Master Your Day in Just 10 Minutes – Part 1

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on October 20, 2010 in: Freelancing, Time Management Strategies, Tips in 10

In previous Tips In Ten articles, I’ve shown you how to set up a calendar and how to manage your projects. In this article, and in the next one, I want to show you how to really master your day and get the most out of your day that you possibly can. There are some calendar-related and schedule-related tips in this issue, and in the next issue I’m going to talk about some psychological and physical tips that can help you, too. You might say that this issue is about planning your scheduling and the next issue is about implementing it.

The first piece of advice I’d give is this: Take ten minutes a day to prepare your schedule, but don’t do it first thing in the morning. Instead, prepare your schedule for the next day as the last thing you do before sign off the day before. I’ve found that small change to be one of the best ways to get stuff off of my mind so that when I’m with my family or watching TV or sitting down for supper, I’m not thinking about work. It’s kind of like putting all of your work-related cares and stresses into a big pile at the end of the day where you can pick them up again when you show up the next day.

Creating a schedule will be different for each person but I’ll tell you what works in my situation and you can augment it for your situation. Like most scheduling systems, I’ve got my list of time-specific tasks (i.e. a phone call at 2pm or a meeting at 3:30pm) and I’ve got my list of non-time-specific tasks (i.e. things that need to be done today but don’t necessarily need to be done at a certain time).
The time-specific tasks are easy enough to slot in wherever they are supposed to go but in my own life and in the coaching I do, the bigger challenge seems to usually be:

  • What should I list in my “non-time-specific” tasks?
  • How should I prioritize them?

What tasks to list

For listing those tasks, I like to make sure that every task has the following characteristics:

  • The task needs to start with a specific verb (“write”, “call”, “review”, “clean” are good examples. Watch yourself to make sure that you’re not writing too generic verbs like “do” or “work on”).
  • The task needs to be something you can do that day. David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” system is a useful inspiration here: He recommends a big project list (which is a list of things you want to do that require more than one action) and he recommends a “next action” list. Well, these tasks I’m talking about in your non-time-specific daily schedule should be this list of next actions. Maybe you use a system that automatically sorts them, or maybe you just like to print off your daily list with only those actions. Whatever.
  • I’ve also found some success in adding an estimated duration in the list. This helps me to stay realistic. If I list all my tasks for the day and it adds up to more time than I’m willing to work in that day, I know I need to make some adjustments.

I’ve found this to be sufficient for my situation but a freelancer friend of mine also adds in how much revenue he expects to generate from each project and he says that helps to keep him on track when he feels like slacking a little. He says it also helps him to keep track of his daily income goals.

Prioritizing your tasks

Now that you have your task list for the day, the next thing you need to do is prioritize it. Lots of coaching clients ask, “Isn’t just having a list of tasks enough?” but I say it isn’t. I think people are more successful when they have more structure in their schedules.

In terms of prioritizing, there are a few schools of thought. I think there are merits to each one but I do have a preference.

Prioritizing option 1: Start with the hardest work first. The theory here is that if you get the hard work out of the way first, the easy stuff will seem even easier, almost as if it’s a reward.

Prioritizing option 2: Start with the easiest work first. The theory here is that if you have a hard time starting things, the easy stuff will give you some quick wins and help you to build some momentum to get to the harder stuff.

Prioritizing option 3: (My preference) Address the tyranny of the urgent. If you’ve never read “Tyranny of the Urgent”, you should. It works like this: The work we do is either important or not important, and the work we do is either urgent or not urgent. This can be plotted on the following chart:

Ultimately, work that is urgent tends to take us off track. We need try and do work that is only ever in the “B” quadrant – important but not urgent. Even though urgent work will always be there, and we need to deal with the important/urgent work, we should ultimately strive to create a working environment where all of our tasks are important/not-urgent. So my preferred method of prioritizing work is to do the urgent and important stuff as quickly as possible in the day and get it out of the way. Those are usually emergencies and the fewer of those that I have, the better! And then, I want to do the work that is important but not urgent and pour my energies into those tasks. If I had my way, I’d spend the entire workday on those activities. In general, the non-important/urgent “C” quadrant activities are things I try to delegate to someone else and the not-important/not-urgent “D” tasks should never ever appear on my schedule.

I like this type of prioritizing because it addresses the problem of identifying which tasks need to be done first. I simply list my next day’s non-time-specific tasks as A or B (and hopefully NOT C or D!).

Once I’ve done that, I go back and rank them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. based on other criteria. That other criteria depends on many factors that are specific to my business. You’ll end up developing similar ranking for yourself. Sometimes the other criteria has to do with how quickly I can get a project done (I do like finishing several projects quickly and that gives me some momentum), or sometimes I rank them based on what else I have going on in that day, or I rank them in a way that groups similar projects together.

So, at the end of the day you should have the next day’s schedule and it should look something like this:

A1 Verb Task

A2 Verb Task

A3 Verb Task

A4 Verb Task

B1 Verb Task

B2 Verb Task

(etc.)

Of course, I’m realistic enough to know that things change and you can sign off for the day with a great schedule in mind, but in the middle of the next day it needs to be readjusted. But that doesn’t happen all the time and it’s a good practice to get into to start your day with a clear idea of what you want to accomplish.

In the next article, I’m going to talk about how you can implement that successfully.

Heather Recommends:

If you are a coach, freelancer, or entrepreneur who wants to succeed like a pro, I can help.

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