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How To Optimize Your Time and Make Bigger Strides in 3 Simple Steps

Hoca

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We’re in the third month of summer and coming to the end of vacation season shortly. I hope you’ve had a chance to get away at least once—if not more than once!—to take a break and to refresh, relax and renew.

I certainly have enjoyed three trips in three states bordering Maryland: a week in Philadelphia, PA, a week in Bethany Beach, DE, and a week in Williamsburg, VA. It’s been a lot of fun to get away without having to travel too far—or get on a plane.

Your trips may have been more exotic, but no matter where you went or for how long, if you stepped away from your office and your email Inbox for a period of time, I have a feeling you were dreading the “re-entry” period when you returned and had to deal with hundreds of emails that had poured in while you were on a break.

Email never takes a break, does it? It’s no wonder. According to annual research conducted by the Radicati Group, it grows 3-4% each year.

Also, according to their Email Statistics Report, 2020-2024, the number of worldwide emails sent and received per day is expected to exceed 361 billion by the end of 2024. Business emails represent roughly 55% of that number, which means that by the end of 2024, business emails are expected to soar up to about 200 billion per day. Yikes.

Email just never goes away. It’s the most ubiquitous form of communication we use, even though on any typical workday we have to deal with MANY forms of communication. Email is just one of them.

And while email brings a LOT of tasks and follow ups to take care of—which makes it all too easy to stay STUCK in the Inbox—it’s not the ONLY source of TASKS in our workday.

You’ve heard me say it before and I’ll say it again: there are more than TEN different sources of tasks in your workday. These include phone calls, texts, meetings, hallway conversations, social media, IMs, snail mail, teams software, the papers and files on your desk, and many more.

You may feel the burden of this even if you hadn’t counted up the many places where tasks are flowing in.

In addition, you may feel a bit challenged when keeping track of tasks. You may be stressed about how to prioritize. You might be worried about forgetting a follow up or missing a deadline.

You may even feel overwhelmed without a safe place to put tasks—where you KNOW you can stay in control and never miss anything. And when your level of uncertainty creeps up, it’s likely to make you worry that something (or many somethings!) will get away from you and slip through the cracks.



An Average Approach to Getting Things Done Yields Average Progress and Results.​


To stay on top of things, you might grab the nearest legal pad, notebook, steno pad, or post-it note to get tasks on paper so you won’t forget.

Unfortunately, however, when a to-do list is written on paper, it becomes ONE more source of tasks that has to be juggled with all the rest.

Like many of the old task and time management methods, the to-do list on paper is NOT the answer for the most efficient, effective management of tasks and follow-ups.

It’s an average approach to getting things done that will only hold you back, giving you average progress and average results at best.

Yes, paper gives you temporary safety, because you can get something out of your head.

But paper is a tool, not a system, and a to-do list on paper will NEVER bridge the gap where an effective task management system should be.



An Optimal Approach to Getting Things Done Yields Optimal Progress and Results.​


Instead of settling for an average workday and average progress and results, take these three simple steps to manage tasks MOST effectively so you can optimize your time and make bigger strides in your workday. As a result, you’ll gain more clarity and control of your tasks, and increase confidence that you know you’re spending your time wisely.

CENTRALIZE

Your goal is to achieve 100% awareness of ALL responsibilities. Leave no stone unturned when you start looking. Look for every task, to-do, follow-up, idea, and reminder.

Review, question, and make decisions about everything you find. Which items are for reference? Which items are reminders for action or follow up? What do you want to read, delegate, give away, or toss? What information do you want to save?

Tasks you find should be added to a central, digital Task List, which is the ONLY kind of approach that can contain ALL of your tasks. And I don’t mean that little task app on your phone. I mean a FULL task list on your computer where you have plenty of space for descriptive action steps and you can see more than just today’s tasks. THEN you can synchronize it with your phone.

With 100% awareness of tasks, you can create a plan of action for each and every task no matter the source or when you plan to take action.

REALIZE
When you “realize” your tasks, you’re bringing them to life and making them real. They’re not just some notion rolling around in your head or an undetermined task stuck in an email.

Your mission is to recognize a task when you see one. Then determine exactly what you need to do. What’s the FIRST action step to get this started or the NEXT action step to keep this moving forward? These steps must be SMALL and achievable. Not to be an under-achiever…
😉
…but because research shows that when you take these very small action steps, one after the next, you will get that steady forward movement you’re craving each day. And that’s progress!

It’s the opposite of trying to do too much or tackle something too big, which only causes you to hesitate, procrastinate, or just stop.

Instead, think SMALL. Avoid naming a task like a project. Avoid naming a task as the last step in a process or as the outcome. What are you REALLY going to do first or next?

Be descriptive when stating your task. You’ll be happy later on that you captured the details on the day you created the task. And please avoid abbreviating tasks. You won’t enjoy feeling at a loss when you have NO idea what the task is about, because it was too short or lacked important details.

Also, always include the “why” behind the task. Why are you making that call? Why are you reviewing this report? What are you looking for? What’s your end goal?

Since you can’t do everything today, each task should get its own target date of action. When you step back and review where they landed on the list, understand that each daily list should be short and sweet—and DO-ABLE. Only a few tasks should be planned for today and the rest should be planned for action on a future day, in a future week, or in a future month.

This is just one more reason why it’s SO important to be FULLY descriptive of your tasks NOW, when you capture them and they’re fresh in your mind so you can understand the task details later when you’re ready to take action.

PRIORITIZE
There are two important parts of a task that generate progress. One is knowing WHAT you need to do. The other is WHEN you need to do it.

This is where paper to-do lists get most people into trouble. A list on some form of paper—and even in a task app on your phone—only contains a brain dump of WHAT a person can think of, but these lists are missing a LOT of tasks from a LOT of sources.

Plus, tasks are not properly planned or prioritized when they’re listed on a legal pad. In a task app, tasks can have DUE dates, but they won’t have DO dates and that’s a problem.

Deadlines are important for sure, but what matters most to your progress are the DO dates for each of your tasks.

Not only do you need to make decisions about WHEN to take action on your tasks, but when you can see them all with a bird’s-eye view, you’re able to compare tasks and make smart decisions about how to spend your time. That means you can PRIORITIZE very easily because all of your tasks are in your vision. And no matter how far out you want to take action in the future, you can rest assured that your tasks are there on the list and ready for action.

Plus, when your day changes and priorities shift, you’ll have the power to pivot very quickly, make new decisions, reprioritize, and keep making progress—all without missing, losing, or forgetting anything.
 
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