Organize your time
Hello my dear friend! How are you doing today? Welcome to yet another episode of Morning Cup of Sunshine podcast. I am so glad that you decided to listen to my episode today. Last week, I talked about Fear of Missing Out. While talking about that topic, I realized that we all are in a crunch of time. Most of the time, when someone asks you about your day, you reply saying how busy you are these days. I am no different. I have said so many times on this podcast that it was a busy week or a busy month, so on and so forth. I consider myself a very organized person but still most of the time I feel I am running out of energy and time to accomplish my daily tasks. Today, I want to talk about organizing our time in a better way so that we feel more accomplished and yet peaceful. This is no easy feat my friend. Tackling all your to-do lists, being productive and still feeling calm is like an elusive combination. But, it won’t hurt to try, right? So, let’s start discussing some simple ways to organize your time in a better way. Shall we?
This is a vast topic and one which is very close to my heart. I really love to talk about time management and productivity. That is like my forte. So, I am going to try my best to condense most of my tips into 5 simple actionable steps. But please let me know if you want me to go into more details. I can create a follow up episode on the similar topic. I have a lot to share so, without any further delays, let’s get into step no 1.
Step 1: Prepare night before
This seems a very simple step but trust me it becomes crucial to have a concrete plan before you tackle your day head on. I like to make a quick to-do list the night before. I have 4 major categories. Home, Kids, Office and Personal. Every night before going to bed, I pull out my small notebook, nothing fancy, no fancy planner. I just write my to-do list in those 4 categories. Let’s take a simple example. Last night, here is what I wrote in my notebook. In the home section, I wrote - Cook xyz sabji, daal, rice and roti. Do dishes, Make breakfast, Soak some chick peas for the next day. In the kid’s section I wrote, pack lunches, take Mihir to his cricket class, RSVP to a birthday party. In the office section, I noted a few important and must do items. And in the personal section I wrote down my workout and record this podcast episode. Of course, the list may get extended or shortened based on what I have to accomplish the next day. I don’t start working on any of the items even when I can. E.g. I could have actually RSVPed that night itself rather than adding it into my to-do list but I have already switched off my phone and Wi-Fi by this time so, I don’t work on my computer or phone once I start the night time routine. I have zero distractions when I write down this list. This way I know how much I can really accomplish the next day. If I feel the list is getting too long to complete in a day, I stop adding items. This sets a realistic expectation for the next day. I know what exactly I need to work on the next day. This habit has helped me immensely. If you are someone who feels stressed out by seeing the list the night before and you lose your sleep over it, then you can try making this list early in the morning. This way you know what things you want to accomplish before you really start your day. Now once you know what you need to accomplish on that day, then you have to allocate the focus time to each of these tasks. Let’s discuss this approach in the next step.
Step 2: Focus Time
Have you heard the quote, “Where focus goes, energy flows. And where energy flows, whatever you're focusing on grows.” Essentially, your life is controlled by what you focus on. If you are trying to accomplish these tasks without any plan and focus then at the end of the day, you might achieve it but you will be totally burned out. Have you ever noticed on some days you feel completely burned out but really did not get much accomplished. Has this ever happened to you? Let’s say, you decided to clean out your closet today. You took all the clothes out from the closet. You were about to sort them out to donate some of the clothes. You went to the kitchen just to get some bags to put those clothes in. But then you saw that your kids had left the library books on the kitchen table. You thought let me quickly keep them back where they belong. You pick them up, go to the kid's room to keep those books back and see their laundry hamper just overflowing with clothes. Now you feel you should just start a load of laundry so you pick those laundry hampers and go into the laundry room to start a load. Almost half an hour has passed, that closet is still waiting for you. The pile of clothes are still lying in your bedroom waiting for you to sort and you are running around the house picking up things as you go without any real focus. It has happened to me countless times before I realize that I need to have a complete laser-like focus on the task that I have chosen to work on. Being a software professional working in offshore, onsite model, most of my morning goes into offshore calls. Back to back calls, back to back meetings completely occupy my time in the morning. Even though I attend a lot of calls, I hardly feel productive because I am just jumping from meetings to meetings. So, I always schedule focus time in the afternoon. This is my time to get high priority things done when it comes to my work. It is my focus time to accomplish some real project objectives. This is extremely important to have a focus time in your day to accomplish your highest priority tasks. You don’t have to be working to implement this step. Even in our daily chores, we need to have a dedicated time for each of the tasks in your to-do list. Set a dedicated focus time for your personal growth. It could be for working out or journaling or reading a book or learning a new skill or just to cool down. Taking a break between your focus time is as important as the focus time itself. You are a human being and not a robot. You can not be productive 24*7. You need a break to recharge, refresh and rejuvenate. This is an integral part of your focus time. Alright, with me till this point. Now let me introduce you to a new concept in time management. It is called batch processing.
Step 3 : Batch processing
This is a very important technique when it comes to time management. It is grouping similar tasks and completing them together to save time. It is a time management technique that includes grouping similar tasks together and setting aside a time to complete them all or work on them until a predetermined point of progress. I just came to know that this is an official term in time management. While researching for this topic, I came to know that it is also called the Pomodoro technique, is a productivity system that helps individuals focus on a group of similar tasks during a dedicated time period without interruptions. Batching time helps minimize distractions for more concentrated workflow and attention to detail. Time batching is effective because it builds structure and boundaries around blocks of time. This way you can dive deep into specific tasks without interruptions that break up your workflow. Let’s take a simple example. Let’s say you have to respond to a bunch of emails. Rather than responding to one email then working on some other task like maybe programming and then coming back and responding to another email. Set some time aside in your day to respond to all the emails. This way you are more focused, you don’t have to start and stop frequently between similar tasks. If you want to take an example from your daily schedule, take an example of your simple chores. Let’s say today you want to return some amazon packages. You also want to pick up groceries. You also have to get your car washed. So instead of doing one chore in the morning, coming back home and then taking one of the outdoor chores in the afternoon and another in the evening, you should set aside a day for running errands. Group all such tasks together and handle them all in one single trip. If you work on some very repetitive tasks then group them together. Every Sunday, I always spend around an hour creating all my social media posts for the entire week. Now I don’t have to worry about any social media related tasks during weekdays. I always batch my episodes. It makes the process of creating episodes much more enjoyable and stress free. So, you got the idea right? Next time, if there are tasks with similar nature, group them together, tackle them together so you don’t have to change gears and that means your brain does not need to reorient itself in between the tasks.
Step 4 : Don’t sweat the small stuff
Oh, I love this step so much. This is a kind of lesson learned the hard way for me. I am a perfectionist by nature. To be very honest, I was proud of being a perfectionist. I used to carry the badge of being perfectionist with honor and pride. But as I started reading more and more self help books and the more I started looking carefully at my own life and its stressors, I realized that being a perfectionist is more of a stressor for me than my pride and joy. For a perfectionist, nothing is ever enough. I started understanding the burden that I was carrying on my shoulders because of my idea of perfection. That’s when I was introduced to the concept of 80-20 rule. The Pareto Principle also known as the 80-20 rule suggests that 80% of results come from 20% of the effort put in. This is commonly used in sales as 80% of sales typically come from 20% of the customers. You can apply the same principle to time management. 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions. If you can accomplish 80% of your tasks in a day then you have achieved the goal of the day. There has to be 20% breathing space every single day. Have you read the book, Don’t sweat the small stuff by Richard Carlson. If you have not read it, I highly recommend this book. It will change the way you look at things forever. It is an amazing book that will tell you how not to stress over small things, there is no rush, no time limit. It is one of the best self help books I have read so far. If you keep on thinking and overthinking about the same task over and over again, you will never feel accomplished, you will always find some problem, some negative point in the task that you just accomplished. You will never have the feeling of accomplishment, contentment. Just remember doing something is better than doing nothing. Let’s stop being perfect, it simply does not exist. Let’s stop beating yourself up for some imaginary idea of perfection. It is nothing but a mirage. Let’s not worry too much, we have ample of time in this life to accomplish the goals that we want to accomplish. There is no rush, there is no hurry. So, let’s be calm and keep working with focused mindset towards our goal but without distractions. Now let’s talk about these distractions in our last and final step.
Step 5 : Eliminate your time wasters
I did an episode on decluttering your mind very early into this podcasting journey. It is still one of my very favorite episodes. I suggest you should listen to that episode if you need additional tips for decluttering your mind. But for the context of this episode, I want you to remember that less mental clutter means more mental resources available for deep thinking. I was reading a blog a long time back. One sentence from that blog made a huge impact. I can never forget that sentence. I want you to remember this, literally word to word. “No one ever changed the world, created a new industry, or amassed a fortune due to their fast email response time.” Visionaries made an impact on this world because they worked towards their goal with a laser focus mindset consistently. Consistency in your effort is what sets you apart from the crowd. Sometimes I feel consistency even beats sheer talent. You might be talented but if you don’t hone your skills, if you don’t work on your skills consistently that mere talent can take you only so far. Having a focused attitude with clear vision is crucial and for that you need to eliminate the time wasters. You have to be honest with yourself and find your time wasters. Is it that binge watching Netflix or scrolling through social media or just jumping between tasks ? What is the time waster for you? Find that and eliminate it. I am not saying you need to completely eliminate all fun things from your life. Use it wisely, don’t use it to fill in the gaps rather use it as a mode of relaxation. There is so much to talk about time management. I have so much to share but I don’t want to extend the time in a time management episode. Just kidding. But yes, I am really passionate about this topic. I keep inventing, researching new techniques to manage my time in a better way. So, please let me know in the comments if you want me to make more episodes on similar topics. I have many more tips to share with you. Alright, I just want you to remember one thing, your future is created by what you do today and not tomorrow. So, use your today wisely. Let’s not just spend our time. Time is a commodity, rather than spending it, let’s use it and use it efficiently.