How Do You Spend Your Time?

One of the best pieces of time management I’ve ever heard is to do the most important thing first. I’ve also heard that you should complete the task that you dread the most. Often, they are one and the same.

For example, I thoroughly enjoy writing this blog. However, to succeed at it, I need to carve time to develop topics and research them. When I don’t do that, I’m left at day’s end realizing the clock is ticking, and I still haven’t written my blog.

Today is one such day. I spent a few hours developing ideas, and I’m really excited to work on those topics, which will come later this summer as they’re tied around specific dates or the upcoming NFPW conference. However, what I really needed to do today is write today’s blog. It’s now after 6 p.m., and it hit me that I should have written today’s blog first and then done research for additional topics.

The same holds true at work. Fortunately, I’m more successful in the office. I write down three things each morning that I must complete that day. I spend as much time as possible working on the first one. Then I invariably have a series of meetings. When I next have a chunk of time, I finish the first item before moving to the next one. I don’t always succeed in finishing all three, but then I simply put the one or two that do not get finished at the start of the next day’s list.

The items often involve planning and strategizing for some event, meeting or report that won’t even happen for a few weeks. Yet, I know that is where I need to spend my time.

The key is to remain focused on the most critical assignments. How do you spend your time?


Doing More by Doing Less

My trainer frequently reminds me to breathe when I’m working out. It seems silly to need to be reminded to breathe, but I’m so focused on completing the set of repetitions and using the correct form that I do often forget to breathe. Fortunately, he’s there to remind me.

Glass sculptureUnfortunately, the same is not true at work. I run from one meeting to the next. I multitask. I eat lunch at my desk. Frankly, I’m tired, and I’m not alone. Seventy-seven percent of workers say they are sometimes or always burned out in their jobs and 43 percent of workers say their stress levels on the job have increased over the last six months, according to a CareerBuilders survey.

The other week, I met with a business coach, who reminded me of some simple things I can do to make myself feel less overwhelmed and even more productive. They include:

  1. Take a break
  2. Schedule vacations
  3. Do one thing
  4. Follow 18 Minutes

The idea of taking a break feels counterintuitive. And yet, he was right. When I stop and take a short walk outside around my building, I return to my office reinvigorated and with a clear head.

One thing that keeps me going is knowing I have a vacation scheduled. It’s a carrot for me. I realized several years ago that I needed to sprinkle my vacations throughout the year and get them scheduled. Also, because I know it is coming, I like to wrap up loose ends. It’s a great way to complete assignments that have languished.

My office recently installed WiFi. It’s a blessing in that I can meet anywhere with anyone. It’s a curse because the temptation is great to take my laptop to a meeting and answer emails during a meeting. When I do that, I’m not giving my full attention to either the email or the meeting so I try to avoid it. I put my purse with my cellphone in the trunk most days so I’m not tempted to drive and talk. It seems like a great way to combine two activities, but it’s also a great way to cause an accident. They key is to do one thing only.

My coach also suggested I follow 18 Minutes, written by Peter Bregman and based upon his weekly Harvard Business Review columns. Step 1 takes 5 minutes and is about setting the plan for the day. Bregman says that before turning on your computer, we should sit with a blank piece of paper and decide what will make this day highly successful. In Step 2, we refocus for one minute every hour. At the end of the day, we review for five minutes. It sounds simple. I’m fairly consistent with Steps 1 and 2. Step 3, not so much.

However, the more I follow it and focus on doing one thing only, the more I accomplish. I also breathe more – and that’s a good thing!