I’m all about getting the most out of my day so being productive with my time is very important to me having a balanced life. I follow various productivity blogs and sites because I’m not above a good idea or advice. I’m always learning and on the lookout for functional and effective processes. But just because an expert touts a method to manage your day/tasks/calendar doesn’t mean that it’s right for everyone. We all have different lives, different means and different schedules. What may work for a stay-at-home mom may not work for a single working woman. And when we’re looking for the next best way to manage our time and get more done, we sometimes can get bogged down downloading and testing out a myriad of apps or systems that are not right for our lifestyle, only to have them end up being abandoned.
Until the next new thing comes along.
Before succumbing to the latest cutting edge app or method to help you be more productive, first take an accounting of what you current needs are. That’ll help you narrow down your choice of system, thus alleviating a lot of wasted time on the wrong one. Since I do not know what everyone’s individual daily needs are, let me walk you through what expert advice I’ve come across along the way that works for me. And what does not.
Here’s what works for me:
- Paper Planner. I’m more comfortable with a paper than digital . My planner is either on my desk at the office, in my handbag or on my bureau at home so it’s always open and ready to receive. It’s easier to grab a pen and write it down than to locate my cell (which goes into ‘downtime’ mode between 4-8pm), swipe it open, punch in my security code, open the app, wait for it to fire up and slowly tap in text that’s usually subject to auto correct. Again, we’re talking about me here. If your cell is an extension of your hand and you can’t be parted from it for one moment, then a digital productivity method is most likely a better choice.
- Writing Everything Down – Immediately. Because my planner is always with me I can put something in it as soon as it comes to mind. However, if you’re unable to do that or are more of a ‘I’ll just try to remember it later and write it in then‘ person, then perhaps keep a set of sticky notes and a pen on your desk, in your purse, on your coffee table or in the console of your car to jot it down before transferring it to it’s permanent home – whether digital or paper – later.
- Viewing Your Data. I need a month-on-2-pages in order to have a ‘big picture’ view. I also need to see a weekly spread where my tasks, appointments, etc. for the week are plugged in and spread out. A system that only shows your schedule in a month grid to where you have to click open a condensed version of whatever is listed in there may not be beneficial to someone who needs to see everything spelled out for them on a daily layout. Decide what and how you need to view your data in order to narrow down systems and apps that apply
- Backup Reminder. Although I use a paper planner, there are times I need an audio reminder as a backup, especially if something is time sensitive like needing to leave early for lunch in order to go to a doctor’s appt. or to put something in the oven by a certain time. I plop these into my Outlook Calendar so that the reminder either pops up on my screen if I’m working at the computer or sounds an alarm on my cell. This is the only instance where I mix paper planning with digital. Likewise, if you’re partial to digital, perhaps transferring your daily schedule to a small, pocket notebook for quick reference throughout the day might be a good backup plan.
- Scheduling Down Time: We schedule what we’ve got to do, so why not slot in a time for when we don’t want to do anything? I had never thought of this until one productivity expert blogged about it. I had always ate my lunch at my desk while working through it unless I had errands to run. Now, regardless, I schedule my full ‘work free’ hour for lunch and have my Outlook alarm at work set to go off ten minutes before I want to take it. On weekends, especially when I have client work, I make sure I schedule to stop around 2 or 3pm for an hour to spend as I choose – whether folding clothes, getting ingredients out for dinner or watching a tv show.
And now, what didn’t fare well:
- Time Tracking. I had tried methods such as the Chronodex to record how my time was spent. But the majority of my day is spent at the office so from 8-4 so it’s pretty much all work. I had tried breaking it up by what work my time was spent on (bookkeeping vs. emails, admin, transition work, etc ) as in the photo above, but it wasn’t something that was productive or helpful to me. Plus, stopping to open my planner and color in the blocks of time was just something else I had to remember and, if I forgot, trying to wrack my brain trying to remember if I was doing client bookkeeping between 1-2 or if I had stopped to retrieve and go through the mail was nuts. However, if you are baffled as to how your time is spent and have the time (and memory!) to dedicate to a system like this, then perhaps incorporating a time tracking method may help you
- Stop/Start Methods: For example purposes, I’ll use the Pomodoro Technique where you start a task, work on it for 25 minutes, stop it, take a break then resume. A method such as this may be beneficial for someone who may need to break up what they’re doing (like a time-consuming project) into sections to make it feel more manageable. Me, on the other hand, I tend to thrive in a stressful situation (sometimes!) and lose momentum when my forward progress is disrupted. Having to stop just when I’ve hit my groove would knock the wind out of my sails, not to mention it would only extend the amount of time needed to complete it due to all the breaks. If I need to break to stretch my legs, refill my water cup or grab a snack, it needs to be when I’m ready to do so.
- Checking Emails Only 2-3 Times A Day. I’ve seen so many productivity experts recommend this to combat distraction and increase efficiency. You don’t need to be checking your emails every 15 minutes, right? Well, that depends. When you run your own business and call your own shots then you can do whatever you want whenever you want to. But when you work for someone else, it may not be an option and, prior to the change in structure at my office, it was absolutely unacceptable. If I didn’t answer an email within 20-30 minutes, I’d most likely have an APB put out on me. It was required of us to have our Outlook email opened on our second monitor so we can screen each one that came in to determine if it warranted an immediate response or not.
- Time Blocking. Again, when you’re the boss, you can dictate how your day goes. When I’m working on client bookkeeping for my business, I can do just that. But at work, unexpected things come up (such as a boss who needs me to set aside what I’m doing when something more pressing arises). Time blocking, in this case, would not work.
- Holding Calls. At the risk of repeating myself, just see my explanation of #3. It’s suffice to say that a lot of productivity tips and advice seem to be geared towards the self employed/sole business owner rather than an employee who may not have the flexibility to manage their day and time.
That’s just a few that I have come across over the past several months that I’ve considered, tried, discarded or clung to. It’s good to see what’s new and improved out there because you’ll never know when something comes along that may work even better than your current system. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting the latest and greatest until the screens of our smartphones are filled with dozens of unused apps. Avoiding the hype and urge to test out every new productivity and time management app under the sun by first figuring out what you need first – then take it from there!