7 (+1) tips for the most effective time planning

I manage multiple & complex client engagement across 7 times zones, and I still manage to have quality work/life balance. How do I manage this? One of my secrets are the following 7 (+1) tips for the most effective time planning with an interactive (desktop) calendar.

One of my all-time favorite quotes by Jim Rohn is “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” From a time management perspective, this quote can be simplified as “if you don’t have your own plan (calender), you’ll become part of someone else’s plan”. Does that ring a bell? Does that explain why most days you leave work feeling that you worked your ass off, yet it seems like you didn’t get much of your own work priorities done? The difference between “active” & “effective” is the difference between “failure” & “success”, and the most critical key to guarantee the success of any endeavor is the planning process itself.

To ensure that you become more effective, rather than just more active, read over the following 7tips for effective time planning, and then on a scales of 1-5 (1 being unacceptable & 5 being “over-the top” you should be writing this post) reflect on how you feel you’re currently doing.

  1. Make the planner calendar a part of your daily routine
  2. EVERYTHING must be put in your planner calendar, don’t miss out anything
  3. Break large tasks into smaller ones
  4. Set time limits for your tasks
  5. Set reminders for every task
  6. Repeat recurring events and develop a routine
  7. Sync your calender with your mobile phone (use all the functions of calendar scheduling software to increase its productivity)

Now let me elaborate a little more, and give you some examples for each one of these tips:

1. Make the planner calendar a part of your daily routine; Get used to checking your task scheduler every morning and every evening.  Check and edit your daily schedule in the morning, or the evening before depending on your preference/natural style/inclination. It will be great if you get into the habit of looking through your daily tasks immediately after turning on, or a few minutes before turning off your computer. In the evening, postpone tasks you haven’t complete today for the next day or for another day, depending on their relevance/state of urgency. Extra Tip; Personally, I schedule 1h at the end of each day for gauging my personal satisfaction level with the day just completed by analyzing the “whys” of success or failure (standard deviation) to achieve my desired outcome for the day. I take on-board the personal lessons, or investigate the reasons I don’t understand, and in doing so, more importantly I disconnect from my work-life until I plug back in the next morning, giving me a fully concentrated evening with friends, family & loved ones.

2. EVERYTHING must be put in your planner calendar, don’t miss out anything; If you use a business calendar, you may think that your personal affairs have nothing to do with your scheduler and you haven’t to put such tasks as picking up your child from the school or visiting dentist in the calendar. You’re wrong! You must put in everything that takes up your time. It’s the only way to realize how much time you really have for work and to manage both work and personal life. Here is a key secret to anyone looking for the ever escaping work-life balance! Calendar based activities let you reduce the length of time you spend making excuses, or explaining “why” you were late, or forgot to pick-up the dry-cleaning again! I even take int consideration, and schedule, my travel, and/or wait time between destinations/activities.

3. Break large tasks into smaller ones; When you mark the date of submitting quarterly report in your task scheduler, it will be a little help for you. The more effective way is to break this large task into small manageable parts and put each of them in a calendar planner. For example, mark the dates when you have to start gathering data for your report, the dates of first and final checkups, etc. This will help you to manage your assignments more effectively. Extra Tip; Speaking of smaller tasks, I prefer to “calender” my “to-do’s”, as otherwise they just become one more thing that won’t get done because I didn’t have time for it. As I got more control over my own schedule, I have migrated to categorizing my to-do’s into A, B or C, and when an “A” item slips one day, then it moves into my calender. If to-do’s slip and no one notices or complains, maybe you want to ensure that the task really is important 😉

4. Set time limits for your tasks; Of course, you can’t set time limit for stockholders’ meeting (if you’re not a principal stockholder :)). But you can limit such tasks as ‘surfing web and reading news’. When such task is not limited in time, it can take your whole working day. To save time for most important tasks, set time limit, put the next task into the scheduler and don’t forget to set a reminder, especially if you’re an easily carried away person. Extra Tip; Ever heard of “run-away” activities? That’s when you planned 5 minutes to update your Facebook profile, only to realize 3 hours later that you got carried away checking out & commenting your friend’s lives! Never happened to you? Not even something similar? Congratulations, you are “the exception”. A key lesson I’ve learned in the last few years is to set my calender appointments, when possible, according to my energy levels. Example, I’m a morning person, so I would schedule all of the activities I loved doing in the morning & left the book keeping & boring or challenging routines for the afternoon so as not to spoil my day. Guess what never got done and then I had to stress to complete? With a simple shift of “stressing tasks” to the morning when I’m pumped with energy, and “motivating tasks” for the afternoon when my energy is typically low, not only did I increase my effectiveness, but I also leveled out my mood swings 🙂 I had balanced days & my energy compensated for my work effort!

5. Set reminders for every task; You can forget even about the appointment you’re desperately waiting for. Don’t rely upon your memory. It’s better to set a reminder and be sure you won’t miss the time. If you don’t want to use sound reminder, you can set “your application” to show message as a reminder (including in your mobile phone) or, even to run application you need at the proper time. Also, you can choose more than one remind action for one event and select whatever sound file as a sound reminder. Extra Tip; Most e-mail applications also allow you to schedule a “follow-up”, which will remind you of an e-mail that requires action, or for which you are awaiting a response. Extra Extra Tip; Set your reminder with enough warning interval to be effective. Don’t set the reminder for 15 minutes if you have to drive across town to make that meeting!

6. Repeat recurring events and develop a routine; Using the “Repeat option” of your Calendar application to repeat recurring events not only saves your time for everyday planning but also helps you to develop a routine. Why is routine so important for successful time management? Effective routine means better organization and less stress, thus, you can increase the efficiency of your work and get more things done. Calendar “Repeat options” allow repeating events every day, week, month or year, choose weekdays and days of a month for repeating events – so, you can easily set any time interval for repeating. (!!) Example, Never forget that birthday or anniversary again!! 🙂 Extra Tip; Batch your activities for maximum effectiveness. It has been scientifically proven that for every single interruption or distraction, it takes you up to 20 minutes on average to get back to the same productivity level as before you were interrupted/distracted. If I’ve got to make phone calls or do prospecting, I block out an entire morning, afternoon or day for the respective activity. If you group “like-minded” tasks you will help your brain work in a more effective manner, and in addition to increasing the probability of your results, you will also reduce your stress & fatigue by the end of the day! Extra Extra Tip; It is also scientifically proven that Multi-Tasking is a myth!! Yes, even for women. Your brain can not apply 100% concentration to to or more tasks at the same time, so when you choose to “multi-task” make sure you’re OK with those tasks being done to less than 100% effectiveness.

7. Sync your calender with your mobile phone; I live in an automated world and to best leverage my time I’ll use every tool possible to facilitate my memory & sense of urgency. Today, we’ll leave our wrist watch at home & not fret, as we’ll be comfortably served with the clock on our mobile phone. Can you remember the last time you went anywhere without your mobile(s)? Right, I think you get my point! Google map links to meetings or hotels that I have to be at, as well as telephone numbers for my meeting contact are other items of information that I always ensure are listed within my calender appointment. This way, if I’m running late, or have gotten myself lost, there’s nothing like being a few “taps” away from “peace of mind”.

In case you haven’t figures it out yet, the (+1) were the Extra Tip sections 😉

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