One of my best strategies for balancing time and work is the combined use of a task management system and a routine for managing those tasks. This approach enhances my productivity and helps me eke out a few more hours each day.
Starting off the week
First thing Monday, open a task management app (like Wunderlist or Asana), a timer app (like Pomodoro or Be Focused), your calendar, and email. Productivity experts warn against checking email first thing in the morning, but that’s not what you’re going to be doing here. Instead, you’re going to speed through your messages and sort them into piles. Set your timer for 30 minutes and begin sorting.
Email was designed as a communication mechanism; therefore, every message that requires an action beyond simply replying gets forwarded to Wunderlist. Any emails that require you to complete tasks or review information: forward to Wunderlist. Again, you’re sorting and forwarding.
Rate your tasks
When the timer sounds, prioritize your tasks by assigning them due dates and complexity ratings. Most people try to manage things from a priority perspective, but that has never worked for me. Instead, I prefer to look at tasks in terms of how much time each will take to complete.
Checking things off
Aim for completing one large (time-consuming) task and two small ones per day, and you’ll be able to stay on top of planned tasks and manage unplanned tasks as well. If you complete all planned tasks and no other “emergency” tasks have arisen, move onto tomorrow’s tasks. Even if it’s an overwhelming day of unplanned activity, you’ll likely have a few minutes for checking off at least one small, planned task, which will help you feel productive even if nothing else has worked in your favor during the day.
What about my email?
Save it for later. Select a few times of the day during which you’ll respond to email. Since you have winnowed down your messages to items that require responses only, you should be able to address them quickly.
Every time you check your email, follow the same philosophy: forward anything that requires more than a response. On Tuesday morning, you’ll be able to schedule those “new” tasks in under 10 minutes.
This system does take some work to put in place, but it really only takes about ten minutes a day to maintain, and it will help you stay super organized.