It may be challenging to recall a time recently not filled with complexity and stress. So many competing demands, urgent challenges, and conflicting expectations can leave us longing for bygone days when we were “just busy.”
The advice we are likely to hear, and give ourselves, is that we need to practice careful, disciplined time management. Such an admonition seems logical. We have only so much time during each day. Consequently, if we manage it properly, we should be more productive.
Yet, it happens that just managing our time is not likely to deliver the results we really need. The secret to productivity occurs not in managing each minute and hour. The secret lies in how we manage ourselves, our efficiency, and our effectiveness within the time we have; that’s what matters most. Thus, some people accomplish impressive amounts of work each day while others, despite being given the same number of hours, accomplish far less.
Consider these five self-managing strategies to move along the path to greater productivity:
- Focus fully on the task you are doing. Nothing slows productivity, reduces creativity, and leads to more errors than allowing ourselves to become distracted and pulled off-task. Worrying about the next meeting, a difficult phone call, or awkward appointment only gets in the way. If necessary, address what is causing the distraction first, or opt to worry after you finish.
- Start your day by tackling the most challenging, difficult, and demanding task(s). This approach reduces haunting feelings of pressure until we finish the challenging task. It can also give us the feeling of an early “big win” to build momentum for the day.
- Resist “owning” every task. Just because you have done it in the past, you are good at it, or receive praise for accomplishing it does not mean you must continue doing it. Ask yourself who else could do it. Even if they need training, and, though it may take a while before they perform at your level, it may be worth it to recapture some time. Additionally, you may be developing important skills and confidence in a future leader.
- Give priority to tasks that will make the greatest difference. Engaging staff, students, and families demonstrates your caring for and interest in their success and well-being. Resolving a reoccurring problem in the schedule, discipline, or other process not only saves future time but improves the system and everyone’s day. Pause to consider the predictable benefits of task completion before investing scarce time and energy.
- Set aside time each day to “clear your head.” Constantly moving from one task, activity, and interaction to another is exhausting, depletes energy, and diminishes opportunities for reflection and sense-making. Without time to think and reflect, you risk repeating unproductive behaviors and missing key insights that often lead to higher levels of performance.
Of course, we live in the real world. Not every day allows us to practice all these behaviors. Yet, the more days when these behaviors occupy the minutes and hours we have, the more we will be able to accomplish what matters most.