Time is one of the most precious non-renewable resources we possess. As a result, there are thousands of books and articles out there that aim to help people manage their time more efficiently and get more done. We might all have the same 168 hours per week at our disposal, but even though we try to schedule each and every hour, we can find ourselves falling further and further behind if we continue to schedule based only on time and fail to include three other crucial points – energy, interest and routine.
Before you head off into another set of principles that will guide you to maximum efficiency, pause and think for a few minutes on the following principles before giving a different kind of method a try.
1. What exactly are your ‘big rocks’? If you’re a fan of Dr. Stephen Covey, you’ll have heard this analogy before. If not, here’s a video of him demonstrating this principle back in the 80s or early 90s, as near as I can tell from the fashion choices in the room.
In the video, he talks about the importance of prioritizing the most important activities first, before fitting in the less important things. Once you’ve decided what your ‘big rocks’ are, you are then able to make time for them rather than filling up your calendar with ‘sand’ (hours on Facebook, non-urgent or important activities, Netflix binging). Some examples of ‘big rocks’ could include work activities, family time, personal care or fitness or charitable time. The nice thing about this idea is you get to decide what’s important to you.
2. What’s the distribution of your high-energy vs. low energy tasks? For example, if you are seeing clients and that takes a lot of energy, then booking visits back to back might drain more energy than you’ve got. Scheduling a low energy task between client visits (i.e. a small email chunk, or a bit of filing, or a short break) will help keep your energy up and on track, instead of draining away. It’s also important to consider where your natural energy patterns fall. If you’re very energetic in the morning, then schedule those high-energy tasks right away. If your energy is up in the afternoon, then work that into your schedule as well.
3. Where does your interest lie? If you aren’t sure of high/low energy, think in terms of high interest/low interest. Some approaches advocate scheduling low interest tasks when your energy is highest, as you’ll need extra energy to motivate yourself to complete a low interest task.
Others suggest that it’s far easier to do a high interest task when your energy is high, as it will give you an extra charge to carry you further. When considering your level of interest in your tasks, think about where it’s easiest for you to get them done. If they’re never getting done, then you might benefit from scheduling them during high-energy times. If you prefer to let your mind wander during a low interest task, then book it during a low-energy time. Remember that here again, you are the only one that can make the decision where and when to include activities.
4. How can you make a routine work for you? Routines help us with staying on track when our minds and actions might want to wander, in spite of our best intentions. As people get used to doing a certain thing at a certain time, their reflexes kick in and help keep them on track, spurring them to keep doing that same thing at the same time. For example, if you find that spending time with friends is one of your “big rocks”, dedicate a specific time each week to book in a friend or group of friends for a visit. Many people find dedicating time to “Friend Friday” works well; experiment to find what works for you, for this and for all of your “big rocks”.
Once you’ve gained some mastery at applying this to your whole life, you can bring these steps into your career as well. One of the most effective ways to get promoted and noticed is to build this type of prioritizing into your weekly life so you can focus on what’s important in your job or business. For example, an elementary school teacher built her classroom routine such that she made time each morning to have one-on-one meetings with students so she could check in with them once a month to find out how they were doing, schedule accountability points for their personal interest projects and help them with academic goal setting. Though this took 15 to 20 minutes out of her day, she found her students were achieving more because they all spent time planning. While she worked with an individual, the other students were able to spend time working on their personal planning, creating a much smoother year of academic work. Because she felt that checking in individually with students was a “big rock” for her, she made it a priority in her day and in her class routine and soon other teachers were asking her for her secret.
This approach works well for many other career tasks, from board meetings to coffee breaks – always keep your “big rocks” in mind.
Try it out and let us know how this worked for you!