Adjusting Your Time Management For Change Part Two
In “Adjusting Your Time Management for Change – Part One,” I explained the concept of building a Master Schedule using time blocks by category. The premise was that you decide in advance how much time you’ll devote to each category per week and when that will happen. Then, you adjust the week’s schedule to reflect your master schedule by trading time slots, rather than just dropping things out.
So, where does your task management fit inside of this system? In order to look at that, we need to look more specifically at how best to handle, organize and think about your tasks and then fit them inside your calendar.
First, tasks are in essence, action steps. As such, every task should be associated with a goal or project – a specific, clearly defined outcome. This is your “why.” Even something as mundane as doing your laundry can be associated with a goal. For example the goal could be, “Fulfilling my role as a role model by projecting a professional image.” In order to do that, you need clean clothes, right?
The point is, you have to know why you are doing a particular task and ask yourself the question – what outcome does that task serve? If you do not know why you are doing something, you need to either find out why, decide why or stop doing it. I am not saying that every second of every day has to be work. Relaxation as an activity (whatever that looks like for you) can serve as a goal. For example, living a healthy, well-adjusted lifestyle.
It is important to be clear about why you are doing what you are doing (what goal, project or outcome is driving your choices) in order to take full responsibility and master your time. Plus, being really clear on this will make you much more effective in getting your tasks done. You will find it easier to take care of business when you know why you are doing it.
Calendar-Centric vs Task-Centric
Most people think of their day as a long list of tasks to do – sound familiar? Likely, you never get through that whole long list, right? Maybe you get a few items crossed off, but you end the day feeling like you didn’t get enough done and you will never get “caught up.”
What I recommend, instead, is you start with your schedule that is organized by categories. Let’s say today you have set aside two hours for self-care, one hour for marketing and one hour for finances. Well, when you are thinking about what you will get accomplished today in those four hours of availability, look at your task list for those three categories and pick only the items you believe you can accomplish within that time frame. That’s it. Nothing else gets on the list for today.
*Author’s Note: If you have tasks that will take more than an hour or two to accomplish, see if you can break them down further into smaller chunks. They may become projects themselves!
If you work this way, you will probably cross everything off your list 90 percent of the time. You will feel accomplished, relaxed and really good about yourself. In the task-centric method, you probably would have gotten the same amount of tasks done, but you would feel terrible about yourself.
This one tip can revolutionize your day!
Organizing Your Tasks by Category
This is a key step in the process.
When you are creating your task list (whether it is on paper, in an app or in an excel document) you need to separate your tasks by category. It is not enough to identify that this task is “self-care,” for example. You want to visually separate the tasks by category. For example, if you are working on paper, then use separate sheets for different categories. In Microsoft Excel, create a tab in your workbook for each category.
One of the underlying causes of being overwhelmed is looking at the whole list of tasks that you have to do, rather than simply looking at one category of tasks. If you have to go through three pages of tasks to get to the “Marketing” task for today, you probably will not get to it. First, you will have spent 15 minutes trying to find it. Second, you will probably start working on another task instead, because it leaps off the page and you feel like you have to do it right at this moment.
If you organize your tasks by category and you have decided that for the next two hours you are focusing on marketing, for example, you only want to look at your list of tasks for marketing. Everything else is a stress-inducing distraction.
*Pro Tip: You should set up your task management system to enable you to look only at one specific category of tasks at a time.
Two Kinds of Tasks
Tasks generally come in two flavors; One-Time Tasks and Recurring Tasks. Whether your task is connected to a larger goal or a limited, specific project, you will have some actions that are one-time and other actions that are recurring, perhaps ongoing for life.
You may also find you are more likely to focus on one flavor or the other.
Are you more likely to do the one-time tasks because then you get the satisfaction of crossing it off your list? Are the recurring tasks mundane, boring and endless because they never go away? Or are you more likely to do the recurring tasks because you are familiar and comfortable with how to do those tasks? On the other side, one-time tasks seem harder, so you procrastinate on those.
People tend to be one or the other. It is helpful to know yourself and what your habits are so you can set up solutions to those tasks that trip you up when attempting to cross items off your list.
When setting up your task management system (whether you are a pen and paper person or you prefer an app on your phone), identifying which flavor an individual task is will help you set it up effectively. For example, most apps allow you to create a recurring task which either resets when you complete it or recurs at a set interval (or both). If you are using paper or excel, separate out the recurring and one-time with a few blank lines. You do not want to cross out the recurring ones by accident!
**Author’s Note: I recommend you start your task list without attaching due dates, you will do that later (see Implementation).
Here is a list of action steps you can take immediately to implement these concepts into your time management:
- Identify your master time categories and set up a master weekly schedule by category (we discussed this in the first article in this series).
- Practice applying your master schedule and adjusting it to work for this particular week.
- Create a master list of tasks and projects (broken into tasks) and identify what goals those tasks and projects serve.
- Organize that list into separate lists by category with some prioritization attached (stay tuned for more on this is the third part of this series on the VIKTRE Career Network).
- Set up time each day to choose which tasks you will focus on for the day (either first thing in the morning or last thing at night for the next day). Limit yourself to tasks from within the categories and use a realistic estimate of time available by category for that day.
- Practice, practice, experiment and practice some more!
I want you to notice that there is nothing in this article about how to adjust for change. The adjustment is built into the system, because you will have adjusted your schedule, and your schedule determines what categories and how much time you have for each category. So choose your tasks appropriately!
Use this method for a while and see how it changes your perception of yourself, your productivity and your outlook for success. You just may have found the answer to all of your time management struggles by reading one article.