I thought I’d share the number one most important practical tip that I use daily in order to stay productive and focused on achieving my goals, in the hope that you find it equally beneficial.
All of us know the sluggish feeling of getting through a tiresome week, without really knowing what we’ve achieved, who we’ve helped or how we’ve developed as individuals. The days all merge into a big fuzzy mush and if we take the time to think about it, we’ve not really done anything that has any real value or significance at all!
Other times, we finish the week feeling overwhelmed with satisfaction and hit by that rushing sense of achievement and success – finishing a full day of productive revision; clearing out the garage and sorting out the house; or feeling healthy and re-energised after an active Saturday of exercise.
My number one practical tip is simply this: Use a Calendar Effectively.
It might sound like an obvious piece of advice and you’re probably thinking to yourself “but I do that already!”. I hope that by the end of this blog post, I’ll have convinced you that actually, you probably don’t.
I’ll go through some of the ways you can use a calendar more effectively for achieving your goals – whatever they may be.
One of the main benefits of putting everything in your calendar is that it enables you to have a bird’s-eye-view of your week. How am I allocating my time this week? Do my priorities correspond proportionally to the time/energy I’m allocating to them? Am I spending way too much time on things I don’t really care about?
These are all important questions to ask when trying to improve productivity, and they’re only possible when you can see what you’re spending your time doing.
Make sure you put everything on your calendar. That includes:
- Journaling/quiet times
- Employed work – Include sub-tasks
- Other work – Include sub-tasks
- Studying – Which tasks?
- Lectures – Which subjects?
- Listening to talks, podcasts etc.
If it takes more than 10 minutes and it’s something important, stick it in your calendar.
It’s a good idea to divide tasks into categories which you can colour-code in your calendar. Example categories could be:
- Personal Development
- Business Development
- Spiritual Growth
- Enjoyment and Relaxation
From here you will be able to see clearly how your time is allocated according to your priorities and design your week in order to cause you to achieve your goals in each area.
By the way, if you don’t have clearly defined goals, spend some time thinking about what they should be and write them down.
Here’s what my calendar looks like at the time of writing. It enables me to see exactly how I’m spending my time and how much each category is consuming my time and energy.
Routine is everything
It’s been said that “success is simply the result of successful routines”. I think that’s true. If you have a goal to achieve a certain promotion, build a successful company, grow in your relationship with God, become a better spouse or parent, effectively serve your community and the needy, or get fit and healthy – and do so as well as you can – a strategic routine is a MUST.
Successful, strategic, intentional and thought-through routines will result in success in achieving your goals.
Don’t have the time? Cut things out so you do. Use point 1) above to see where you can shave off chunks of your day to allocate your time in ways that are more valuable. If you can, delegate the tasks that you find drain your energy or aren’t where your strengths are, so you can focus time on important tasks that better utilise your strengths.
Spend as much time as possible doing the tasks of the most value to you for achieving your goals, and stick to them by making them a routine in your calendar. Constantly update and refine your weekly routine to make the very most of the those 7 days in a week.
Don’t use a to-do list
This is one of the most important features of using a calendar properly. We’ve all been there – adding task after task to a to-do list and watching the same items sat there like melons for weeks or even months on end without ever getting done.
When something comes up that you might need to do, give yourself only two options:
- If it’s not important, ignore it and throw it away (or delegate).
- If it’s important, find a block in your calendar for it straight away.
Sometimes you’ll have to allocate several blocks of time to complete a task, and that’s fine. Just make sure you allocate the time straight away to do something. Look at your calendar from a bird’s-eye-view, and pick a block of time that’s free and makes sense.
If you don’t have time to do this, add it to a list and make sure by the end of the day you’ve taken it off the list and put it in your calendar. Don’t do to sleep unless you have an empty to-do list and a full calendar!
Also, NEVER delete something from your calendar if it’s important. If you absolutely can’t do something that’s on there, just bump it forward an hour or a day. Don’t get rid of it just because you ended up not being able to fit it in.
Make the most of every block of time
We all have so much time in the week that we don’t spend intentionally.
Do you drive to work? Educate yourself with relevant podcasts rather than listen to music.
Do you spend a lot of time doing housework or running errands? Listen to practical or educational audio books.
Do you spend more than an hour a day watching TV? You really don’t need to fill your mind with that much trash.
Do you get to work and don’t know where to begin or what to prioritise? Spend 15 minutes planning your day and deciding what your MITs are (Most Important Tasks) for achieving your goals for that day.
Do you think of yourself as an evening person, not a morning person? Experiment! Try getting up at 6:30 every morning and be in bed by 10:30, for a month. See if you can adjust.
But most importantly, put it all in your calendar (I strongly suggest using Google Calendars and an app like ‘Sunrise’ or ‘Fantastical’). Put everything you experiment with and everything that’s routine in your calendar.
Whatever it is, be intentional about how you allocate time and use your calendar strategically. Design your week, don’t let your week design you. Get on top of your use of time and if you maintain successful routines, you’ll be successful in achieving your goals.