Open a news magazine, listen to a podcast, or start surfing around YouTube—time management is a perennial favorite of advice columnists and researchers alike. Having read several of these books and listened to the podcasts (as one of those procrastinators), here are a few of the more unique tips and tricks I’ve found for getting the most out of my day.
The 1440 Rule
In his book 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, Kevin Kruse provides a toolkit for changing the way people approach the limited number of hours in a day. One of these time management techniques is the “1440 Rule.” The rule’s simple: recognize that there are only 1440 minutes in every day. If you’re working with a limited number of minutes, that affects your perspective on what you can realistically get done. This can change the way you make decisions and schedule tasks. Do you have a task that will take an hour? Just remember that this is only 4% of your 1440 minutes.
The Pomodoro Technique
This is the best productivity tip ever named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980’s, this technique recognizes that focus, motivation, and willpower are finite resources that must be harnessed for productivity to happen. The pomodoro technique breaks work time into 20-25 minute increments. To get the tomato to work for you, set a timer for 25 minutes. Work until the timer goes off, and then take a 5-10 minute break. Repeat for the amount of time you’ve allotted for the tasks. By putting a cap on your working time, you keep a high level of energy and attentiveness while you work. As a result, you can get more tasks completed while taking more breaks.
Master the Pareto Principle
According to theory named after Vilfredo Federico Domaso Pareto, 80 percent of your accomplishments are the result of 20 percent of your work. While this doesn’t mean that you can accomplish everything by working only 20 percent of the day, it does help you focus on the most important tasks. Try this: next time you have 10 tasks on the to-do list, circle the two that have the biggest payoff, that are the most important, or that will make the other 8 easier. Do these two tasks first. After you accomplish them, take a break or reward yourself after you do.
Take Time to Plan
No matter which technique you want to use, you’ve got to plan your time. Whether it’s in the waning hours of the day or the first few minutes of the morning, have a concrete plan for what tasks you need to accomplish. Planning helps you make sure you’ve got everything packed and ready, remember important meetings or deadlines, and face the next day focused.
Now that we’re on the topic of planning, here are two more tips to help you plan a more productive day.
Know the Difference between a To-Do List and a Schedule:
The problem some people have with to-do lists is a list doesn’t tell you how and when to complete tasks. Try blending your to-do list with a schedule by blocking out specific times in the day to work on each task. This keeps tasks from drifting off into the murky world of later.
Eat the Frog:
Brian Tracy, quoting the great Mark Twain, once said, “if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the wors[t] thing that is going to happen to you all day long. Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it.” Plan to take on the hardest task first, knowing that doing so will build your momentum and make all other tasks seem more manageable.