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Your most important time management tool.

In my last blog article I suggested that the Pareto Principle applied to time management seminars, books and training programs as well. And that 20% of the suggestions actually provide 80% of the value. In this article I will venture to provide one of those high-value suggestions – planning and scheduling.

Scheduling is the part of planning that actually initiates the action, which in turn produces the results. “To do” lists are simply reminders of what you think should be done. Scheduling involves actually blocking off the time to do the high priority items from your “to do” list.

A planning calendar, whether it is paper or electronic, is not simply a tool for scheduling appointments with others. It is also for scheduling appointments with yourself to get those important, goal–related tasks accomplished. It is also for scheduling your personal and family activities as well. What gets into your planner usually gets done. What stays on a “to do” list is usually abandoned.

The “secret” of a successful, happy and productive life is to transform your personal and business goals into accomplishments. You will never write a book by simply putting it on a “to do” list. And you will never spend enough time with your family or take that cruise by doing likewise.

Scheduling is the launching pad for action. “To do” lists are intentions; activities scheduled in your planner are commitments.

Why do most of the priority tasks on a “to do” list remain undone? Because, when given a choice, people have natural tendencies such as those listed below.

  • They tend to do what’s easy before they do what’s difficult.
  • They tend to do what they like to do before they do what is even moderately unpleasant.
  • They tend to work on other people’s priorities before they work on their own priorities.
  • They tend to work on those things that offer an immediate reward rather than those with a more significant but later reward.

When you schedule something in your planner, you have already made your choice. And hopefully you have chosen to do those things that will have the greatest impact on your life.

Fancy electronic gadgets and Smart phones may help keep you busy; but it’s unlikely they will make you effective.

When choosing a planner, select one that is broken into at least half hour segments so you can physically block off time to work on those priority tasks, projects and activities. Preferably it will extend into the evenings and weekends as well so those personal commitments to attend a son or daughter’s sports event or an evening outing with your spouse or best friend do not get overlooked. I prefer a week at a glance planner so you can see how your week is shaping up.

Plan at least a week ahead. It’s much easier to say no to others if you already have a commitment scheduled at that time. Resist the urge to change anything unless the request is even more important or a real crisis.

Schedule blocks of time for any major projects such as writing a book. Overwhelming tasks are no longer overwhelming when you work on them for an hour or so at a time.

And remember that “to do” lists display your intentions while planners display your commitments.

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Conserve your energy by chunking and batching.

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Our brain prefers to work on brief projects as opposed to longer ones; battles are invigorating; but wars are exhausting. Chunking and batching make longer tasks more doable. David J Levitin, author of The organized mind, says that “working in chunks gives a neurochemical satisfaction at the completion of each stage.” This means we get more frequent rewards, which lead to sustained motivation to keep working towards our goal, whether it is to write a book or renovate a home.

I suppose that’s why I find it so much easier to write books by first writing brief articles that link together to form chapters. And it is one of the reasons I like to work in 90-minute chunks of time throughout the days and weeks. It has also been found that our energy rises and falls in approximately 90-minute cycles throughout the day.

All conscious mental activities consume energy, and it stands to reason that the longer the work session, the greater the drain on your resources. Shorter sessions, followed by a break or change of pace will reduce this energy drain.

Batching, like chunking described above, conserves energy; but it goes further by batching together those smaller tasks that are similar in nature and require similar resources. For example, I might have a 90-minute block of time scheduled for writing articles for my newsletter and blog, material for my newsletters, courses or website – all requiring writing, voice activated software, reference books, notes from my journal, and so on. A batching session could also involve communicating with various people by phone, text or email, both business, at a particular time in the day.

Other examples of the types of tasks that lend themselves to batching are back-to-back meetings, interviews and errands – where you visit the places farthest from your home or office first and work your way back. It can also involve reading magazines, blogs, websites, books and other resources in search of information on a specific topic, posting and reviewing material on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter or organizing a specific area of your home or office.

Batching consumes less energy and causes less mental fatigue since you are using the same areas of the brain and not switching back and forth from one task to another or putting demands on your energy supply by having to make frequent and unrelated decisions. It also increases productivity since you are wasting less time locating materials, interrupting yourself or deciding what to do next.

Forming the habit of batching reduces the practice of multitasking, and eliminates time wasted and things overlooked that occur when you constantly transition between tasks throughout the day.

The practice of batching can be further enhanced by alternating your chunks or work sessions with high-energy brain work such as problem-solving and decision-making with low-energy work such as organizing files or physical activity. David Rock, in his book, Your brain at work, claims that one big advantage of this strategy is that it gives the brain a chance to recover.

Whether high-energy or low energy, the important thing is to maintain variety throughout the day, and avoid scheduling the same type of work in two consecutive modules.

For further reading on energy management, including ways of both sourcing and conserving personal energy, you might refer to my e-book, Managing your personal energy, published by Bookboon.com.

 

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Batching as a time management strategy.

batching-time-management-strategy

batching-time-management-strategy

Grouping similar tasks together increases efficiency

Batching refers to scheduling blocks of time in your planner for tasks that are similar in nature and require similar resources.

The length of time could vary, but I frequently tie it in with my practice of scheduling 90-minute chunks of time to work on projects in a relatively interruption-free environment. For instance, after a half hour or more of early morning start of time, where I get rid of minor but essential tasks such as checking email, voicemail, requests for information etc., I might have a 90 minute block of time scheduled for writing articles for my newsletter and blog, material for my teleseminars, courses or website – all requiring writing, creativity, voice activated software, reference books, notes my journal and so on.

A batching session could involve contacting various people by phone, text or email, whether that be business or personal related, at a particular time in the day.

Batching consumes less energy and causes less mental fatigue since you are using the same areas of the brain and not switching back and forth from one task to another or putting demands on your energy supply by having to make frequent and unrelated decisions. It also increases productivity since you are wasting less time locating materials, interrupting yourself or deciding what to do next.

I prefer 90 minute blocks of time, which are reasonable lengths of time to be unavailable to others, and seem to follow the waves of high energy throughout the day. But smaller tasks require less time, and anything down to a half hour would be feasible. Anything less than that defeats the purpose of batching, and the benefits are few.

Other examples of the types of tasks that lend themselves to batching are back to back meetings or interviews; errands, where you visit the places farthest from your home base first and work your way back; reading magazines, blogs, websites, books and other resources in search of information on a specific topic; posting and reviewing material on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter; organizing a specific area of your home or office.

Forming the habit of batching reduces the practice of multitasking, and eliminates time wasted and things overlooked that occur when you constantly transition between tasks throughout the day.