You have 20+ items on your to-do list, looming deadlines, calendars packed with meetings (which will lead to more to-do items), colleagues asking for your feedback, people asking you for status updates on projects, and important personal life events to attend to (doctor’s appointments, kid’s school events).
Does this sound familiar to you? It does to me, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the sea of competing demands on your time.
Time is the one nonrenewable resource. We feel like we don’t have enough of it, but when we have more of it, we find ourselves frozen, unable to make good progress towards our growing to-do list. Here are 3 tips on how to make the most of your time.
The first part of prioritizing is knowing your queen bee role (QBR). A queen bee in a colony has one singular, important job that only the queen bee can do — to lay eggs. The way our team uses this analogy is that each of us has a queen bee role, and one person’s role isn’t more or less important than another’s. We’re all needed — just in different ways.
The importance of the QBR is that it’s something that we are solely responsible for. And if we don’t do it well, the whole colony suffers. So take time to reflect on what your queen (or king) bee role is. and protect your time to focus on these tasks.
The Eisenhower Matrix can help you prioritize tasks and take the right action. Dwight D. Eisenhower was a commanding general during WWII and President of Columbia University, led NATO forces, and served two terms in office as the President of the United States. He was known to be highly organized and productive (How else could he accomplish all he did in one lifetime?).
His gift to those of us who want to be as productive as him is the Eisenhower Matrix.
Grouping tasks into four quadrants determines your course of action.
Quadrant 1 (top left) – Urgent, Important = DO
These are the items that are highest priority and are part of your queen bee role. They are time sensitive and something best completed by you.
Quadrant 2 (top right) – Not Urgent & Important = SCHEDULE
These are items that are important for you, but not needed right away. Be sure to set realistic and specific deadlines for when to complete these. The more realistic and the more specific the deadline, the more likely it’ll get done on time.
Quadrant 3 (bottom left) – Urgent & Not Important = DELEGATE
These are items that are time-sensitive but are either not important or part of your QBR. The latter half of that statement is where you need to do some honest self-reflection. If you like to be in control (like me), it may be hard to consider moving tasks into the bottom left (delegate). The thought goes something like this, “This is not part of my queen bee role, but I’ll just do it real quick because I know how; it’ll be quicker and easier than explaining it to someone else.”
But if it’s an urgent task that can or should be done by someone else, then pass it along to the right person. This may be hard at first, or you may need to train someone in a new task, but in the end, it’ll be worth it. And you’re giving opportunities for others on your team to contribute.
Quadrant 4 (bottom right) – Not Urgent & Not Important = DELETE
If tasks fall into this category, get rid of them and free yourself up for more important tasks.
2. Manage Your Time / Check-in Before Diving In
You spend hours on a project. You finally get to a point where you feel great about it. Then when you’re just about done and ready to present your “finished product”, your boss/client/colleague swoops in with unhelpful comments that derail from the point you’re trying to make.
At Atlassian, they call this seagulling.
Nothing saps productivity and moral quite like the feeling that you wasted precious hours, days, months, of your life on something that wasn’t appreciated. While you can’t control what people will say or the feedback they will have, you can control when the feedback is given and incorporate different viewpoints before reaching the end of a project.
To avoid this pitfall, we recommend having 3 key check-in points during the project.
In the Beginning – 30%
When you have initial ideas for the project that need to be fleshed out, create a detailed outline or rough sketch and share with relevant stakeholders. Solicit feedback on the concept, audience, scope, and goal alignment.
Be clear with the team that this is not the time to go through with a fine-tooth comb. So, no checking for grammatical errors, sentence structure, or nitty gritty details. That time will come, but right now the focus is to ensure the right direction and approach for the project.
To use a baking analogy, this is when you decide what kind of cookie to make, start gathering the ingredients, and gather the materials you may need, e.g., mixing bowl, cookie cutters, rolling pin, etc.
In the Middle – 60%
When you’re about halfway into the project, call for another round of feedback. This is where the bulk of your work and feedback will occur. Be sure to include all relevant stakeholders at this point, so you don’t run the risk of the dreaded seagulling effect.
This is the time when any and all feedback is fair game. Making grammatical fixes, adding/deleting sections, moving things around, focusing on visual elements and layout, and checking to see that the first round of feedback was considered. At this point, you’re empowered to take feedback and incorporate it to ensure the goals discussed in the beginning are met.
You’ve mixed your dough, rolled it out, and have your cookie cutters ready. At this point, the dough is made but malleable enough that you can easily change the shape, color, or size of your cookie.
Toward the End – 90%
At this point, you’re almost done, but not quite (yay!). You still need to tweak a couple of things, so get the team back together to solicit feedback. This will be the third time folks are seeing your project, so there will be no surprises. It’s time for the finishing touches and not time to change the direction or concept of the project. Ask the team to look through for grammatical errors, sentence structure, and any other last-minute tweaks.
You preheat the oven and do one last check on the shape and size of cookies before popping them in to bake.
3. Minimize Distractions And Say No
The last point on staying productive is nothing new but — pardon me for sounding like an old lady for a moment — nowadays it’s definitely gotten much easier to have hours of your day high-jacked with media and entertainment available on demand and at your fingertips.
Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein wrote a book called Nudge. They define nudges as small changes in our environment that make it easier for us to make the choices we want to make or others want us to make. The world we live in is constantly nudging us. That buzz or beep from your phone, the “You’ll Never Believe This…” link at the end of an article, the “50% off sale” subject lines in your email. All nudges take you down a path where someone wants to take your time, money, or both.
Be aware of the nudges around you, and create an environment that nudges you towards productivity. Turn off notifications on your phone/email while you work, put distracting devices in another room, and work in a library or coffee shop if you’re easily distracted at home or the office. And don’t be afraid to say “no” or “not right now” when people make demands of your time while you’re trying to get things accomplished.