Have you tried the traditional time management tips and techniques, but still find yourself lacking the focus you need to do the best job you can?
Lord Chesterfield famously said, “Take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves.”
Here are six less-known, less-employed ways to get more from your minutes and sharpen your focus.
Play a game of “Who Am I?”
When I’m exercising and I can’t seem to do that next push-up, step-up or squat, I picture a super-motivating Arnold Schwarzenegger video (watch it here) where he is straining to do one more bench press, and then another, in order to be the best. It sounds hokey, but I pretend I’m Arnie and I somehow seem to find that extra bit of strength I didn’t think I had.
Let’s face it, you have to be a dozen different people during the day, maybe more, and swapping between roles means jumping between different ways of thinking. Does this task need you to be a prolific writer? A no-excuses disciplinarian? An organiser extraordinaire? Figure out who you need to be and channel that personality type for short spurts in order to get there faster.
Grab a stopwatch
My shower timer is set to 4 minutes because if it’s not on I’d lose track of time altogether and stay in way too long. My electric toothbrush, however, is set to two minutes because without that setting I wouldn’t brush my teeth for long enough.
Find a stopwatch or timer, whether it’s the type you see around a coach’s neck, the type you find in a kitchen, or the functionality on your mobile phone. Whether the task you want to perform is one you normally finish too early or one that takes too long, set the timer, get working, and work until the timer goes off.
Become a recording star
A programmer friend of mine swore by the life-sized cardboard cut-out Superman that was in the corner of her team’s office. Anyone who ever had a programming dilemma would go and talk it through with Superman and usually they’d figure out what was wrong.
Avoid trying to solve problems in your head and instead speak out loud. Get yourself a digital voice recorder and talk any issues through with yourself (or Superman) while recording it. The great thing about digital voice recorders is that you can play back what you’ve recorded at a faster speed, so you can dissect what you came up with faster while simultaneously being entertained by your Mickey Mouse voice.
Get manipulative with sticky notes
It might feel like child’s play, but different coloured and different-sized sticky notes are one of my most valuable time management tools. When I’ve got too much information to process, sticky notes let me break things down into bite-sized chunks and then manipulate them.
If you’ve got a list to prioritise, write down each item on a stick note and stick them vertically to a wall or a whiteboard. Play with the order for a few minutes until you can see that you’ve got a plan of action.
If you’ve got a project to plan, brainstorm the tasks that need to be done on sticky notes. Then categorise those sticky notes however you please. You can categorise them by who will do the task, you can put them into sequence, or you can identify what can be done now and what needs more thinking.
The other thing I use sticky notes for is to capture cool ideas that come up when I’m working on something else. In order to maintain your focus, write your idea down on the sticky note and stick it in a designated “parking lot” for ideas.
Make a cup of tea
Truly stuck on something and spinning your wheels? Stop pushing and take a break. Make a cup of coffee or tea and let your mind wander wherever it wants to. You’re not wasting time, you’re refuelling your brain.
Rediscover pen and paper
In an age of technology where you can capture everything on your smartphone, tablet or laptop, the good old paper and pen have almost become an unconventional way to capture information, thoughts and ideas. There’s something incredibly intimate about using a paper and pen that forces you to think more deeply because you need to find the right words or the right images and form them with your own hands.
When there’s a personal, emotional or creative side to what you’re doing, nothing beats paper and pen. Notebooks are also incredibly portable, and they don’t run out of batteries when you need them the most.
Take a pen and paper and get away from the screen, the phone, from any time of electronic distraction, really, and re-discover the joy of brainstorming and goal-setting with the basics.
Which of these strategies appeals to you the most? Apply just one strategy to how you do your work this week and watch your focus sharpen while you take care of the minutes in a whole new way.