Last week we talked about the best way to narrow down your to-do list by eliminating, automating, and delegating tasks that you don't absolutely need to do. This week, we're going to focus on maximizing your time with the tasks that are left on your list. I have implemented all of the tools listed below into my life, and I can't tell you how much smoother my life operates now.
1.Start your day off right.
I have heard this tip many times over the years, and I can't believe what a difference this has made in my life. Over the last several months, I have committed to dedicating the first hour of my day to myself. I chose a morning routine that lasts less than an hour, and contains all of these activities:
• Meditation (15-20 minutes)
• Journaling (10 minutes)
• Reading some personal development (10 minutes)
• Reviewing and updating my daily to-do list (10 minutes)
I have a separate blog post coming up that goes into more detail about the benefits of a morning routine and the variables you can include to make the most of your time. In the meantime, here are two resources you can read to get you started on creating your own morning routine:
The Miracle Morning, by Hal Elrod
The Five Minute Journal, by UJ Ramdas and Alex Ikonn
Take control of the tone of your day before you get sucked into everyone else's agenda.
2. Schedule everything important.
One of the best ways to make sure you don't get overbooked (and overwhelmed) is to take control of your schedule. Sit down at the beginning of the week to schedule everything that is important to you. Make sure your priorities have designated time on your calendar. Fit your life around your priorities, not the other way around.
3. Create a Routine.
Many people think having a routine is boring, but the truth is that having a routine removes something called “decision fatigue“. Studies show that we have a certain number of decisions we can make within a day before our brains become depleted and we stop making good decisions. As noted in the article linked above:
“[Decision fatigue] is different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing.”
A routine will allow you to eliminate the need to make minor decisions throughout your day, which will give you more energy for the important decisions in your life. You'll experience more focus, more productivity, and more impact in your life by systematizing as much as possible.
4. Use the SCRUM Method to Prioritize Tasks.
The SCRUM method is a specific way of taking everything on your to-do list, and organizing it to maximize efficiency. Here are the steps:
Identify Your “Backlog.” Do a brain dump of everything you have on your list of things to do each day. Include absolutely everything – both personal and professional.
Prioritize. Isolate the MOST important item to do first. Evaluate which item would knock a few other things off your list or the one that is the most urgent. Leave everything else on your Backlog, and move the task you are currently working on into your “Current” list.
Keep Moving. Once you've finished the first task, move it into the “Completed” list, and repeat Step 2. Keep working your way through your backlog as you complete each task. You'll probably find that some items will fall off your list as you move through it. You can also shorten your backlog using the strategies in this post to eliminate, automate, or delegate tasks. Keep revising your backlog as needed. The key is to keep moving through your Backlog one task at a time. And here's why….
5. FOCUS Your Attention.
Studies show that while we all think we're proficient at multi-tasking, our brains are actually incapable of concentrating on more than one mental task at a time. While you think you're multi-tasking, your brain actually just switches back and forth between all of the different activities you're trying to juggle at once. This “back-and-forth” approach depletes brain energy and causes something called “switching fatigue.” In the end, it takes longer to accomplish a task when you multi-task, it often leads to poorer results, and you tend to feel more exhausted. Lose-lose!
There is one loophole here though: you can multi-task physical or routine activities with passive mental activities (i.e., exercise and listen to music, clean and listen to a podcast or audio-book, etc.). As long as you aren't trying to focus your cognitive attention on more than one thing, you can kill two birds with one stone.
6. Batch Activities.
Another strategy for maximizing efficiency is to “batch” activities. Batching refers to completing the same type of task all at once to avoid switching fatigue altogether. Dedicate a certain period of time for a specific activity (i.e., checking emails, responding to voicemails, writing reports, etc.). Block distractions during this time. Put a “Do Not Disturb” setting on your phone to remove text message, voicemail, and social media notifications.
Bonus: Create “Themes” in your week by only doing certain activities on certain days (if possible). For example, reserve Mondays for goal-setting and responding to emails from the weekend. Tuesdays are for meetings. Wednesday is for writing or producing (or whatever activity is part of your job). You may or may not have the flexibility to create themes in your week, especially if you work with others on a team. But the more you can batch activities and create themes in your week, the more productive you'll be.
The last tip I have for you today is to SIMPLIFY your life. We often don't consider the opportunity cost of taking on new activities. Once you add something new to your schedule, you're removing any other options for that time (i.e., spending quality time with your family or having time to exercise or relax on the weekends). Protect your time as much as humanly possible. Let go of FOMO (the “Fear Of Missing Out'). Decide which activities are the MOST important to you, and let go of adding anything new to your life (for now). Try to keep your schedule as simple as possible. While at first you may feel like you're passing up wonderful opportunities or disappointing people who depend on you, you'll find that you'll be able to dedicate more attention to your true priorities, and those who “depend” on you will get resourceful and find a way to accomplish what they need without you.
These are my top tips for becoming as efficient as possible in your life. You don't have to implement all of these tips all at once. Instead, choose ONE to begin to try in your life and see how it goes. Once you've mastered one of these strategies, then try to implement a new one. Don't overwhelm yourself with an entirely new way to operating your life. Take baby steps, and progress only as you feel comfortable with each new step.
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