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Focus on Time, Not on Tasks

As I noted a couple of days ago, Forbes recently published a ridiculous listicle of tasks to complete every morning. Do this, do that, run down the checklist. I ridiculed it because (a) it was drop-dead obvious things to do that people should have incorporated into their routine in high school, (b) I dislike lists, and (c) most people probably will try it for a day or so then fail at it.

There is a famous saying: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” But guess what? Most plans fail anyway. The plan stays on the paper, in your schedule, or the back of your head. You have every intention of following through with the plan, but you never do. So instead of focusing on a plan, or a tasklist, or some optimized workflow organization (just use the Pomodoro Technique) – focus on time. Specifically, where your time is being spent.

Find out where your time goes. If you’re a slave to the billable hour, you already know how to do this. If you aren’t, then it’s time try it out for awhile, but with a twist: don’t just track your billable time, track ALL your time. As soon as you step into the office, start to take account of where your time goes. Get a stopwatch, check a clock, whatever you have to do to keep track of your day. Then log all of it, either in a trusty ypad or Excel.

time wallAre you drafting a brief or are goofing off on Facebook? Are you making copies or are you hanging out in the kitchen? Are you following up with contacts or are you camped out on Cookie Clicker? (Don’t click that link. Seriously don’t do it. As an aside, I’m certainly not producing 1,890,782.2 cookies a second.)

If you do this for a couple of days, you’ll likely be surprised to find out where much of your time actually goes. You’ll also likely find out what periods of your day are most productive. Only once you have an understanding of where your time goes, can you begin to manage and optimize productive time and minimize unproductive tasks and activities. Set limits on frivolous, unproductive tasks that aren’t work or generating work, which in turn will free up more time for you to devote on things that actually need your attention.

Stop spending so much time on planning, creating task lists, or optimal methodologies and instead focus on where your time is spent.

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