Cycle or Tomato? Which time management tool is best for you?

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buainess conceptThink about how you manage your day?

Do you get into work, sit down, pick up the first task and bash away at it until you get (a) fed up (b) exhausted (c) finished?

How many times do you start out with great intentions to get something done only to find that you are self-interrupting so frequently that at the end of the day you wonder where the time went. What do I mean by self-interrupting? You know, the times when you just have to leave that report or other mammoth task to check your emails, or do an internet search, or get another coffee, or tidy your desk … the list goes on and on.

Why do we do this?

Well, we’re not machines. Our energy levels fluctuate during the day but many of us don’t even realise this and battle to do great work at times of the day when our energy is low.

exhausted woman laptopMy energy levels are high in the morning but dip in the afternoon around 2 p.m. (you could set a clock by it) and then rise again late afternoon. So, if I were to try to do something important around 2 p.m. which requires me to be very alert, then I struggle. But I know this and I try to schedule any work that needs me to do deep thinking, analysis or creative work at my best times.

Energy and concentration, for most people, also goes in 90 minute cycles during the day with most of us only able to concentrate for periods of 90 minutes before we really need a break and refresh. But for some, 90 minutes is too long and for them a Pomodero would work. This is a 25-minute period, named after the tomato shaped kitchen timer! Whichever works for you, breaking your work into batches, with periods of rest in between, makes sense because you’ll find you’re more focused for the stretch you have set your timer for and it also helps to break down those daunting tasks into manageable chunks.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

So, how do you know what your best work cycles are; whether 90 minutes, 60 minutes or 25 minutes is best for you? In my time management workshop, I encourage people to keep an activity log – a record of what they do during the day. This helps to pinpoint when you are at your most active and creative and when you have the energy dips. It also helps to plan future activities as you can see how long things really take.

keep it simpleThis is easy to do and all you need is an excel sheet with the day broken into half hour time slots down one side and column to record what you were doing at that time and you might want to record how you felt – tired, in flow, struggling etc. You don’t have to be obsessive about it, it’s just an indication of how you spend your time. Then at the end of a week look back and see how you spent your time, pinpoint your most productive times of day and note when you have particularly high or low energy.

Then you can plan your activities to take full advantage of your peak times – and get more done.

If you would like help with your time management talk to me about my interactive workshops or work outs.

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