WELLNESS

6 Tips for Productive Time Management

There never seems to be enough time. Here are six tips for making the most of what little you have.
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Once again Spring came around and messed with my time clock.  Even though I know I still have the same number of hours in the day, I can't help but feel that Daylight Savings Time has stolen an hour from me. My body clock still thinks it's 7 a.m. when I wake up, and yet here it is 8 a.m. Sure, I have more daylight, but for the most part, the only light I need for my productivity is the glow of my computer.

Every year, I want to find a way to gain back that hour. I figure somehow maybe I can cheat the system and get back that 60 minutes to write, read, or just relax with my wife and dog. So I put thought into my current processes and how to manage them more efficiently.

It's no fool's errand. In the worst case, I'm stuck with the same patterns but can at least recognize where I'm slow and inefficient. In the best case, I get super-efficient and rack up more time to kayak over the summer. Then, I feel rich in time when the clock changes back in the fall.

Here are the six time-management tips I'm using this year. Who knows, maybe you'll gain an extra hour now as well.

1. Keep a time log. Intention is the key to being more productive. I have to focus my time on the highest manner of productivity. That means not leaving things to chance. In order to remove inefficiencies, I first have to know where they are. I'm keeping a log of time spent on my calendar in order to identify inefficient tasks I can delegate or improve. This past year, I logged my writing time with my column and improved my writing efficiency from 3.5 hours per column to less than 2 hours.

2. Add music to solo tasks. One of the ways I reduced my column-writing time was with a specific music playlist. I grouped songs into 30-minute increments. Now when I write, I set my pace to that specific play list.

The music acts as a metronome keeping me in a rhythm. It also lets me know by which song is playing how far ahead or behind I am on the pace without having to clock watch. Lastly, the earphones keep me tethered to the computer, so I'm less inclined to get up for distractions. I'm now adding this to other reading, writing, and thinking tasks.

3. Schedule related tasks together. Lately, I have been in a high volume work mode. Between producing a weekly live radio show, writing three columns a week, and managing a large marketing project, I'm moving fast and furiously to make sure everything and everybody gets deserved attention.

Instead of moving back and forth between different projects in small increments, I'm setting large blocks of time or even a full day for related tasks. This reduces physical and mental prep time, as well as the effort and distraction of having to remind myself of all the detail surrounding the projects.

4. Add pre and post times to meetings. So often I stack several meetings on the phone or in person.  Then, later, I have to go back and decipher my notes to set everything in motion. My new approach is to schedule two minutes before each meeting to prep an action list. I modify the list during the meeting and then I take three minutes afterward to put those items into action. When possible, I apply the recent tip from my Inc. colleague Dave Kerpen of setting those action steps in motion during the meeting itself.

5. Improve punctuality. I used to pride myself on being a very punctual person. I hate being late for anything and am annoyed at others who keep me waiting. So I was shocked when recently a good friend and client told me that she always assumes I will be 15 to 30 minutes late, due to my past behavior.

I thought about how much time is lost in being late, from rushing, rescheduling, apologies, etc. Upon reflection, I identified the culprit. I constantly try to squeeze in one more task, call, or email before I leave for a meeting. No more. I'm now scheduling a set time to leave, with a five-minute buffer to each meeting.  I can always add in a simple task while waiting if I'm early.

6. Add a planned work break. Flipping back and forth from project to project can create distraction and tire my brain. So I have added a 15-minute head-clearing exercise in the middle of the day. Then I do a quick two-minute download of my thoughts so I can assess the remaining day. This combined activity sort of defrags my brain, allowing me to operate at peak efficiency.

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Last updated: Mar 10, 2014

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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