Leave around 30-50% of your daily plan ‘empty’ for the numerous requests or demands on your time that are likely, or may occur, from time to time.
Anticipate problems, delays, other people procrastinating, technical failures and be ready to work around them.
This is technique developed and tested at Harvard Business School. They found that the most effective ‘time managers’ (those got more done on purpose) used this ritual or one like it. It contains just three steps that take less than 18 minutes over an eight-hour workday.
STEP 1 (5 Minutes) Set a plan for your day.
Before turning on your computer, sit down with a blank piece of paper and decide what will make this day highly successful. What can you realistically accomplish that will further your goals and allow you to leave at the end of the day feeling like you’ve been productive and successful? Write those things down.
Now, most importantly, take your calendar and schedule those things into time slots, placing the hardest and most important items at the beginning of the day. And by the beginning of the day I mean, if possible, before even checking your email. If your entire list does not fit into your calendar, reprioritise your list. There is tremendous power in deciding when and where you are going to do something.
If you want to get something done, decide when and where you’re going to do it. Otherwise, take it off your list.
STEP 2 (1 minute every hour) Refocus.
Set your watch, phone, or computer to ring every hour. When it rings, take a deep breath, look at your list and ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively. Then look at your calendar and deliberately recommit to how you are going to use the next hour. Manage your day hour by hour. Don’t let the hours manage you.
STEP 3 (5 minutes) Review.
Shut off your computer and review your day. What worked? Where did you focus? Where did you get distracted? What did you learn that will help you be more productive tomorrow?
The power of rituals is their predictability. You do the same thing in the same way over and over again. And so the outcome of a ritual is predictable too. If you choose your focus deliberately and wisely and consistently remind yourself of that focus, you will stay focused. It’s simple.
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