For me ‘a simple life’ extends to keeping work simple, to limiting it to between Monday and Friday and between approximately 9am and 5pm. Unfortunately I know that this is easier said than done, but in this article I want to give you some ideas about how you can achieve this. I believe that the key to managing your time is to be more organised.
It seems that we are all expected to be busy nowadays. If you’re like me, when you bump into someone you haven’t seen in a while, the first thing they ask you is, ‘Are you busy?’ In this situation I feel scared to say that I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I haven’t got enough to keep me occupied, but most of the time I don’t feel overwhelmed by it. I’m not up until 2am writing reports the day before the deadline, unlike some of my fellow workers.
So how do I manage this then? I haven’t got less work than other people, it’s just that I am very organised. I have systems in place to manage my workload and I spend a lot of time planning. Some people would say that I spend too much time planning. The thing is when I’ve got a plan I feel calm. How does this compare to your average working day? Feeling stressed and overstretched? Want to be more organised? Here’s how…
How do you plan your days? Do you even plan them at all or do they just happen? My work days are very varied. Sometimes I am at home all day, other times I am out at the door at 8am, going to various appointments and don’t get to sit down at my computer until the afternoon, if at all. When I do get some time to myself though I have a checklist that I go through and I have that checklist written down. It includes tasks such as:
- complete timesheet
- reflect on previous day and note tasks arising
- check voicemails
- check emails
- allocate tasks a slot on my calendar
On most days I get at least an hour to do this at some point. What this means is that I don’t end up for example having to fill in my timesheet days or weeks late when I can’t actually remember what hours I worked on that day. It doesn’t become a chore. It takes a few seconds at the beginning and end of the day and it’s done. I don’t forget about a message someone left on my phone. If I went to a meeting the day before then a task I add to my list is to write up my notes.
What are the tasks that you need to do every day? Do you sometimes forget them and find yourself trying to catch up later on? Take a few minutes to make a checklist of those daily tasks that you can refer to every day. It really will help you to be more organised.
How to keep track of your tasks
So, how do you remember all your tasks? Thanks to the book ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen I’ve developed a task sheet. It has sections for phone calls, emails, notes to write up, documents to read. The idea behind this is that instead of flitting from one type of task to the other it is easier to make all of your phone calls in one go or send your emails one after the other. On many days I am out and about between meetings and sitting in my car. I can look at my task list to see what calls I need to make and do those whilst I have time to kill. Other, lengthier tasks, I’ll save for when I am sitting at a desk.
What tasks do you have to do on a regular basis? Do you make your lists on scrappy bits of paper that you can’t find when you need them. If you want to be more organised develop a task list with sections for each type of task. You can either print your lists out and throw them away once you’re done with them or keep it electronically and keep updating it.
Weekly and monthly planning
Years ago, I went on a training course about planning. It was a two-day course, with day one and day two being several months apart so that we could try to implement the recommendations and then return later in the year to review how we were getting on. What I learnt from that course is that it’s not just enough to have a to do list, you have to put time aside in your diary to undertake those tasks. In fact, I came across an episode of The Life Coach School recently entitled ‘Throw away your to do list’. Brooke Castillo talked about this exact thing. Take your to-do list, diarise each task and then throw away your list.
We all have deadlines. My job involves writing reports, one at the beginning and one at the end of the project. For the initial ones I don’t always have a lot of notice, but for the final ones I know six months in advance when they will be due. I can also pretty much guess what other tasks I’ll have to do to gather information for the report.
Each week I review where I am on different projects and put aside time in my diary several months in advance for any meetings that I need to arrange and to write the report. Now, I don’t always stick exactly to the time and day, but I know roughly what I’ll have to do over that week. It also means that I won’t miss anything nearer the time. I won’t sit down to write my report and think, ‘I should have met with so and so’, because I’d have diarised it and done it before the slot for report writing was in my diary. It also allows me to see how much work I’ll have in a certain month and if the manager is trying to give me something new to work on I can show how many other commitments I have at that time.
Every week I try to look at the following week, which should already have appointments pencilled in, and book those meetings. When the week arrives then I add the other day-to-day things such as making calls and typing up notes.
Want to put this into practice and be more organised? Are there tasks that you know will be coming up over the next few months, even though you don’t know exactly when? Allocate time in your diary for them. Even if you have to move them around it will give you an idea of how much work you’ll have on over that period of time. Attend regular meetings for which you need to prepare? Put an hour aside several days before each meeting to do so. Make a monthly mileage claim? Again, schedule this into your diary so that you don’t end up waiting months for that money you’re owed.
There is also the question of focus. When you have to prepare a report how well are you able to concentrate on it? For some ideas I would suggest having a read of my two posts on Cal Newport’s book ‘Deep Work’:
You could also listen to him being interviewed by Paula Pant on the ‘Afford Anything Podcast:
The basics that I gleaned from the interviews were that in this world of instant responses and the temptation of social media, in order to be able to be productive you need to disconnect yourself from all of that. He recommends turning off your email alerts, putting your phone in another room and basically reducing distractions as much as possible.
All of this may be very difficult if you work in an open plan office, of which Cal is not a fan. If you can reduce distractions, he then recommends practising ‘deep work’ by setting a timer for say 30 minutes and trying to immerse yourself in the work you need to do for that period of time. After 30 minutes you can check your emails or your phone. It might be a good idea to get up from your computer. You could make a cup of tea, or if like me you are at home, hang out the washing.
Now, I don’t want to sound as though I am perfect as there are times when I think that I could be more organised, when I have worked on the weekend, but they are few and far between. Usually they are before or after annual leave. Unfortunately, in my job, there is no one else to pick up your tasks whilst you are off, therefore if you have a deadline for a report in the middle of your holiday that report needs to get written before you go away. Apart from that, as I said, life is simple. Work happens on weekdays and rarely extends past 6pm. That way I can enjoy my early mornings, my evenings and my weekends. Work feels just a part of my life and I have time for plenty of other activities.
So, if you want to be more organised, have a think about how to plan your working life better. What do you struggle with at work? What tips do you have for others who have a busy schedule? Let me know if you want more information about anything that I have written. I’d be happy to help.