I went to Sprouts the other day for groceries, and after paying, I started pushing the plastic-bag handles onto my wrists, stacked like several very heavy bracelets on each arm. I’d already gotten my car keys out of my purse and was at the ready to put the shopping cart in its inside lineup before loading my groceries into the car in one seamless trip.
I was not about to waste time on bringing the cart out with me and then having to take even more precious seconds to put it to one of those cart parking spots that seem to never be conveniently located. Psh. The cashier stared as I loaded about 15 grocery bags onto my arms and, (rightfully) full of judgment, asked, “You’re not going to use the cart?”
Of course not! I have places to be! Things to do! Girlfriend was totally throwing shade at me. But why waste two minutes on cart placement when I could bring my groceries to the car AND get an arm workout? Streamlining. Multitasking.
“No, I’m good!” I replied cheerfully, as a hint of sweat began to bead at my hairline, and I shakily raised a bag-clad arm to take the receipt from her.
I’m not a very patient person. I don’t like wasting time, and my best days are usually my most productive. Yet, my vehemently aggressive approach to quick grocery bag transportation didn’t seem to consistently appear in my time management techniques at work.
When I began working from home full-time, especially, all this time and freedom at my disposal was almost overwhelming. It was also thrilling. I could go to the gym at 2 p.m. or go to Target at 9 a.m. when they’re less busy and way more fun of an experience. I can cook my own lunch and take my dog on walks and not get out of my pajamas all day if I want.
It’s wonderful, but days with less structure means productivity can get way off course and completely sidelined without some sort of strategic approach. There’s no boss or coworkers keeping you accountable, so self-control gets seriously tested on a daily basis. I know this because a friend told me so, of course. (It’s me. The friend is me.)
The other week, I tasked my Instagram friends to share with me with time management techniques that they use and like, and I got some incredible responses. I’ve begun implementing some of them into my daily routine and have seen an immense shift in my efficiency and attention span.
I think whether you work in an office or out of your home, as an entrepreneur or as a team member in a bigger group, these tweaks can be applied everywhere to lead to more productive work and better results. Personally, I have been able to procure more freelance writing clients, completely redo my (previously far-outdated) online writing portfolio, flesh out a business idea that I’d been mulling over, and feel more happy and satisfied with both my work and personal life.
Give these a try and let me know what you think!
Time blocking. What a buzz kill, right? Who wants to set a timer and focus on one task for 90 minutes, for real? That was what I thought when more than one person suggested time blocking. And then I tried it. I set a timer for merely 30 minutes and realized how many little distractions kept popping up and getting in the way of my half hour project goal. Email notifications. Mindless opening of social media tabs. Texts from friends.
Setting a timer created some urgency and prioritization toward the project at hand and forced me to say no to distractions. It’s especially useful for tasks I really do not want to do. Now, I’ll time block each to-do list task: Research and write a blog post for X client, 2 hours; apply to freelance jobs on Upwork, 1 hour; plan social media posts, 45 minutes. I’ll even time my breaks so that a 20-minute pause doesn’t turn into “Oh yeah, I need to fold laundry, play with the dog, and listen to those two new podcast episodes, too.”
Do Not Disturb. THIS PHONE FEATURE, GUYS. I freaking love the Do Not Disturb button on my phone. I have it almost-always turned on now, unless I’m expecting a call. I am so easily distracted that I need it to be turned on, or else every buzz of a notification steers me off course from my current task. It can be a silly Words With Friends notification, and suddenly I’m opening every email and social app on my phone.
Having my phone on Do Not Disturb prevents me from randomly picking it up every few minutes. And, if I notice myself seeking out distraction via my phone (i.e., procrastinating something else), I’ll turn on DND and put it in another room for a (time-blocked) hour or two. This has been the easiest, smallest change I’ve made that has led to so many time management wins.
Game plan. On an episode of Rachel Hollis’ Rise podcast with Lewis Howes (in-CRED-ible episode, by the way—it brought me to tears), Howes talks about how he approaches work like it’s a sport. His football coaches didn’t lead practices or games without a bigger goal and plan, so he structures his life the same way. He predetermines what each day will look like ahead of time: what he will work on, when he will workout, what he will eat, what he will read, etc.
I sat down and planned out my weeks similarly with an Excel spreadsheet, mapping out what every day will be spent working on, down to every hour. You know I’m invested when I actually want to use Excel, the dreaded tool of a previous depressing job of mine. But it WORKS. Some days, when random things come up, I have to deter from the plan, but for the most part, my weeks now have structure and purpose.
Setting personal deadlines and sticking to them. As a writer, my clients give me deadlines. But as a new entrepreneur and growing freelancer, setting my own deadlines is much more important. Even if something isn’t technically due until the end of the week, I know I’ll feel much more ease, achievement, and levity if I finish it and turn it in early.
As for projects of my own, deadlines create structure for moving forward. If I have a more lackadaisical approach (which I’ve had in the past), it’s easy to get stuck treading water and pausing production on a regular basis. Write down deadlines and, more importantly, STICK to them. Be consistent.
Getting an accountability partner. Thissort of happened on accident. A friend from high school reached out to me and said she’s in the midst of starting a business, too, and asked if I’d like to do weekly calls with her to brainstorm ideas, discuss goals, and keep each other accountable. This has turned into such a gift.
She follows up on certain tasks that I’ve thought about but perhaps placed on the back burner, and I’m forced to say, “Yeah, I didn’t prioritize that this week. I’ll let you know how I moved forward next week.” And we both provide new approaches to ideas or tasks that feel stuck. Even though I love my current job situation, there are still less enjoyable aspects that I put off, but having someone check in and get a pulse on where I’m at regularly has been transformational. Find someone in a similar season and see if they’d be open to weekly check-ins.
What are your favorite time management tricks? Leave them in the comments so we can all pick up new nuggets of knowledge!