Have you ever had a mile-long to-do list, out of which you managed to strike out only 3 items at the end of the day? I struggled with the same issue for months together. I soon learned that the problem was not a lack of time. It was, in fact, the way I under-utilized my time.
Let’s say for example, I intend to write a blog post in the morning but decide to do some housework instead. I postpone the task for the afternoon – at which time I get busy with the kids, and the blog post doesn’t get written. So, I decide to complete it after the kids go to bed at night. Come 9PM, I’m so tired that I’m barely able to speak coherently, let alone type out a decent post. At the end of the day, I never got to do what I planned at the beginning of the day.
You see, the core issue was that I didn’t utilize my time efficiently. Recently, I took an inventory of my day and worked out an optimized daily schedule that works well for me. The rest of this article will give you a glimpse into how you too, can make the most of your day.
Step 1: Determine if you are a morning lark or late owl
Personally, I believe we can achieve a lot if we wake up early (not that I’m a particularly early riser, of course). However, people are tuned differently and our bodies follow different patterns. So you will first have to determine if you are a morning person, or a night person. When do you feel most energized and refreshed – is it early in the morning or late at night?
I am a morning person, as I am alert and have a clear mind in the mornings (after my coffee, of course). Sunu, on the other hand is a night person. She can concentrate and work on projects late into the night. Figuring out when you work best, will definitely help you be more productive at that time.
Step 2: Block out your sleep time
It is said that an average person needs 8 hours of sleep every night, but I know a lot of us survive on much less. Figure out how many hours of sleep you need and come up with approximate times when you plan to wake up and go to bed. When you set apart a time block for sleep, also include a buffer of about 30 minutes for your morning/night routine.
It is important that you do not skimp on your sleep on a regular basis. When you don’t get enough sleep, you accumulate a sleep debt, which will either lead you to a burn out or make you oversleep when you least expect it. (I usually sleep for about 7 hours on weekdays and give myself permission to sleep in on Saturdays.) So, make sure you set apart enough time for sleep.
* For those of you with small kids who don’t sleep through the night, I know this may not seem feasible. But take heart, this is only a season and you will soon get a full night’s sleep! 🙂
Step 3: Figure out when your energy levels are high
Most of us do not have the same energy levels throughout the day. And we tend to be more productive when our energy levels are high. Sunu finds she is most productive in the afternoons, while I am most productive in the mornings. On most days, my brain gets fried by 9PM, so I’m barely able to think coherently at that time! Take a look at your day and chalk out the hours of the day when you feel most energized.
This can also be applied on a weekly basis. I tend to be a little relaxed on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, which means I cannot concentrate on tasks that need me to focus for an extended period of time. When you map out what time of the day you have more energy and clarity of thinking, you can get your most important work done in that time frame.
Step 4: Determine when your work conditions are most conducive
We all know that we work best when there are no distractions and we can focus at the task at hand. And yet we plod on trying to get work done even when our work atmosphere is not exactly favorable. For me, it’s very difficult to work when my kids just get back from school. So I take an hour to settle them down, give them the attention they need and then get back to work.
For those of you with small kids, you may find it impossible to work online when chubby little fingers are constantly trying to pluck at the keys. In that case, a conducive time for you could be when they take their nap or are engaged with some activity. If you determine when your work atmosphere is distraction-free, you can religiously guard that time, set a timer if necessary and concentrate on completing your task within the allotted time frame.
Step 5: Plot out your daily/weekly tasks
Based on the results of steps 4 and 5 above, you will be able to jot down which hours of the day/days of the week you are most productive. On a daily basis, I allocate 3 chunks of time for work related tasks. I spend the mornings and afternoon time blocks working on important projects and reserve the late evenings for social media networking.
On a weekly basis, Sunu does a lot of brainstorming on Mondays and Tuesday. And she gets the majority of her important work done between Wednesdays and Fridays. Based on your energy levels and work conditions, set apart time blocks to complete your most important projects. You can then allocate the rest of your time to other things on your to-do list, or simply spend some quality time with your family.
Bonus tip: Reward yourself
We usually tend to get things done more efficiently when we know we have something to look forward to at the end. For example, Sunu gets her work done early on days when she has a late night movie date with her husband. For me, well I look forward to putting my feet up in a quiet house and chatting with my husband after my boys are asleep :). So, give yourself something to look forward to when you’ve completed your tasks. It’s a surefire way to make sure you get it done!
I have personally followed the steps mentioned above, and find them to be very effective. I hope this process will help you optimize your day and make the best use of your time as well.
Do you have any time optimization tricks up your sleeve? Do share with us in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!