Time. It’s the one thing in life you can never get back. And while it seems that people everywhere in today’s world are working harder and longer than ever, are they using their time as effectively as they could?
For most of us, our ability to manage our time is scattered. While we feel like we’re working, some days end and we question what really was accomplished.
By understanding and being able to effectively manage your time, your productivity can skyrocket. The stress that comes from the inability to get things done will be reduced and you’ll have more time to spend it as you see fit (e.g. with friends, family, or on hobbies).
To help you take control of your time, integrate the following tips into your daily routine…
1. Pomodoro Technique
Francesco Cirillo was a student at Guido Carli International University in the 1990s when he realized he had a problem. Like many of us, he couldn’t stay focused on a task for a long period of time. His mind would wander and he would end up procrastinating. Today Cirillo would most likely be diagnosed with ADHD and given any number of different amphetamines to help him focus but in the 90's he had to come up with another solution.
Instead of trying to make himself study for long periods of time, which proved to be unsuccessful, he limited the time he allowed himself to be distracted. By using a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, he would give himself 25 minutes to study without interruption. Once he heard the “ding!”, he gave himself a 5 minute break.
Now commonly referred to as the Pomodoro Technique (pomodoro meaning “tomato” in Italian), his time management hack spread like wildfire because of its simplicity and effectiveness.
Research seems to back up the Pomodoro Technique too. A study led by University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Llera found that extended focus on one single task hinders performance. When research participants were recorded performing a simple memory exercise and given the ability to avert their attention, they had a higher success rate than the control group.
To utilize the Pomodoro Technique yourself, you don’t need to go out and buy a kitchen timer like Cirillo did. Today there are literally hundreds of “Pomodoro” style apps (for smartphones and desktops) that work using the same basic premises. Here are a few of my favorites:
2. Eisenhower Matrix
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the United States 34th President, was known for a lot of things. He was the commanding general of the victorious forces in Europe during World War II, Signed the Civil Rights Bill of 1957, and ended the Korean War.
Eisenhower was once quoted as saying, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” This quote spurred the creation of the Eisenhower Matrix, a system that allows you to visually distinguish between urgent and important tasks in order to help you prioritize.
Here’s how it works…
- On a piece of paper, draw a cross so that there are four boxes (top left, top right, bottom left, and bottom right).
- The box on the top left will be named “Do First”. It will be for listing tasks that you need to get done ASAP. Example: a client proposal that needs to be finished and sent by tonight.
- The box on the top right will be named “Schedule”. It will be for listing tasks that aren’t very important but are urgent and can be scheduled. Example: getting your car’s headlight fixed.
- The box on the bottom left will be named “Delegate”. It will be for listing tasks that aren’t urgent but are very important and can be delegated to another person. Example: someone requesting you step into a meeting.
- The box on the bottom right will be named “Don’t Do”. It will be for listing all of your biggest time wasters. Example: going on social media.
By performing the action of breaking down all of your tasks into these quadrants allows you to see, at any given time, what it is that needs to be done, what can be done later, what can be given to someone else, and what you shouldn’t be doing.
To learn more about the Eisenhower Matrix and how to properly set it up, watch the video below.
3. Optimize your flow state.
You know those days when you feel like you’re “in the zone”. You’re easily crossing out everything on your to do list, you have tons of focus, and you’re completely dialed in to everything you do. This mental state is often referred to as a “flow state” and it can vastly improve the efficiency of how you spend your time.
For many, a flow state is not simple to achieve and it comes only on the rarest of occasions. That being said, there are some simple ways to ensure that you have the highest chance of entering a flow state…
For those who have experience getting into a flow state before, they recount it as a moment of Zen. This is because, in a way, it is much like Zen meditation. The mind is devoid of stress and full of focused, creative energy. One of the best ways to get your body ready to enter a flow state is by meditating. Why? A study published in Consciousness and Cognition found that brief meditation improved participants' cognition. The paper says, "brief mindfulness training significantly improved visuospatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.” These are all elements of cognition that play an important role in flow states.
Your brain, just like your body, needs the right vitamins and nutrients to perform at its best. While an athlete might take creatine or protein to optimize their body, you can take nootropics to optimize your brain. The nootropic I always rely on to help me get into a flow state is Qualia. I like to call it the “Rolls Royce” of nootropics due to the fact that it has helped improve almost every aspect of my mental state (e.g. reduce brain fog, increase mental energy, allow me to focus for longer periods of time).
Optimize Your Sleep
The only way you can perform at your peak is by getting enough rest—plain and simple. Proper sleep allows your brain to flush out all the waste that accumulates in it throughout the day. It also allows for neural connections to be made, strengthening things such as long-term memories. The bottom line is, if you disregard the importance of sleep, there is no way your brain is going to be able to enter a flow state.
4. Eliminate Distractions
Facebook, text messages, loud cars, noisy neighbors… distractions are time killers. Somehow they seep into your day and take over. While the Pomodoro Technique might work for small distractions, bigger distractions need to be dealt with in bigger ways.
Below are my tried and true methods for annihilating distractions:
- Use a white noise machine. It will help block out certain frequencies of distracting noises such as cars or people talking. Here is my favorite.
- Invest in noise canceling headphones. Their price might be steep (around $200 to $300) but it’s worth the distraction-free environment that you can take with you virtually anywhere. You don’t even need to be listening to music for the noise around you to be almost completely turned off. It feels like magic.
- Put your phone on airplane mode. It sounds simple but it works wonders. I’d venture to say that 90% or more of your distractions during the day are in the form of checking notifications coming from your phone. By simply cutting off its data connection, you’ll have no notifications and thus no reason to check it.
- Download StayFocusd. If you find yourself clicking from internet tab to internet tab between work and entertainment sites, StayFocusd can help. This nifty little app can be set up to block any number of sites for extended periods of time. No ability to access the site means no more internet distractions.
- Download Boomerang. Easily the best email app you can install, Boomerang has one little feature that will easily cut your distractions in half. It’s called “Inbox Pause” and it does exactly what you might think: it pauses your inbox. Research shows that the average person spends 28% of their time reading and responding to emails. What’s more is that it takes 64 seconds to recover from an email and return to work at the same work rate as before the interruption. Thus, pausing emails can dramatically level-up your productivity.
The only way to make progress in life, whether it is personal or professional, is by properly managing your time. Do it right and you will be amazed at what can be accomplished in 24 hours.
While it may seem hard, understand that not everything outlined in this article has to be performed at once. Take baby steps and master each of these strategies individually, and at your own pace, before moving onto the next one.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re well on your way to mastering the art of time management. I’ll leave you with this… "Once you have mastered time, you will understand how true it is that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year - and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade!" — Tony Robbins
This is a guest contribution by Dan Scalco, a columnist at Inc, Entrepreneur, and HuffPost. When not working or writing, you can find him running along the water, learning new productivity hacks, or watching documentaries on Netflix.