by Carthage Buckley, Stress and Performance Coach
There will be days when you wake like a bear with a sore head or, so lethargic that you do not want to even contemplate work. There have been time management gurus who would have you believe that once you take their advice, you will skip out of bed each day, only too eager to get going and unleash your brilliance upon the world. The reality is very different. Even when you have become highly productive, there will be days when you don’t feel like doing anything at all. One of the most important aspects of improving your time management is to enjoy a productive day even when you don’t feel like it. That does not mean that you have to complete a massive workload; it simply means that you have to complete some important work which takes you closer to your goals and objectives.
On these days, it is important that you remind yourself that time management is not about the quantity of work that you complete; it is all about the quality and importance of the work that you complete. You can enjoy a productive day by completing just one task; if that task is important and takes you closer to achieving your goals.
Enjoy a productive day even when you feel bad
On those days when you don’t feel like doing anything, you can implement the following steps, get more done and enjoy a productive day.
1. Identify your 3 key tasks
Everyday should be focused on importance but on these tough days, it is even more important that you make every moment count. You may not be able to do a full day’s work but you can at least get some valuable work done. Assuming that you know which tasks have yet to be completed; you can take a quick look through your task list.
Identify the 3 most important tasks that you can complete today and make them your main focus. It may surprise you but most people struggle to complete 3 important tasks on a good day. They are too easily distracted by urgency and they lose focus on what is truly important. Today, you are going to eliminate distractions by refusing to focus on anything other than these 3 tasks.
Tip: Importance is determined by the contribution these tasks make towards the completion of your most important goals.
2. Rank them
Rank these tasks with the most important being 1 and the least important being 3. This step should be quick and easy to implement.
3. Identify the next most important 3 tasks
Before you set to work, it is worthwhile to identify the next 3 most important tasks and rank them as well. You can use the same criteria as you used previously.
Once you have identified these tasks, you are not going to think about them unless you have completed your 3 most important tasks with time and energy to spare.
4. Only schedule your 3 most important tasks
Return to your 3 most important tasks and, if necessary, schedule them. Unless they are time specific, you will not actually need to schedule them.
An example of a time specific task would be if you need somebody else present to complete the task and they are only available at a particular time. In this instance, you would have to schedule the task for the time when they are present.
5. Tackle the most important task first
There has been a lot written over the years about tackling the most difficult task first or, tackling the easiest task first. There are pros and cons to both but I don’t think either of them is the right approach to adopt. I am a fan of the lazy approach to scheduling your tasks.
The lazy approach is not about avoiding work, it is about making each minute as valuable as possible and achieving the maximum benefits with the minimum work. To do this, you need to stop thinking about whether a task is easy or difficult. Instead, you must focus on the importance of each task.
By completing your most important task first, you make the biggest possible impact first thing in the day. Even if an emergency were to arise, you would still have been able to enjoy a productive day because you completed a task of great importance. If you were to start with your easiest or most difficult task, you would have completed some tasks but you would not have had as big an impact.
6. Set a timer
When you are ready to start work, a timer is a great tool to help you stay focused. You can decide what block of time you are best able to work for e.g. I like to work in approximately 40-50 minute blocks of time. I set the timer for that length of time and focus solely on the task at hand until the alarm rings to tell me that the time is up.
Using a timer, it is easier to block out all other distractions. You are less tempted to do less important tasks like checking your email and social media because you know that at the end of the time block, you will be able to do so without feeling guilty. Also, if others need to get hold of you, they will usually be able to survive without for 40-50 minutes.
7. Take a break between tasks
When the alarm rings, you are free to take a break. If you have finished the task, I recommend a 10-15 minute break before attacking the next important task. There are many different things which you can do on this break:
• Perform a mundane task such as filing, tidying, printing etc.
• Take a quick walk to get some fresh air
• Have a drink or bite to eat
• Post to social media
The things you can do during your break are virtually limitless. You do not have to sit around doing nothing. The important thing is to give your mind a break from the pressures of important work by doing something which requires less mental energy and concentration.
8. Ride the momentum wave
Another great reason for focusing on importance is that once you complete an important task, you get a positive feeling which comes from knowing that you have done something worthwhile. This gives you a great boost and as you work your way through the day and complete more important work.
With each task completed, your momentum grows and you will often find that you do not want to stop. While you started the day wanting to avoid work; you now want to make the most of every minute and every drop of energy to ensure that you enjoy a productive day.
If you find yourself avoiding work when you are feeling bad, you may well have a procrastination issue. If this sounds like you, check out Stop Procrastinating.
Improving your time management does not mean that you will always be ecstatic about starting your work day. You will still experience those feelings of dread where you want to do anything but work. The key to making these days successful is to forget about the quantity of work you need to complete and focus on the quality of work that you can complete. Even though you feel terrible, you can still enjoy a productive day by following the 8 steps, outlined above. By simply deciding that you are going to complete as much important work as you can and, focusing all of your energies on the most important tasks, you can get started quickly, make good progress and soon you will have built up enough momentum to enjoy a more productive day than you had thought possible.
About the author
Carthage Buckley is a Stress and Performance Coach who helps entrepreneurs, management and driven professionals to identify and eliminate the sources of stress while developing and implementing strategies to realise their objectives and create a happy, healthy and successful life.
The principle philosophy of Carthage’s coaching is that the individual can shape their own world, rather than waiting for their world to shape them. Working from the inside out, it is perfectly possible for each person to create their own life, allowing them to fulfil their personal desires while living in harmony with the world around them.
Carthage has lived and worked in 5 countries and continues to work with clients all around the world, both in person and via the Internet.