Welcome back! Hopefully, you read the previous piece with the ‘Twenty Minute Time Blindness Test’ (LINK), tried the challenge, had some surprising results and were intrigued on how to build on that feeling! If so, let’s jump right into getting you on the road to better time management.

To recap the basics of the experiment: two ten minute blocks, one without your phone, one with, trying to see how you perceive time and work. If you’re reading this, you were likely amazed by how much you could get done in ten uninterrupted minutes, or how fast ten minutes of mindless thumbing went.

Well, now, we’re going to do a full day experiment! (Don’t worry, there’s time for Facebook and texting!

Step 1. Lists, and lists, and lists, and list

Strong time management begins with knowing what you have to do. What you’re going to do is as soon as you wake up is write a list of everything you need to do that day – both personal, as well as professional. Normally you’d do this the night beforehand for best benefit, but for this experiment, you’ll do it before you start your day.

Write them out on a piece of paper, then look at the tasks as 30-minute blocks of time. How many blocks of time will each task require? Even if it’s something you think you can do in 10 minutes, block off 30 (unless it’s a number of ‘two-minute tasks’, in which case group them together, so long as they all fit in one 30 minute block.

So, let’s say this is your list:

  • Client calls (2 hours)
  • Writing a newsletter/email blast (1 hour)
  • Grocery shopping (1.5 hours)
  • Various two-minute tasks (30 minutes)
  • Write a report (2 hours)
  • Work out/go to gym (1.5 hours)
  • Cook dinner (1 hour)

Total: 9.5 hours 

OMG! 9.5 hours?! ARRRGGHHH!!! I’m so busy!!! I’ve got no time for anything else after I do all of this! Just let me LIVE!!!!

Step 2: Divide and Conquer!

One thing is making your day look insurmountable: basic human psychology. As we learned in the previous experiment, your concept of time is culturally set to ‘hypertension time’. While the 10 minutes of time ‘rebirth’ you got after the ‘Twenty Minute Challenge’ was a nice change of pace, we both know you went right back to your compulsive phone checking within an hour of reading the article, thereby relapsing into hypertension time.

The problem with ‘hypertension time’ is that it causes many of us to over-estimate how long things actually take because we can’t adequately appraise time as it relates to the task. The problem with assuming everything is going to take longer than it actually takes is that it becomes easy to get discouraged by the monolithic presence that is ‘things I have to do’. You HAVE to break it up into logical groupings.

Let’s take a second look at this day, but with a slightly different lens: business and personal.

Business

  • Client calls (2 hours)
  • Writing a newsletter/email blast (1 hour)
  • Various two-minute tasks (30 minutes)
  • Write a report (2 hours)

Total: 5.5 hours

Personal

  • Grocery shopping (1.5 hours)
  • Work out/go to gym (1.5 hours)
  • Cook dinner (1 hour)

Total: 4 hours

Your personal stuff is the most time flexible, so you can shuffle it around as needed to accommodate your schedule. That leaves you with the chunk of your day that is occupied by the business. Look at that – only 5.5 hours of work blocked off to do what you need to do for the day, and there’s a secret: those tasks most likely aren’t going to take that long.

If your concept of time is way off – as you would have discovered doing the ‘Twenty Minute Time Blindness Challenge’ – your ability to estimate time is likely off as well. And – unless you’re really trying to impress people – you’re going to afford MORE time than you need to ensure that you can get it done. In this time management system, that actually works to your advantage!

Now comes the fun part!

What you’re going to do is schedule your morning and afternoon workload, dividing the tasks as evenly as possible so it looks like this:

Morning (8-12): Client calls, Writing email blast (3 hours)
Afternoon (1-5): Write a report, various two-minute tasks (2.5 hours)

Step 3: Pick Your Battles: Fight Small Fights First, Fight All Fights Blind

So, you decide to do the email blast first as it’s quicker. You don’t have to start until 9 am to ensure that you can give it the hour you’ve blocked off for it, but why not just get it out of the way first so you’re not calling people at 8 am? When you start the task, set a timer on your phone for the one hour you’ve blocked off, put your phone face down and get at it.

What’s most likely going to happen is you’ll finish within 20-30 minutes; when that happens, cross it off your list, and proceed to do whatever you want to do until that timer sounds. Remember, it’s time you’d already blocked off!

If you’re a keener and started right at 8 am, it’s now 8:30, and you can put off doing client calls until 10 am and still stay on schedule. There are 90 minutes of newly-found, guilt-free ‘you’ time in your morning, and that’s only after one task!

Step 4: Double Down or Stick Without Fear of Busting

View this as a game of time management blackjack. or poker. You know the cards in your hand, you know the cards on the table; now you have decisions to make – do you double down, or do you stick? You COULD take those 90 minutes right away and go do whatever you want; that’s called sticking. There’s nothing wrong with sticking at all, it’s playing it safe, and you can totally win by sticking.

But, let’s be real here: some of us are a little more daring and don’t mind risking to chase a deeper pot.

Now that you’ve got your first task of the day out of the way, why not keep the momentum going? If you want to double down, throw in the two-minute tasks you blocked off 30 minutes for in the afternoon to get them out of the way with your newfound spare time.

Just remember the golden rule of doubling down in time management: If you do, reset the timer for the amount of time you’ve allotted for the task you start next, put your phone face down, and get right back at it. Again, don’t look at the timer until you’re done.

Finished your two-minute tasks in 15 minutes? Spend the time before the buzzer flipping through social media or texting (you’ve earned it, no guilt needed!), OR you can double down again, and start doing your client calls at 9 instead of 10.

If you do that, set the timer for 2 hours, get your CRM open, and start making some calls.

Look at that; your call list for the day is 20 people, you’ve made 10 calls, talked to three of them, and the rest were voicemails and it feels like no time at all has passed. You finish off the list and realize you got it done in a little over an hour. It’s not even 10:30 and you’re done 75% of your tasks for the day! Not only that, you don’t have to start on that report until 3 pm to get it done in the time you set aside.

OR….(noticing the pattern yet?) you could just jump on that report with all of the momentum you’ve created with finishing 75% of your assigned tasks before lunch. If you do this, set the timer for the two hours allotted, put your phone face down, and get at it.

Now you’re finished, and I’ll bet the timer hasn’t sounded yet! You’re now done your day’s work, and it’s only lunchtime. You’d budgeted 5.5 hours for the day’s work, it took about 4, and now you’ve got the warmest hours of the day to go do what you want to do with the peace of mind you get from knowing that you’re on top of all of the things you need to do.

OR….(we know what’s coming, right?) you could get a jump on a few tasks for tomorrow or the next day.

Tying it All Together

Humans are creatures governed by inertia. Bodies at rest stay at rest. Bodies in motion stay in motion. The difficulty most people experience in time and task management is getting started; we have a culture-wide crisis of ‘paralysis by analysis’ where we’re so hyper-obsessed with time and efficiency, we shy away from simply taking action out of fear we might ‘waste time’. This is without realizing that sitting around for hours trying to figure out the best way to approach our work is THE BIGGEST waste of time of which most of us are guilty.

This is because multitasking is not a natural trait of the human brain, rather it is a behaviour learned despite the fact humans are intended to focus on only one task at a time. As a result, what many believe is ‘multi-tasking’ is often something completely different.

“Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and one of the world experts on divided attention, says that our brains are “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” So we’re not actually keeping a lot of balls in the air like an expert juggler; we’re more like a bad amateur plate spinner, frantically switching from one task to another, ignoring the one that is not right in front of us but worried it will come crashing down any minute. Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient.” – The Guardian, 28 January 2015

What this time management method does is forces you to take breaks from your phone, without ignoring it (you’re still running a business, after all). What you should be doing – unless you’re expecting an urgent call or email relevant to the task at hand – is keeping the ringer on silent while doing longer work tasks, and waiting until after it’s done to check voicemails and messages. This way, you prioritize business calls and messages and can use the unused time in the block to reply – thereby saving you a couple of future two-minute tasks.

Is this a hard-and-fast scientific method? No. This is taking components of a number of effective task and time management systems/philosophies and molding them into one intuitive and responsive system which you can adjust according to your needs and preferences.

Fundamentals To Remember For Better Time Management

  1. Make a list of the things you have to do for a day on the night before. DO THIS EVERY NIGHT
  2. When starting, don’t obsess over figuring out how long things take. Your first week is to get an idea of how you perceive tasks, and the time they require to complete. The longer you stay with it, the more accurate you’ll become, and the less time blind you’ll ultimately be!
  3. Give yourself a break – literally and figuratively! The point of this is to get better at something you’ve identified as a weakness – time management. Just like working out, you can’t get frustrated because you aren’t ripped after your first day, and you can’t get the best results without rest. This system is intended to help you get the most out of your day so that you can relax and not feel guilty about it!
  4. As you get better, don’t be afraid to start challenging yourself more. The point is to gain momentum based on tasks completed and goals achieved. As you saw in the examples, you can see benefits on your first day. If you choose to take that first afternoon off, do it – you earned it! Just remember, found free time can be used to work, as well as to play.
  5. Bank time in a savings account. As you scale your time management up and start getting to the point you can do two days (or more!) worth of tasks in one day, you can be strategic about it. Theoretically, you can get to a point where all of your work can be done in the first three days of the week – when there’s fewer distractions – so that your Thursday/Fridays are free for casual meetings and light tasks. It also helps keep your schedule free so that any surprise tasks that come along don’t ruin your whole week.

There you have it! A task and time management system for those of us who find our phones the biggest source of distraction through the course of a day. You get your work done, you’re not ignoring calls/emails, and you get to text and browse social media – AND you’ll start banking free time in ways you never thought possible!

We’d LOVE to hear how this system works out for you. Feel free to comment on this blog or on our social media channels, and share our stuff with anyone you think would benefit!

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