An endless to-do list and only 24 hours in the day. That doesn’t seem fair. But what if you prioritise your tasks, so you can gradually complete all of them and have more time for yourself? Try organising your day in these seven steps and see if you can tick everything off your list.
For those of us struggling with completing one task and gaining two more, there is one thing you always need to remember: PRIORITISE! What this means is to group your tasks and organise them accordingly to your preference and productivity levels. Only then will these chunks become manageable and you will finally have the time to complete what you’ve been postponing for months. Try applying these seven steps to your regular workday and see how the perception of your responsibilities starts shifting.
Before you start the day, turn off all notifications and set yourself a mission to stop multitasking.
You will have slots dedicated purely to communication, so don’t worry. If you notice your mind is drifting off, gently bring your attention back to your work.
Identify the most daunting task and make it your number one priority.
If it takes longer to complete, break it down into 2h slots and distribute them evenly across the next few days (preferably mornings). Remember to take a break in the middle of each slot.*
*Research shows that taking a 15-minute break every (approximately) 60 minutes helps you remain focused. However, everybody’s attention span varies, so try different time slots and identify your own focus cycle. Never, however, work for more than 1.5 hours straight - after that, your productivity drops massively and the work you do becomes vain.
Choose 3-5 tasks that take 10-15 minutes to complete each.
Arrange them in order of your personal preference and after completing them, take a break. Have a drink, walk outside, daydream,… Do anything that prevents you from focusing on your work.
Now is time dedicated to communication channels**.
Have a 1h-long gap for emails, Slack or other internal means of communication. You can also review messages on LinkedIn but do not get overwhelmed. The rule of thumb is that if something takes less than five minutes to complete, do it immediately (e.g. a daily newsletter, RSVP or a funny video). But if it requires more time, write it down and incorporate it into your planning agenda for tomorrow or in the near future.
**Our minds are most focused and creative in the morning, so don’t waste this productive time with emails and instant messaging. Instead, schedule it just before or after lunch.
Take a long (and well-deserved) break to grab a bite and to recharge.
Having worked intensely throughout the morning, you now deserve some time to relax. It is up to you how and where you choose to spend it, but be cautious of endless scrolling on social media. If it is the one thing that relaxes you, set a timer for when you should stop. A great way to unwind is to chat with a colleague or to listen to a podcast.
How you spend your afternoon depends on your personality type.
Do you work better surrounded by others, left in silence or perhaps listening to music? Find what allows you to move swiftly through the afternoon and maybe alternate it from time to time. The choice is yours whether to continue with another daunting task or tackle a variety of short ones instead. Try out different methods and pick the one that suits you most.
After another round of tasks, it’s time to call it a day.
Make sure that you spend the last 10-30 minutes drafting an agenda for tomorrow, so when you leave the office (or switch off your laptop in case of freelancers), you can leave the work behind and enjoy some downtime. Maybe you take a class at the gym, grab a drink with friends or read a great book in the comfort of your own home. The possibilities are endless.
Maybe you will notice that your productive time is in the evening instead of the morning, then move everything around, if your job allows. Maybe have a coffee with a friend or a workout session in the afternoon and come back to your work later. Just don’t take your laptop to bed with you, this space is dedicated to a whole other range of activities.
Having a routine might help your day have a concrete structure and allows your mind to relax instead of panicking over the high volume of obligations and things to get done. This plan is a starting point to give you some inspiration as to how you can improve your efficiency and not yield to the constant pressure of having ‘things’ to do.
If you decide to go ahead with this seven-step plan, set a reminder in your calendar after two weeks to see how well you are doing. You might want to ask yourself these three questions to see if this new schedule has helped you manage your workload better.
- Have I become more effective?
- Are my days well-structured?
- Do I stress less about work?
It is not an error-free guide to dealing with every single challenge you will ever face from now on, but it is a possible way of managing your responsibilities in a calm and organised manner. Give it a go for a few weeks, see what does and does not work for you and then re-structure it yourself, nothing is set in stone here.
The seven steps are your starting point but not your end-goal. It gives you a possible way of planning your workday in order to get more done, but it also gives you the flexibility to adjust it to your personal needs and preferences. Maybe a different method will work better for you, which is great, maybe you go back to the countless to-do lists, which is not so great, but either way, try as much as you can and stick to whatever works for you.
Whichever way you choose to organise your day in, remember that there is only a finite number of hours in the day, some of which deserve to be dedicated to other things than work. Maybe you have the resolution to spend more time with friends, get more fit, start a new business. So try to make time in your agenda also to focus on these things that are not work-related. Because only when there is a balance, your mind can work its magic.
Maybe organising your day will take the burden off your back and give you the strength to start every day with a can-do attitude. Maybe you will need someone else to provide the extra push and offer a helping hand, then consider getting a mentor who will help you stay on the right track.
And remember you are not alone, we are all trying to do our best struggling and only by practicing, we get a little better every day. Now it is the right time to give planning a go and finally master the art of prioritising!