methods — together or individually — for prioritizing tasks and managing your time instead.
1. Use the Eisenhower Box to Prioritize
Steven Covey used and recommends (President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s) Box to help us prioritize our daily tasks into one of four buckets based on a principle known now as the Eisenhower Box.
- Urgent and important (do immediately)
- Important but not urgent (schedule to do later)
- Urgent but not important (delegate to someone else)
- Neither urgent nor important (don’t do)
Scott Carpenter, president of cPR Brand Associates also recommends that you prioritize tasks based on whether they help you uphold your customer value positioning statement. “If what you do doesn’t further your position or your brand, you need to move on to something more productive that does,” Carpenter says.
2. Get More Done in Sprints Using the Pomodoro Technique
Michelle Nickolaisen, a writer and adviser to creative entrepreneurs recommends using the Pomodoro Technique, which helps you complete tasks by working in timed sprints. “The idea is that you work for 25 minutes and get a 5-minute break afterwards,” Nickolaisen explains. The other idea is to estimate how long each task will take. For example, a task that requires 50 minutes is worth two (2) Pompadoros. After four sprints you get a longer, 15-minute break. There are online and timer apps if you want to use something more sophisticated than a kitchen timer to track your sprints and breaks.
3. Focus Intensely in 90-Minute Sittings for “Purposeful Productivity”
Camille Preston, recommends that to achieve“purposeful productivity” by advising clients to work in 90-minute sessions, then take a break. “Research shows that our brains work best this way,” Preston says. “Focus with intensity, then shift gears and go do something else for 15 minutes … something completely different, so your brain gets a break.”
4. Batch Similar Tasks and Cruise Through Your To-do List
When she left her 9-to-5 job to start her own business, lifestyle design coach and business productivity expert Erica Duran adopted an approach for completing tasks she calls “batching,” which is essentially blasting through a bunch of similar tasks in one sitting. “When you get into the groove with a certain task, you become more efficient as you go,” Duran says. “But if you stop and start different things, you lose momentum by switching gears.”
5. Tame the Email Beast
Just as Duran might group reading and responding to email in one task batch and paying bills in another, other experts recommend setting limits on and/or only spending certain times of the day on specific activities. Email is a task that many find challenging because it has become so time-consuming to manage.
“It can be awfully tempting and highly distracting to check email countless times throughout the day.” There are various techniques and email management system that can help you stay focused on the task at hand. Chris Mitlitsky, owner of Automation Playbook, says “I only check my inbox at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. each business day. I tell all of my clients this and it sets their expectations on when they will hear back from me. He keeps his inbox manageable by using a “touch it once” approach. “When I open up an email, I will read it, respond to it, and then delete it. I will never mark it as unread or revisit it 10 times.”
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