When you need to manage your time efficiently but your job is chaotic, where do you even begin?
As most of you know, I got my start in PR managing the schedules of the most in-demand elected officials in the country, followed by the 24/7 world of crisis communications. After that high-stakes career, you could say I became an expert at creating order out of chaos.
So if YOUR job – whether it’s in Public Relations or an entirely different field – is chaotic and you know you need a change… I feel your pain! And I’ve got some tips for you if you are wondering how you can find calm in the chaos.
I sat down with Amy Rosenberg, host of PR Talk, to discuss tips and strategies for organizing your time effectively in this episode of PR Talk. Read on for strategies you can implement today – along with my favorite task and project management tools!
Let’s say you’re completely overwhelmed but you have no idea where you can start cutting things out. That’s where the genius zone comes in.
Start by asking yourself:
- What are all the different ways you spend your time? Make a list.
- How passionate and proficient are you at each task and project?
You’ll categorize each of these tasks into one of four categories (if you’re a visual person, charting things into a grid with 4 quadrants is a great exercise!):
- Genius Zone: tasks you love and are good at
- Disinterest Zone: tasks you hate but are good at
- Drudgery Zone: tasks you hate and aren’t good at
- Distraction Zone: tasks you love but aren’t good at
The genius zone – the things you’re highly proficient at and are highly passionate about – are the tasks you should try to do more of!
Anything that lands in a category OTHER than the genius zone is considered in the danger zone, because they tend to take up the time, energy, and mental resources that COULD be going to our genius zone.
By categorizing all the different ways you’re spending your time, you’re able to clarify your sweet-spot activities – and start looking for opportunities to cut tasks that land in the other zones.
In addition to categorizing your tasks into 4 different zones, you can also categorize your priorities in 3 ways: boulders, big rocks, and pebbles.
Boulders are the things that are incredibly important, but not urgent, so they tend to fall on the backburner. For example, business development and engaging in sales are boulders, because while it’s very important, it’s not urgent… until it is. And you don’t want it to get to that point!
Big rocks are things that are important AND urgent. For example, client work, project work, and anything with a deadline are big rocks. These are the things that really move the needle in the progress of your work.
Pebbles are little tasks that take up small amounts of time here and there. We can easily get distracted by pebbles if we’re not careful.
When it comes to planning your week or month ahead, to ensure you’re truly spending your time in a way that’s really productive, start by scheduling time for boulder activities – so you know those tasks will actually get done.
Start Up Routine and Shut Down Routine
A Start Up Routine is a quick routine you perform every single day at the beginning of your workday to transition from “not-work brain” to “work brain.” This is ESPECIALLY important if you work from home, since there isn’t a huge environment change – and the environment signals so much!
This is a short routine (no more than 5-7 things) that creates a mindset. An example might look like this:
- Sit down at your desk
- Open up your laptop
- Open up your email
- Open up your task management system
- Refill your water
- Sit back down and get to work!
Going in the same order every time signals to your brain that it’s go time.
A Shut Down Routine, on the other hand, signals that your day has finished.
This is incredibly important because you can’t possibly finish every task you need to do, every day. You HAVE to leave some things unfinished at the end of the day – but the Zeigarnick Effect actually says that we tend to ruminate on unfinished tasks… even to the point where it interrupts our day long after we’ve left those tasks.
When you have a Shut Down Routine, you’re able to trick your brain into thinking you’ve finished those tasks.
Here’s an example of a Shut Down Routine:
- Review the status of your current projects
- Look at your day tomorrow
- Make a quick to-do list for tomorrow
- Shut your laptop and get on with your day!
And the more you do this, the more you’re able to reinforce that you’re finished for the day… so you can be more present with your friends and family in the evenings.
Theme Months, Weeks, and Days
Finally, a strategy for productivity is utilizing theme months, weeks, and days. These are periods of time where you are focusing on a specific task or set of tasks.
Theme months enable you to space out your big plans throughout the year. An example is my camera roll – one year, I designated August as Photo Month. I decided this was the month I was going to actually DO something with the thousands of photos on my phone camera roll. That meant figuring out a system and to start printing photos – and I did this throughout August! I felt zero guilt from January-July making no progress on this… because I had already assigned the task to August!
Theme days take the concept of task batching and apply that to your day. For example, in a past communications role, Mondays were Social Media Monday. That was the day of the week I would take pictures, create content, write captions, and schedule posts. My coworkers knew Mondays were the days I did social media – so they knew if they wanted anything included in a post, they needed to get it to me by then. It created a rhythm for me and an expectation for them!
Tools I’d Recommend
- Dubsado for client management (get 20% off with my affiliate code!)
- Trello or Asana for task management
- Clockwise for a smart calendar assistant
- Evernote or a Google Doc
- 1 notebook to capture your ideas