Nela Canovic describes herself in her LinkedIn bio as a “content strategist, marketing professional and published writer on the topic of productivity, with the goal of helping people work smarter, not harder.” Pretty good credentials from someone we’re going to look to for advice on this Success Monday. This is an article she wrote for Quora.com that was reprinted in Inc.com.
“Make smart choices about how you spend your day, from managing time like a pro to maxing out your brain power and energy reserves.
Try these three tips that can help you make smart choices about your day.
Tip #1. Become the master of your time.
Hey, if you’re so busy that you never seem to find the time to finish up everything you need to do, you’re not alone. That’s all of us. Chances are, the older we get, the faster those tasks and responsibilities will be coming our way. So the key is not in avoiding them (although it’s normal to procrastinate from time to time!), but in managing them better. The best way to go about this is to become an expert at time management. This means you train yourself to be aware of how much time goes into which activity, so that you can make real progress towards your goals, instead of just keeping busy but not having all that work amount to anything of value. So what does that look like? Here are a few techniques that can help you master your time and avoid that feeling of burnout at the end of each day:
Keep a detailed calendar and schedule not just for school or work activities, but also for your personal life. If you really want to have time for yourself, you will have to schedule it into your day.
Use a time management technique such as the Pomodoro to maintain focus when working on a task. Think of it as a timer that divides up your work to make it easier to maintain focus.
Block off times when you don’t want to be disturbed. This means actively making yourself unavailable so that you can work on top priority items. It can be switching your phone to airplane mode, leaving email check-ins for later, setting expectations with others that you’ll be busy and won’t be available for meetings and conversations, and avoiding (or turning off) anything else that may be a distraction when you need to concentrate: TV, news, radio, etc.
Delegate or outsource tasks that you don’t need to do when you’re extremely busy, whenever possible. This applies to household chores (which you can share with family members), child care, administrative tasks, shopping for groceries, or giving your car an oil change. Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in finishing and checking items off our list that we don’t ask ourselves if it may be a better idea to lessen the burden by asking for help. When you need more time, asking for assistance is a smart thing to do, and you’ll feel that it frees you up to do that most important work of the day.
Tip #2. Tap into your brain power.
You may think you know everything about how your brain works, from the way you study to how you process information during a late-night session of researching a topic for work. But did you know that our brains function differently at certain times of day? It’s all about tuning into your circadian rhythm (or in simpler terms, your biological clock), so that you can maximize your energy to do things earlier or later, instead of feeling exhausted because some things take too long to do. So what does that look like on a typical day for most people?
Mornings are typically a quiet time before things get busy, so it might be a good idea to do your deep work first, i.e. work that requires a lot of concentration. Some scientists call this the brain’s peak performance time, and it's roughly 2-4 hours after we wake up (for example, if you wake up at 6, your peak times are between 8 and 10 a.m.). This time is often ideal for the analytical brain to perform the most complex tasks such as reading new material, studying or problem-solving.
Afternoons are great for collaborating. This covers the 12-5 p.m. time range, including a lunch break and the few hours afterwards, when people are more likely to socialize. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to organize a party in the middle of the day (although there certainly are situations that call for it!), but it could mean interacting with your network in some way. This can be a good time of day to schedule meetings, brainstorm ideas with coworkers, or work with classmates on group projects.
Evenings, usually any time after 6 p.m., are typically the time of day when the brain slows down and we don’t have to worry about meeting deadlines and checking items off to-do lists, so there’s plenty of space for creative thinking. Evenings are an excellent time to strategize, whether that means thinking about big goals (where you’d like to be a year or two from now in your personal or professional development, for example) or brainstorming next steps you need to take in order to reach those goals. This time is also an excellent opportunity for creating and contemplating the big picture of your life.
Tip #3. Stay energized.
The best way to maintain steady levels of energy throughout the day is to do at least some form of physical exercise. Why is this so important? Exercise is beneficial not only for improving your physical health (by boosting circulation, building muscle, and keeping your heart in optimal shape), but it also improves the brain’s cognitive performance, problem solving ability, and even strengthens long-term memory. But what if you’re so busy you don’t have time to work out? That's OK too, because physical exercise can be short, so you don’t need to do three hours at the gym to keep a workout routine. It can be anything from 10-30 minutes. Here are a few ideas on what’s easy to work into your day that can give you the energy boost you need to be more productive:
- a 15-minute morning yoga routine
- a set of hindu pushups, sun salutation poses, lunges and squats
- a 20-minute HIIT training session
- a 30-minute run or bike ride
- a quick power walk through the neighborhood”
—Nela Canovic is a “growth mindset hacker, writer, Silicon Valley entrepreneur.” She has been published in The Huffington Post, HuffPost UK, Slate, Inc, Forbes, Business Insider, TIME. You can follow her on Twitter @NelaCanovic. This article, pulled from Inc.com, originally was published in Quora.com.