How to Become a Time Management Ninja

I’ve been stressed out lately.

And if you read my last article, you probably know why.

But, as I’ve mentioned before, when I’m at my best I can create a stunning symphony of productivity and efficiency.

Part of that is knowing when and how to layer tasks to take up less time as mentioned in How to Multitask Like a Champ, and the other part is knowing what’s worth your time and where to schedule it.

We’ll be going through the latter today.

So let’s jump into it!


The Power of No

I rarely, if ever, feel content. I have this unquenchable thirst to do new things, see new things, learn new things, etc.

And for awhile, this resulted in saying yes to EVERYTHING.

So many things that I got overwhelmed and couldn’t make a measurable step forward on any project. (Developing severe anxiety at the same time probably didn’t help, but ya know, whatever).

Living in this kind of chaos isn’t good for anyone.

Sit down, prioritize what actually matters to you, and say no to everything else…even if someone gives you the biggest puppy dog eyes you’ve ever seen.

You’re really helping them in the long run, because you can’t be any help to someone if you’re drowning in other responsibilities.

Once your schedule and focus is clear, you’ll be amazed how much more you can actually get done.


Make it Flexible

How often do you feel like you have to force yourself to do something? For me, it’s a daily occurrence…and a huge waste of time.

So I rarely force myself to do something specific if I’m not in the mood. Instead, I give myself a loose list not tied to any specific times. If I’m not making headway on one thing, I merely switch to something else that my brain isn’t fighting against.

Note that this only works if you have a prioritized list ready to go. If you have to stop and think about what to do instead, you’re just going to waste more time.

There’s also another caveat to consider: limit how many times you can substitute a task. Otherwise, I promise that you’ll find it on your to-do list for weeks, months, or years if you really hate it.

If you’re tempted to drop it each day, eating the frog is probably a better move.

But overall, being less regimented and giving yourself more choice can tame your inner toddler long enough to get into flow mode where it’s easier to get complex tasks done.


Time Yourself

If you frequently read my blogs, you’re probably sick of me mentioning this, but I have a degree in neuroscience/psychology. But if I mention psychology stuff without citing studies or the credibility of mentioning I have a degree, no one will believe me.

And I don’t want to hunt down resources, this blog is for fun. FUN!

Anyway, fun fact I learned at school: people are really bad at estimating the time it takes to do something.

So if you’ve ever booked yourself a ‘perfect’ schedule only to realize you’re never going to finish everything by the end of the day, you’re not alone.

The only way to know for sure how long something is going to take is:

  1. Do it a lot of times
  2. Collect the data

The first couple times you do something, take how long you think it’ll take and give yourself twice the time. You can always schedule a less crucial task to work on in the extra time if it ends up overkill.

But the important thing is to time yourself. Do this a few times until you can reliably estimate how long the task takes. Then, when you have to give someone else an estimate or make a schedule, you’ll have a much better idea of what you can accomplish in what time.

For instance, I know that each of these articles takes me about 1.5h from drafting to publishing, so it’s really easy to schedule the time…when it’s a priority.

It’s not always a priority….sorry.


Know When You’re Most Productive

If you’re like most people, the answer to when you’re most productive is probably within the first couple hours of waking up.

Recently, I’ve been wasting my most productive hours by working against this knowledge, and it’s been a huge mistake.

I usually walk the dog, eat breakfast, and read a bit before making it to my office to work. And by the time I’ve taken my sweet time doing these things for a couple hours, I already feel tired again.

Today, I took my dog to the park for 30 minutes and immediately came home to get working. I finished half my to-do list before 9:30am.

Needless to say, I’m making this a permanent change in my schedule. (Update: I totally backslid on this the rest of this week! Oh well, there will be plenty of opportunities to get this right next week.)

But some people need to take their time to wake up. My fiance barely knows his name in the first couple hours after his eyes open. He just stumbles around like a zombie until he’s had coffee and dicked around on his phone for an hour.

Then, he springs to life mid-morning and suddenly becomes a productivity ninja.

Pay attention to when you feel fresh and creative and schedule accordingly.


Batch and Alternate Tasks

Another fun thing I learned in psychology is that people have a really hard time switching tasks, especially when those tasks require very different neurological processes.

So if you try to jump from analyzing data to writing an article, this quantum leap will fry your brain for a bit and make it hard to get into that article.

But at the same time the brain craves novelty, so doing the same type of thing all day is a really boring way to exist.

Enter: batching and alternating!

Batch similar tasks together that you can swap on your schedule or move from one to another without too much disruption. Then, after you take a break, switch to another batch of similar tasks that are dissimilar from the first set of tasks.

This way, you limit disruptions without becoming a robot.


I have a bunch of other time management tips, so if anyone is interested in a part 2 to this, let me know! I also want to know what you do to make the most of your time!

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