Making Enough Hours in the Day with Time Windows

I don’t know about you, but my life’s “to dos” don’t come in nice intervals where I can finish them one at a time. Most often, it feels like we are pulled four ways at once. Think of your cell phone going off all the time. In addition, a busy day or week at the office can wreak havoc on our mental state and make us think we have to do everything at once. Long-term, multiple switches between tasks can exhaust us mentally which only causes more mistakes and more stress. To stay healthy, we must learn to be proactive and not reactive. One helpful strategy is called “Time Windows.”
Time windows is the principle of grouping and completing similar tasks during the same block or “window” of time. Time windows focus your efforts and reduce the many starts and stops of a typical work day by doing the right things, at the right time, in the right order. Imagine your day’s work as a puzzle, which you put together through the day. Each piece represents how you choose to spend your time: a phone call or email, a project, checking Facebook, having a chat, etc. Organize your time with these steps: 1. Assign Tasks Into a Time Window.
Block out portions of the day for specific tasks. Group the smaller, more similar tasks together so they don’t interrupt the larger tasks. For example if you check your email every morning when you get into work, allot a 15-30 minute “Time Window” for it. If you eat your lunch at a specific time, block it out. Begin by filling your weekly calendar with your regular and repetitive tasks. After that, fill in the rest of your “Time Windows” with the atypical tasks or major projects that are upcoming. Stephen R. Covey, referring to his book 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, made this entertaining video about prioritizing your tasks.
2. Focus on the Task at Hand
When you are in a Time Window avoid deviating from it as much as possible. Did you know that the typical employee gets interrupted 56 times per day? 80% of those interruptions are considered to be trivial, while less than 60% of work time is spent doing something productive. Reducing stops and starts increases efficiency and productivity.
3. Set Boundaries, Avoid Distractions, and Learn to Say “No”
Limit the number of interruptions you have. Close the door if you have too. Reschedule larger interruptions into a Time Window where you can devote the appropriate amount of energy and focus to it. You can politely do this by saying “I’d love to go over that with you, and I think it’ll take about 10 minutes. Can I call you back at 3:00 today?” This helps interrupters feel valued (rather than blown off), since you’re dedicating time for them.
4. Understand Your Interruptions
One important rule to remember is that there will always be interruptions to your time. The trick is evaluating the importance and urgency of interruptions. Stephen R. Covey, in his book 7 Habits for Highly Effective People gave this matrix for determining the importance and urgency of an interruption and what to do about each type of interruption.
When we focus our energy on the important tasks that are not urgent, we decrease deadline stress. This also makes pop-up situations less bothersome because our deadlines are not as pressing. "What is important is seldom urgent," President Dwight D. Eisenhower would often say, "and what is urgent is seldom important." Breaking down each task into these categories can make them easier to prioritize and to manage without getting overwhelmed.
Time Windows don’t have to be complicated. Here is a sample calendar that your week might look like broken down into time windows:
Breaking the many tasks that you have to do down into this format helps visualize what your day will look like. It also helps to see that certain tasks don’t have to happen right now because they will be happening later on in the day. Like Stephen Covey’s video shows, the bigger, more important tasks should take precedent to the smaller tasks, and we will find that the smaller details can fit around them. In this example, you can see how “Check Email” sits on the side of “Daily Prep” as well as “Housekeeping & Maintenance.” Because the tasks of preparation and housekeeping are more important than checking email, they take precedent, but having the reminder to check your email helps keep you on top of the smaller tasks. As we learn to organize our daily tasks, we come to find that the hours in the day are enough to do all we need to. We structure our time so we accomplish all of the necessary tasks and then slowly move on to the less crucial ones. Not always, but sometimes, not everything we need to get done will get done. Sometimes we overfill our bucket. But, that’s why tomorrow exists, and if we focus on the important and urgent tasks, we won’t face the frantic realization that the big things are due with no time left to do them.
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