About 5 years ago, my son was on the wrestling team at the school I teach at. Practice ran until 6:30 every night. Since we lived a half hour away, I thought I could get a lot done and catch up on my to-do list. Even though I was spending an extra four hours a day working, I still didn’t get everything done. It’s not about time spent, but spending the time you do have wisely, and spending it on the right things!
Here are some tips to help you save seven hours each week.
1. Limit Media Time
Many people spend hours upon hours mindlessly researching things on the web or scrolling through their facebook feed. I’m not saying to eliminate those things…just be more deliberate in how and when you do them. Set a time limit on web research. Have a specific goal in mind. Want to watch tv? DVR the show. You’ll save 20 minutes in a one hour show. Set a certain time to look at facebook rather than letting the ding of the notification control you.
2. Touch email messages once
I once had a coworker who had over 1200 email messages in her inbox. They were there to remind her of things she needed to get done. Guess what? She never got any of them done and spent much time scrolling through the emails to find the information she needed.
I read an email one time and strive to keep my inbox empty. I have created many folders in my email program. Some examples are: Save, Admin, Reservations, Kudos, Bookings. When I read an email, if it’s something I can do or answer quickly, I do it and delete it. If it’s some important info I need to keep, I file it in the appropriate folder. If it’s meant for someone else (something I have to delegate), I immediately send it to the person who can do it, or I respond that I am not the one who handles that. Have set times to check email. Many people have notifications on and are checking email 50+ times a day. Some people need to be this accessible, but most of us just need to check it 2-3x a day.
3. Follow the 2-minute rule
If you can complete a task in 2 minutes, do it! I can’t tell you the number of times I have been in charge of a music event and needed info from other directors. All I need to know is how many students someone is bringing because I am responsible for ordering pizza. No response! It takes 3 seconds to respond! Do it and get it over with.
Don’t even add the item to your to do list if it takes less than 2 minutes. At school, the lady in charge of IEPs often needs a feedback form from a student’s teachers reporting on how they are doing. When I see the form in my inbox, I fill it out right away and return it.
4. Control your meetings if possible
Do you need to disseminate some information at a meeting but are otherwise not involved? Ask to be at the beginning of the meeting so you don’t have to wait through it all. I taught at a school where I was responsible for renting the sound system at graduation. I sat through two years of meetings where when it came to be my turn, the headmaster asked “Do you have the sound system rented and details taken care of?” I quickly learned that was the only reason I was at the meeting. I began to contact the headmaster a few days before, let him know I had the details taken care of, including the time and expense. I would then ask “Do you need me to be at the meeting?” He always answered “No.”
5. Schedule time to get work done
I was finding myself continually being interrupted during my plan time as a teacher by students who needed help, or sometimes they were just hanging out because they had a free period. I love my students, but I have a lot to get done if I want to be an effective teacher. I started being more deliberate about that time. That time is for lesson prep. I kindly ask the students to leave (even having them around being quiet is a distraction, and they often ask just a “quick” question, which gets me off task). I get a lot more done this way.
6. Consider your mission
What are your strengths and weaknesses? Focus on your strengths! Know when to say no (I call that my Know No rule). If you are a helping person, you naturally want to help everyone, but you shouldn’t if something isn’t your mission. For me to help the football coach would be a “good” thing, but I would be missing out on the “great.”
7. Look at the big picture
Often our schedule revolves around “Well, I don’t have anything else going on, so sure I’ll do such and such.” This attitude is not deliberate enough. What if we take a look at our calendar for a year and “fill in” things that are important to us before other things crowd the important things out? For example, I’ve already filled in my anniversary weekend, so if someone calls me with a speaking or performing opportunity, I will answer that I already have something scheduled.
I do have some flexibility. If the person calling me were to offer a great honorarium, I would present the opportunity to my wife and say “How about if I take this and we celebrate the following weekend, but instead of a weekend in Denver we get to take a cruise?”
Plan each week, month and year of your life so trivial things don’t fill your schedule. Make sure to include off time too. If you are teaching a 2 week class, block off four days or even a week afterwards so you can relax, hike, visit the grandkids, whatever you like to do.
If each of these tips saved you one hour a week, you would have seven extra hours a week to exercise, cook, hike, read, practice, sew, take karate or whatever you like to do, maybe even sleep!
James is a music educator, musician, speaker and podcaster. He enjoys hiking, biking, and spending time with his wife and family. He also enjoys long walks on the beach, but these are usually either solitary or with his wife. He is the author of “Forgive: One man’s story of being molested” and “40 Ways To Make Money In Music.”