This was originally written for Enterprising Women Magazine. Enjoy!
Let’s face it. No matter how efficient we are, no matter how quickly we work, and no matter how much we’d like it to be different, our to-do lists are here to stay. Rather than have that be discouraging, though, what about if you thought of it as liberating? Since there will always be things you need to do, and since, if you want to have a happy and successful life, you can’t put off fun, and self-care, and time with friends and family indefinitely, why not do the most important things on that list of yours—efficiently—and then use the rest of your time to fit in all the things you really want to do?
Sound good? Here’s how:
- Schedule power hours. These are uninterrupted blocks of time during which you plow through as many things on your list as you possibly can. This time is not for unscheduled phone calls or scrolls through your Facebook page. This is one hour (or so) of focused, I-pity-the-fool-who-gets-in-my-way time so that you can cross things off that list of yours—and free up some much-needed mental space.
- Schedule like with like. If you need to make several phone calls, make them one after another. Have a pile of papers staring you in the face? Sit down and tackle all of them at once. Run every errand you can think of that’s within a reasonable distance from the others. Plan meals for the whole week. You get the idea. We lose a lot of time during transitions so minimize them as much as you possibly can and you’ll notice that time seems to expand a bit.
- Schedule retreat days. These are similar to power hours but you get the whole day. Use retreat days to tackle all of those nagging projects that you just never seem to get to. If it’s a work retreat day, do your filing, read those articles you’ve saved for later, and get some long overdue networking lunches on your future schedule. If it’s a personal retreat day, sew on those buttons, organize those photos into files, and finally spend some time going through your closet. (Replace items on these lists with actual to-dos from your life.)
- Schedule fun. It seems crazy that we need to remind ourselves to do things we love to do but believe me when I tell you that you’ll manage to fit in a lot more fun if you give it space on your calendar. The best way to do this is to figure out what you want and need and then plan accordingly. For instance, if you want a weekly date night, make sure you put it on your calendar and then hire a regular babysitter. If you get a lot of joy from hanging out with girlfriends, initiate an email to get some dates on the calendar—and to take it a step further, how about a regularly scheduled girlfriend date you can all look forward to? If you all agree that you’ll have brunch the first Sunday of every month, you can have it on your calendar well in advance and then all you have to do is choose the place each time.
- Schedule self-care. This one is similar to scheduling fun. If you know you need downtime to function at your best, by all means put it on that calendar of yours. Schedule massages or walks or time to just be and then honor those appointments like you would any other. You might consider putting aside some time for self-care on your calendar every day—even if it’s just a few minutes. The benefits of this include stress-management and a better mood.
- Create hit lists. Hit lists are created before you need them so when you find yourself with a small window of extra time with which to accomplish something, you can pull out your hit list and choose something without having to think about it too much. We recommend hit lists for those business tasks that you never seem to make time for—catching up work-related reading, prospecting, or even social media. And, in your personal life, a hit list of quick dinner ideas is always great to have on hand for those times when you just can’t muster up the energy to think much about what’s for dinner.
- Leave space on your calendar. This one may be the most important of all. When you leave some wiggle room, you create days that aren’t spent running frantically from one activity to the next. You’ll have time to handle those unexpected to-dos that crop up from time to time and you’ll also be able to enjoy a few minutes here and there to just be.
Use these suggestions to make the most of your days. After all, we really are in charge of our time, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.