Productivity and time management are essential skills to learn, but everyone finds their own best practice for managing their time. The method that works for one person most likely won’t work for someone else. Here are some tools that have worked for me lately:
I’m not overly fond of keeping a time sheet, but I have found that tracking the time I spend on projects helps me stay focused and not waste the day browsing the internet. I use Toggl to track my time: I can split it up by client and project, and all I have to do is mark when I start and stop working on a task. At the end of the week if I want to look at how I did, the site has reports available to show how much time was spent on each project/client, and how much time was logged overall.
The reports have a twofold benefit for me. First, they provide me with data: am I spending enough time doing actual client work, as opposed to internal projects? Am I getting a reasonable amount of work done each day? I can compare the time spent on a project to the time I estimated it would take, and see how accurate my predictions are. This helps make me better at scheduling my week without being under- or over-busy. Second, it (oddly enough) helps with my perfectionism. It’s easy for me to get into the mindset of thinking that I should get 8 hours of productive work out of an 8 hour day, but that’s just not reasonable. Distractions come up, there are bathroom and lunch breaks, switching tasks takes time, sometimes you just need to take a minute and not do anything…all these little breaks add up and getting 6-7 hours of work done is much more reasonable. Seeing the numbers reflect that has helped break me of the feeling of never working hard enough.
The second tool I use is Asana, for task management. I’ve tried various to-do lists, and so far this one’s sticking much better than the others. What works really well for me is that it’s browser (or app!) based, so I can access my list anywhere. Also, I can split tasks up by project, task, and sub-task, set due dates and priorities, add comments, and add followers (if someone else is involved with the task too). The task list is split into Today, Upcoming, and Later: by default, Today is ranked highest in the list, followed by Upcoming, and then Later is on the bottom, and usually hidden. When I set up a new task, it goes into Upcoming. The Later category is for tasks that are low priority that I can work on when I have free time. They’re things that it would be nice to get done, but they’re not needed.
At the beginning of the week, I set a few weekly goals: larger projects that will take several days to complete. I also go through my projects and list the smaller daily tasks that are due to be completed this week. Then at the beginning of each day, I review my list and see what needs to be done today, and move it up on my list. Then I get to work!
Having the tool open every day and taking a few minutes each morning to set my priorities and goals for the day has really helped my productivity. I get to see each day that I set goals, and then I accomplish them, which is a great feeling. In addition, having a Today section gets rid of the urge to keep pushing tasks off if I don’t feel like doing them. I want to check them off, not just move them down the list.
Finally, I keep in mind the Important/Urgent matrix (shown above). It’s fairly self-explanatory: important tasks are the big things, the ones that will have major impact and really need to be completed. Urgent tasks are like a phone ringing: they create the impression that they must be taken care of now, whether or not that’s actually true. Sometimes, it is true, as with an emergency or a project on a deadline. Often, though, it’s just a phone ringing, or an email popping up: it feels important because it’s at the top of your mind, but there are little to no consequences for not taking care of it immediately. It’s easy to get caught taking care of the Urgent-Not Important tasks, and forget to work on the Important-Not Urgent ones instead. When setting priorities for my day, I keep in mind this list and try not to focus too much on the Urgent tasks, to the detriment of the Important ones.
Do any of these tools work for you? What’s your favorite method for productivity or time management?