10 Tips To Take Control of Your Time – How To Avoid Burn Out
June 21st marked this year’s summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s an event celebrated by people throughout the ages, from the creation of Stonehenge to the construction of the Sphinx and pyramids over 5,000 years ago.
With the prospect of 12 hours of glorious daylight, we have a deep-rooted instinct to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of those early dawns, long days, late sunsets and short nights. For farmers and others who work with nature, their job demands it. But for many of us in today’s modern workforce, it simply isn’t sustainable to work that way.
I am a morning person and I love the lighter summer months. Yesterday was a day like any other. I jumped out of bed at the first tweet (of the old-school bird kind), eager to crack on and ‘get stuff done’. I walked into my home office with a clear sense of what I wanted to accomplish. I sat down, turned on my laptop, and checked my email…
Three hours later, after fighting several fires, I could hardly remember what I had set out to achieve. I’d let myself get ambushed. I was not taking control of my time. And I should know better.
It’s easy to work more hours, whilst not being as productive as we should be. Ever heard of the term ‘busy fool’? Working longer and harder is not the answer if you want to keep your sanity. It’s time to focus on the right priorities.
If you’re like me and the idea of 12 hours of daylight makes you cram your diary full to breaking point, stop and think. Will you realistically get it all done? Is it sustainable in the long-term? Acknowledging this can be tremendously empowering. Once we admit that we aren’t going to get it all done, we’re in a much better position to make choices about what we are going to do. Instead of letting things fall through the cracks, we can intentionally push the unimportant things aside and focus our energy on the things that matter most.
Here are 10 tips to take control of your time that really work:
Recognise that everything that happens to you is your responsibility. The buck stops with you! Set aside time to plan and really think about where you are spending your time. Are you focused on the right things?
Watch this great video (Based on a Stephen Covey video)
Say goodbye to the “To-Do List.”
Whether you use Outlook, a dedicated task manager, or scrap paper, the idea is the same: you list in priority order the items you want to get done. Simple. Until you have more items that you can physically get done… Enter the “Not-To-Do List.” The idea is to list all the activities you are intentionally going to stop doing for the sake of greater productivity.Remember that it’s impossible to get everything done. Also remember that odds are good that 20% of your thoughts, conversations and activities produce 80% of your results.
Focus on what you can influence,
stuff that is in your control. Stephen Covey’s ‘Circle of Influence’ is a powerful and simple tool to help you think about where you spend your energy. Focusing on the things in our circle of concern (the things we worry about), is not the way to go!
Do it, delegate it or dump it. Be decisive. Don’t sit there wondering where to start. Get started. Don’t just do what you find easy and in your comfort zone. Do what’s effective. Do what’s needed. Complete most important tasks first. This is the golden rule. Each day identify the two or three tasks that are the most crucial to complete and do those first. Check out David McRaney’s great video on why we procrastinate.
Book in breathing space
Make sure that you factor in time to deal with interruptions. The phone will ring, unexpected emails will arrive. If you try to book in appointment after appointment, with no breathing space, you will always fall behind.Decide on the importance of the interruption and be prepared to tell the intruder to come back at a better time – or go to them! On a daily basis, evaluate the importance of every urgent interruption. Only change your plan if the urgent activity is also more important.
This one was tough for me, but it has made a big difference. Learn to say NO – not ‘I’ll consider it’ or ‘Come back to me, next week’. Be prepared to say ‘no’ to things that impinge on your time and are not important.
Plan and execute
“Plans are nothing, planning is everything,” Eisenhower said. It is the act of thinking and planning which is more important than the actual plan. Build time into your diary every week to spend at least a couple of hours to think and plan. Making plans is relatively easy: the hard part is the execution of the plan.
Break your habits
We have 60,000 thoughts a day, 90% are the same as yesterday. It easy to fall into habit and sleepwalk through the day. Small changes can make a big difference. Just because meetings normally start at 10 am and last for 60 minutes in the conference room it doesn’t mean that’s the right formula. Try different durations, locations and times depending on the urgency and desired outcome.
Be ruthless with meetings.
Always set an agenda and a finishing time. Don’t let them drag on or allow participants to go off on tangents. The average office worker spends around 16 hours in meetings each week, but a 1/4 of this time is usually wasted. Use a meeting structure, such as PPCR. See my blog which explains PPCR in greater detail: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-run-great-meeting-sean-spurgin
Leave buffer time in-between.
Don’t pack everything close together and schedule in tea-breaks if you need to. Great ideas can come from having a cup of tea!Have a 5-10-minute buffer time in between each task. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one.
So, like our ancestors before us, be sure to celebrate those magical longer hours of the summer solstice. But don’t cram the longest day with more work – you’ll just burn yourself out.