3 Effective Time Management Strategies – Part 2: Plan

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In the previous episode we kicked off our 3-part series on effective time management, and in case you missed it, we covered the first step – Prioritise

Learning how to properly prioritise is key to boosting your productivity, and we shared some tips on how to refine your to-do list, including ranking items, setting deadlines, categorising by time, and breaking up big tasks. We also talked about what to do with the tasks that can’t be thrown out entirely and put on the backburner. 

If you haven’t listened to that episode yet, I encourage you to pause, go back to that episode to listen to it first, then join us back here.

This week, we’re moving onto the second step, which is Plan. 

Now that you have your prioritised to-do list, it’s time to plan out how you’ll complete it in the most efficient and effective way possible.

1. Time Box Your Tasks

Think about time as a flexible resource that expands or contracts based on the limits you set. What if your first task eats up more of your time than you expected? To prevent this from happening, you can plan a box of time for each task. Once you reach the end of that box, you’ll decide whether to continue by expanding the time limit, or put off finishing it for the next day.

For example, you might decide that the most important thing today is to finish writing copy for your landing page. So, you set aside two hours to do it in the morning. At the end of that two hours, you’re not quite done. You’ve gotten stuck in the details or refining the wording, and it’s going to take at least another hour.

You might look at the time and your list and decide to make finishing your copy as the first priority tomorrow, when your mind can focus with renewed energy. Then, proceed with the next item on your list.

2. Find Your Natural Rhythms

Each of us has times of day when we’re most productive. You may also have a certain time when you’re best at problem solving or communicating with others. Try to schedule tasks during these optimal times of day.

Maybe your most creative time of day is late morning. If so, schedule tasks like content creation for the hour or two before lunch. If you’re at your most social in the late afternoon, set this time for writing important emails or holding meetings. Finding – and working with – your natural rhythms, will help you be more productive.

3. Plan for Interruptions

No matter how well you plan, some things are likely to take longer than you thought. There may be interruptions or problems you hadn’t anticipated that you have to deal with right away. To allow for the unexpected, you have to pad your to-do list schedule with extra time blocks.

Even if things don’t take longer than expected, padding your schedule still has an advantage. You’ll be done with your work more quickly than you anticipated, which means you can finish your day sooner or get started on tomorrow’s tasks.

To plan for interruptions, try the following:

Overestimate: When setting time limits on the items on your list, overestimate the time it will take to complete them. Don’t schedule a morning or afternoon too tightly or you’ll be under constant pressure and will inevitably start running behind. And if you’re always running behind schedule, you’ll end up back on that treadmill of always trying to catch up.

Buffer: Add a buffer of time in your schedule between blocks of work. For example, if you’re dividing up your time into 2-hour blocks, schedule in a 20 to 30 minute buffer with no specific task in between each 2 hour block.

Plan for Catch-Up: Another idea is to schedule specific “catch-up time”, such as just before lunch or at the end of the day. And if you don’t need it, you can use this time to take a break.

Remember also that you can always put off an item until the next day if it’s going unexpectedly longer and you need a fresh mind to tackle it.

4. Batch Tasks for Better Efficiency

Now we’re going to talk about one of my favourite ways to work more productively – and that is batching.

Sometimes, it’s not efficient to work on each task every day. Instead, you might take certain items and “batch” them by setting aside a longer block of time or even a full day to work on them.

For example, you might publish a weekly video or podcast. It takes time to set up equipment, record, edit, and produce the content each time. However, if you only have to set up everything once, you can save a significant amount of time. In this case, you might reserve Fridays for video production. Related tasks such as scripting and editing can be done then, or added to other days’ to-do lists.

If you have a large number of client calls to make, it might be better to schedule them on two separate mornings rather than trying to space them out day-by-day. This is also a good strategy for tasks where you need to get “in the zone” – where you need to prepare your mindset to tackle the task appropriately. I have specific days and times set aside for client calls. I find video calls in general stressful and will often get almost nothing else done on days I have calls set. So by limiting when these calls happen, I can easier plan around them. 

5. Use Project Management Tools

Now we’re going to talk about project management tools. When I first started freelancing, I relied on memory to keep track of what I was working on at any given time. It did not take long to run into problems with that – but I kept thinking I wasn’t ‘professional’ enough to need a project management tool. I was just a freelancer fitting in a couple hours every evening after work – I didn’t need an entire project management tool! I felt like I’d be a bit of a fake.

As I got busier with more projects and more clients, I was struggling to keep track of where I was in the process for my clients, and that is when I decided to try out Trello – and never went back to relying on memory again.

Any system for managing the tasks you have to do is fine as long as it works for you. But consider using a project management system to make keeping track of everything easier.

Project management systems include features such as:

  • Interactive Calendars. You can manage your schedule easily and customize what’s included and how it displays.
  • Multiple Project. With several projects, whether short or long-term, you can see where you are in each at a glance.
  • Variety of Methods. These programs have to-do lists, time management, and other methods to help you plan.
  • Built-In Tools. They have tools to help you with tasks that might be your weak points, like planning a budget.
  • Shareability. Since they’re online, you can share with team members easily and access anywhere you have internet.

There are many free and premium programs. It’s best to try out free programs first. A simple free program may be just what you need.

If you’re considering paying for a premium project management program, don’t buy extras that you don’t need. Take advantage of free trials and make sure it’s right for you before you buy.

Some of the most highly-rated systems right now include:

ClickUp

Trello

Asana

As I mentioned, my very first project management tool was Trello. Then, after being exposed to other tools like Asana, Basecamp, and ClickUp when I was working with agencies in my early VA days, I made the switch to ClickUp. I love how customisable it was, and the layout and structure just made sense for how my brain works. I really tried with Asana, but for some reason it just doesn’t work for me. I can’t quite figure my way around.

I have been an ardent fan and supporter of ClickUp for a few years now, but during 2022 I actually made the switch back to Trello.

Now that doesn’t mean I have changed my views on ClickUp.

I have a tendency to overcomplicate things, especially in business. And my ClickUp workspace was one of those areas I was overcomplicating.

I have spent the last year simplifying a lot in my business – scaling back, letting go of smaller clients. Not all of it was planned – during the course of 2022 a lot was happening that forced me to cut back quite a bit. But it allowed me to see areas of my business where I could simplify and streamline. 

So I made the decision to switch to Trello again – which I was still using for some personal boards.

I’m still happy with the decision – I may go back to ClickUp again, but for now it is working well to use Trello.

It’s easy to get complicated with project management tools. Remember that the whole point is to make things easier.  

6. Getting Ready for Tomorrow

Our last step when it comes to planning, is to get ready for tomorrow.

At the end of each day, look at your list and get ready for tomorrow. If there are tasks you didn’t get to today, put them on your list for tomorrow.

Ideally, you should plan out your entire week in advance to maximise your time. Then, at the end of each day, you’ll refine the next day’s schedule to take into account any changes needed or unexpected tasks that have come up.

About once a week, or at whatever pace works for you, review long-term projects and check in to see how you’re doing. Look at the system you’ve implemented and see whether it’s working or not. These systems are highly personalised and made perfect through trial and error, and constant revision.

In this episode, we continued our 3-part series on effective time management, covering the second step – Plan. We spoke about time boxing, finding natural rhythms, planning for interruptions, batching tasks for better efficiency, and using project management tools. By implementing these strategies, you can increase productivity, accomplish more in less time, and reduce stress. In the next episode, we’ll discuss the third and final step in our series – Produce.

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