I know this has happened to you: you work all day at top speed. You get a ton done, finishing one task after another, shooting off emails and taking phone calls, but, at the end of the day, you’re left with the feeling that you didn’t accomplish anything at all. You may not even be able to list what you actually did if someone asked you to do that.
Or maybe you start out the morning with the goal of working on that big project you really want to finish, but then you get caught up in emails and phone calls and pretty soon, it’s lunch time. Then, you play catch up all afternoon, going down rabbit holes with co-workers and their urgent issues and end the day realizing that you have not ever even touched the project work you really wanted to do today.
You feel defeated and ineffective. This bothers you all evening and into the night. It’s on your mind the next morning, but right as you’re 5 minutes into the project work, you get another urgent call… And there goes another day.
The same things happen at home. You want to work on organization of the last year of family photos. You want this finished by your son’s first birthday. But, then the kids are cranky and carpool is late and the laundry needs doing and and and…
We’ve ALL had this happen. Whether we work in a business or at home with our kids. When we move quickly from task to unrelated task, we lose tremendous efficiency. All that jumping back and forth means you have to constantly re-focus yourself. Studies have shown that each time we switch tasks, it takes us 23 minutes to get into the flow again. That’s a huge waste of time.
But not only does constant task-switching cause us to lose actual efficiency, there’s a huge emotional cost, too. When we end each day feeling behind or ineffectual, we chip away at our inner resources. There’s a place in our mind that is constantly chewing away at what’s not getting done. It bugs us, on a low, quiet, energy-sapping frequency.
You need to manage your day, and stop letting your day manage you. What’s the answer? It’s our old friend. Control. And we need it. But how?
Enter the life-changing magic of block scheduling. With this method, you will take a look at what you are currently getting done and, importantly, NOT getting done. You will decide what is important to you and work toward building in large periods of time in which you will work toward those goals.
You will use your calendar to schedule in these “blocks” of time, and so each day, you’ll know exactly what you’ll be working on and when. Each priority item will have its place on your calendar, and it will get the time and attention it deserves.
With the proper implementation of this system, you will find you’re making real, tangible progress on the things in your life or career that matter to you. And, more importantly, you’ll go to bed each night, feeling like you’re actually doing what you should be doing. You’ll feel effective. And powerful. You’ll feel you’re living up to your true Penelope potential.
Block scheduling works whether you work at a job or you do you work at home, managing your house and raising your children.
I have a list like this whether I’m working my job or working my home stuff. My work block schedule includes:
- management- tasks
- management- meetings
- web-related- tasks
- web-related- meetings
- long-range planning
- big-picture thinking
My home block schedule includes:
- home- cleaning
- home- food prep
- home- laundry
- kids- activity/play
- kids- skill building
You’ll notice that there are large categories to start and then types of tasks within the larger category.
Here’s how to figure out what your block schedule should look like.
1) Prioritize your tasks. This is the key step. You must know what is urgent vs what is actually important. Urgent things have a false imperative. They simply seem important. But, very few urgent things actually are. Knowing the difference between the two is the hallmark of someone who manages her day, rather than her day managing her.
(If you haven’t read Getting Things Done, you need to. This is the pillar concept of that groundbreaking work and I can tell you it’s the concept I use to run our company and to run my life.)
To determine the true priority of your tasks, look over a few weeks of your Daily To Do Lists. Notice the items that you consistently get done. Think about those. Do they fit into what is truly important in your work?
Then, look for items you did not complete, and instead rolled over into the next day. Think about those items. Why are they rolling over? Is it because they are not important? Then delete them. Stop adding them to your daily To Do list. Is it because other things get in the way? Are those other things urgent or more important than the item in question?
Power User Tip: to easily delineate the complete from the incomplete items, I mark my finished items with a check and a straight line crossing out the words and my incomplete (and moved to another day) items with a wavy line. For this task, you’ll be looking for your “wavy line” items.
(As an aside: notice how, in the above graphic, my Top Priority for the day got wavy-lined. Time-management FAIL!)
Then ask yourself: what is the one thing that, if you completed it, or even just moved forward on it, you’d feel really good about? And, what do you lay awake at night wishing you’d gotten more done on? This is a key question because we’re looking for those things that slowly and quietly nag at your unconscious and sap your energy.
If your Daily To Do List or calendar does not give you a sense of what you’re actually doing and not doing, then you’re going to need to back up a step and track your time for about a week. There are ton of time tracker tools and apps out there, but I like this one from the author of The Fringe Hours (which is a book I highly recommend, by the way.)
I’m going to end this post here to give you time to evaluate and prioritize your tasks. Once you’ve answered the questions above, you’ll know how you want to spend your time and how you actually spend your time.
See? Can you feel yourself gaining control?
In our next post, we’ll organize your tasks and finish creating your block schedule.
Hang on, Penelopes. It’s about to get exciting!