How to Manage Not to Waste Your Time
Whoever invented the word “procrastinator” had me in mind. One of my favorite quotes has always been: “Always put off till tomorrow what does not absolutely need to be done today.” That lets you off the hook, even if you do have time. Then, of course, when you get one of those days where too many things “absolutely need to be done,” well, you’re screwed.
I know I’m not alone in this. But I have to admit, I’ve gotten pretty tired of my less-than-productive time management system, and have been working hard to change. In the process, I’ve come up with a pretty good list of habits to get rid of. So, here’s a list of things that can keep you from managing your time sanely and effectively.
- Don’t plan to do your writing later in the day. Whether you’re writing web content or court documents, your best juice is right after your first or second cup of coffee. Even if you’re one who moves slowly into your day, delaying that which will require your greatest effort until after you’ve accomplished easier tasks only makes it harder to get started. Your mind is filled with all the information you’ve encountered that morning, and you’re drifting closer to the mid-afternoon slump.
- Don’t function without a practice/project management system. You will fail. Work is way too complicated these days to scribble notes on pieces of paper you’ll never find again, and organization streamlines your work. If you use a simple task/calendaring list, make sure your projects are included in some kind of organized system (such as folders) that will show up on your screen everyday.
- Don’t paint the contents of your management system in broad strokes. Be specific when you input your tasks into your management system. If you’re using a practice/project system, create the project (e.g., “Miller Summary Judgement Motion,”) but be sure to itemize each specific task under the project. If you use a task list, be sure it has sufficient functionality to enable you to group tasks together under a heading or in a folder. The idea here is that you don’t want to open your management system, see “Miller Summary Judgement Motion”, and not know what specific tasks have or have not been accomplished.
- Don’t input tasks without a due date. Leaving task timing open-ended is an invitation to procrastination (always put off till tomorrow…). The idea is to impose artificial deadlines on your tasks to pace yourself, so that you haven’t left all the work to be done at the due date of the entire project. If you are unable to accomplish the task on that date, move it to another date that is reasonable, but don’t leave it lingering in the past, undone.
- Don’t schedule too many tasks on the same day. This is another invitation to fail to manage your time. If you do this, you will look at your task list, get overwhelmed, and then get very little accomplished. Spread the timing of your tasks out wisely, taking into consideration meetings, appearances or other events that will take you away from your work.
- Don’t move on to another task before the current one is complete. Sometimes what you’re working on just gets boring, or requires that you do something that takes away your concentration (i.e., in researching online, you get distracted by something, and off you go). Stick with what you’re doing until it’s done. It won’t get any easier or more interesting later, and you can always bookmark the distraction for later reading.
- Don’t schedule out-of-office appointments sporadically. Scattering appointments throughout the day with gaps of time in between causes you to lose time. Give yourself some breathing space between appointments, but not so much that you create time-gaps adding up to 2-3 hours of downtime.
- Don’t schedule research and writing tasks after out-of-office appointments. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. If you have a busy morning, that may be the best day to schedule a networking lunch or some other outside activity where you can work on your business, not in it. Trying to gather back the pieces of your mind enough to concentrate after you’ve been stimulated by outside activity will only keep you spinning your wheels.
- Don’t try to make decisions when you’re tired or confused. Not only might you wind up doing something you regret, but you will also waste all that time thinking about it and coming to a bad conclusion, or no conclusion at all. Wait until your mind is clear and rested, and you will make better decisions in half the time.
- Don’t forget to exercise and take breaks. Moving your body around stimulates your energy systems, increases your blood flow and frees your joints. You must find a way to fit it into your life so you can make better use of the time you have.