Girl boss. Boss babe. Rise and grind. The time management and productivity world is full of toxic positivity and hustle-culture quotes that are doing us no favors. Sure, we all have 24-hours in the day but we don’t all have the same resources, responsibilities, support, distractions, or privilege; how those 24-hours look is vastly different for each of us. Add in two years of a global pandemic and work-from-home hybrid models with a dash of caregiving and it’s no wonder so many of us struggle with overwhelm, anxiety, and burn out. It’s time to change the way we look at time management altogether in a way that supports, not deflates and exhausts us. Here are three modern, sustainable methods of time management for real people like you and me:
Method 1: Task Blocking
You’ve likely heard of “Task Batching and “Time Blocking”, but please say hello to their younger, hipper sister: Task Blocking. She’s a combination of these two traditional (ahem, outdated) time management methods, but a better fit for our high-tech workflows and hybrid schedules.
What it is: Task Blocking is a method of identifying available blocks of time in your day (ABTs) and assigning an appropriate task or goal to each block.
How to do it: Assess your schedule and note any time-specific events, such as meetings, appointments, or calls. Next, consider things you want to do, like a lunch date, 5-minute walk break, or ending the day at 4 pm to do something special with your kid. Add those “want to dos” to your schedule. Now, review your schedule again. The time that remains open are your ABTs (Available Blocks of Time). Look at their duration and assign appropriate tasks and goals to each ABT.
Pro tip: Big blocks of time are going to be better for more complex tasks or deep work. Small blocks are obviously better for simpler tasks that don’t require as much time or focus.
The early 2000s were all about multitasking. Browser tabs and internet forums had us all fired up and we absolutely salivated over how many things we could do at once.
Method 2: Focus Sessions
The early 2000s were all about multitasking. Browser tabs and internet forums had us all fired up and we absolutely salivated over how many things we could do at once. But the research is clear: nothing kills productivity like multi-tasking. We’ve now entered the roaring-20s, and we’re all about Focus Sessions now.
What it is: A Focus Session is simply the act of setting yourself up for success by eliminating all distractions during an ABT and focusing on one specific task or goal for a specified block of time. When done right, it will help you get more done in less time.
How to do it: Assign a realistic task and goal to your ABT (know what tasks are best suited to your larger or smaller blocks). Do what you can to eliminate distractions (close browser windows, put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode, toss on white noise or instrumental music, light a candle, make a good bev). Use a timer to designate your ABT and stay focused on that task until the timer finishes (this is my favorite timer). Then, take a break. And I mean a real break. Get up from your desk. Move around. Drink some water. Go outside if you can. Maybe squeeze in a short 5-10 minute walk or stretch session. The break will allow your brain to rest so that it’s ready for the next session.
Wow, I just worked 9 hours and I have no idea what I actually did or if the needle moved at all. Been there?
Method 3: Highlighting
Have you ever seen a photo that is super out of focus and blurry? You can maybe make out some colors and vague shapes, but for the most part nothing really stands out or feels significant? Our brains can do the same thing to time. Sometimes this can be a defense mechanism to protect us from stress or trauma. Many of us experienced this to some degree during the pandemic or other stressful life situations. But sometimes it’s simply because we are performing routines over and over, and instead of wasting unnecessary energy being super present or focused on what’s going on, our brain goes into a sort of autopilot.
For modern workers this can often look like getting to the end of the day, and it feeling like a blur. You might be left saying, Wow, I just worked 9 hours and I have no idea what I actually did or if the needle moved at all. Been there?
While this can be a really good thing if it's protecting us from trauma or helping us conserve energy, as modern humans we might want to override this primal instinct and stay more present in our days. Enter Highlighting.
What it is: Highlighting is simply the act of drawing attention to one aspect of your day (something you accomplished, that you are grateful for, that made you happy, or that you prioritized).
How to do it: While saying it aloud can be enough, writing it down helps provide your brain with valuable motor feedback that can reinforce the benefits. I recommend making a “daily highlight” part of your end-of-day routine. You might use a gratitude journal or a notebook dedicated to highlights. Flipping back through them at the end of the week or month helps eliminate that what-did-I-even-accomplish-today feeling and remember the best part of each day—which aren’t always necessarily work or productivity related. In fact, my highlights are often things I made time for and prioritized, such as sitting outside in the sun, reading, or meeting up with a friend.
Now, you might be like, Okay these tips all sound great, but where do I start? My advice is to decide which one sounds the most exciting or impactful, and implement them one at a time. Since it will likely be a new habit, try connecting it directly to a habit you already have so that your brain gets that natural reminder. For example, if you want to start Task Blocking, establish it as a habit you’ll do when you sit down at your desk and enjoy your first cup of coffee. Turn on a good playlist, assess your schedule, identify your ABTs, and assign appropriate tasks while you caffeinate.
Next, try doing Focus Sessions with your ABTs. Once those two habits seem solid, try connecting Highlighting to an existing habit that you currently do at the end of the each day (like clearing out emails, logging time, commuting home, making dinner, etc).
While our modern life can be hectic and overwhelming, you can reclaim our time and find a healthy, sustainable level of productivity to add joy and presence back into your days.
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This article mentions: Work Well