Frogs, Elephants and Pomodoros or How to Complete All Tasks and Stay Alive. 17 Time-Management Tips

Nowadays we get bombarded with information from everywhere – messengers, emails, apps, and social media notifications. These time thieves, together with other daily routine and work issues, distract us and decrease our productivity. To overcome this situation, we have to use our time in a sensible way. We should take into account that we cannot either manipulate or control time, but what we can do is control ourselves.

Time-management is effective in two cases – when it beats procrastination (the first and most common problem these days) and, moreover, helps to plan, prioritize, and focus. Otherwise, it is yet another way of wasting time.

Thus, in this article, we are going to have a look at various approaches to time-management and pieces of advice through the lens of planning, prioritizing, getting focused, and stopping procrastination. This article is an adaptation of a recently published post of our recruiter Iryna on LinkedIn. She based it not only on her huge experience, but on the recommendations of time-management gurus, like Brian Tracy, Laura Vanderkam, Kathryn McKinnon, and Brigid Schulte.

Effective use of time (right for you) will contribute to a more meaningful distribution of your attention in the most important areas of our lives – professional, family, and personal (time for yourself).

1. Prepare in advance. The best time to plan the next day – is planning in the evening. No doubt that you know your weak points, e.g. choosing clothes for ages in the morning. So, why not prepare it in advance if you have an important meeting tomorrow? And in the morning you will have more time for your guilty pleasures, like a cup of favourite coffee or tea or 10 more minutes in your cosy bed.

2. Make a schedule. Planning your time reduces your stress and releases energy that was previously wasted. For a start, try to plan your day and then the week and the month. Use tools like Google Spreadsheets, Google Calendar, etc. or a simple paper notepad. It will give you a better sense of control and will help increase productivity throughout the working day.

3. Start getting up early. The more time you have, the more things you will complete.

4. Take a break. They help to increase productivity.

5. Eliminate distractions. Don’t check and answer your messages and/or e-mails at once if they are not work-related.

6. Get rid of unnecessary things. This can be anything that prevents you from achieving set goals. If talking about work, it can be communication on social networks during working hours, extra meetings, micromanagement of tasks, etc.).

7. Multitasking is not for everyone.  Think about your own strengths and weaknesses and do not do more than one thing at a time.

8. Learn to say “no”. It is normal when you don’t have the time or desire to do something.

9. Make a to-do list. Create a list of tasks for the day, week, and/or month.

10. Avoid perfectionism. Sometimes it is not possible to do everything perfectly. The wish to do it perfectly may cause additional stress.

11. Set goals. Any action you take should be aimed at achieving a specific goal, whether it is short-term or long-term. Wasting time on everything else will be a potential waste.

12. Prioritize and learn to focus. Focus your energy on doing the most important things. Being focused is the flip side of multitasking.

13. Learn to delegate. No one can do everything alone.

14. Use a calendar. Choose the most suitable one (paper or digital calendar) and it will free up your mind from remembering loads of small tasks. Furthermore, it will remind you about a meeting, a visit to the dentist’s or what to buy for supper.

15. Divide a large thing into smaller parts. Sometimes having a big task demotivates us and causes frustration, because it is not always clear where to start.

16. Determine your productive time. It is essential that people show the highest productivity at different periods of the working day. Analyze time logs when you are most productive and take the maximum of this time.

17. Sound sleep and proper nutrition. Sleep is necessary to be effective during the day and cope with everyday stress. Get nice bedding and quality pillows, and eat seasonal fruit and vegetables.

This bunch of tips is like a box of tools for your successful time-management. But we are not going to stop at this point and would dig deeper. Next, you will find 3 considerable techniques and proven by time best practices in time-management. Supposedly, you already use some of them without realizing they are widely spread methodologies.

Stop procrastinating and get more work done (Brian Tracy)

One of the major obstacles on the way to high productivity is procrastination. According to the conducted research, procrastination is not about a lack of self-control or laziness. It is rather a way to avoid negative feelings when you hesitate about how to start a big task or when it is concerned with a lot of uncertainty. Thus, we prefer to surf the net, check e-mails and find other familiar and “important” things to do.

According to Brian Tracy, the first step to beat procrastination is proper planning. You should also prepare everything you will need before you start the task not to divert from work.

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Let`s look at the best-known approaches to planning:

Priority Matrix

It is also known as Eisenhower Matrix (named after 34th US President Dwight David Eisenhower). This tool will help you to rank your tasks by priority. How does it work? You have a square, divided into four smaller squares. The columns are labelled with “urgent” and “not urgent” and the rows – with “important” and “not important”. Put your tasks, one by one, into relevant boxes.

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When the tasks are distributed, use the following tips:

  • Urgent and Important – tasks from these boxes are of the highest priority and should be done first.
  • Urgent and Not Important – these tasks can be delegated. If there is no such possibility – they should be completed after tasks from the previous group.
  • Not Urgent and Important – list this stuff into your schedule to tackle it later.
  • Not Urgent and Not Important – why are these tasks on your to-do list? Do not do that at all.

Try not to put more than 8 tasks in one quadrant. You should list business and private tasks in one matrix. Putting things in a list helps to free your mind, but do not forget to prioritize them.

Pomodoro Technique

Have you ever been thinking in tomatoes (pomodoro from Italian means tomato)? You should try while using this technique. It implies work sessions alternating with short breaks. Traditionally these blocks of time were 25 minutes long. The author, Francesco Cirillo, was using the tomato-shaped kitchen timer when was presented the method in the late 1980s. That is why each interval is called ‘pomodoro’. The technique includes the following steps:

Chose the task –> set the timer –> work on the task –> end work after the sound signal and make a mark on the piece of paper –> if you have 1-4 marks – make a 3-5 minutes break, if more – have a rest for 15-20 minutes –> start again from step 1.

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Thus, 4 pomodoros make up a set, which are split with long breaks.

This technique aims to increase the ability to stay focused and to lower the impact of various kinds of distractions.

The Pomodoro technique allows changing the duration of the working time period up to 90 minutes or to other natural intervals (between meetings, while writing a report or while your washing machine works). Pomodoro practice implies the following: breaking down complex projects into smaller parts; small tasks go together; once a pomodoro is started, it must be finished.

Franklin or Productivity Pyramid

Franklin or Productivity Pyramid might be suitable for the devotees of the global approach to planning. It consists of the following levels:

  • the top of the pyramid is planning for the week and day;
  • short-term plan consists of tasks for the next year and month;
  • long-term plan – goals for the next 3-5 years;
  • master or general plan includes step-by-step instructions for achieving a higher-level objective;
  • long-term or global goals, which should answer the question: “What do I want to achieve by the age of X?”
  • governing values – is the basic layer that represents moral guidelines.
Productivity Pyramid By Benjamin Franklin

When organizing your time by Franklin’s methodology you should outline fundamental life principles, then set a global goal and create a plan for achieving it. Remember that each following step is based on the previous one.

If you commit to nothing, you’re distracted by everything

Besides these 3 techniques, we present a couple of lifehacks which also will be helpful in planning and prioritization your tasks. Prioritization is highly important. According to Brian Tracy, you should outline that task or job among others that will provide the maximum value. It is essential, that in a list of 10 tasks, which demand the same time for completion they have a different value. Completion of this one or two tasks will bring more benefit than the completion of the other 8 tasks. In Tracy’s words, “eat that frog first.”

So, what is that “frog” I should eat? The “frog” is the most unwanted for you task, which you should complete today. If you finish it firstly, in some magical way you’ll be full of energy and get the feeling you accomplished something worthwhile. Mark Twain said If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the BIGGEST one first.” Just get on with those frogs. You will have to eat them anyway.

  •  According to the Tim Ferriss method, you have to stick to 2 principles. The first one is Pareto’s law: 20% of efforts give 80% of the result, and the remaining 80% of efforts – only 20% of the result. So, dedicate the majority of your working time to completing the most important things. The second one – Parkinson’s law: work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Thus, try to allocate as much time as necessary to finish the task. You should not increase the number of working hours to complete it.

 

  • To organize your day you might try a “1-3-5 rule”. A person cannot accomplish an infinite list of things during the day. According to this technique, you should write down to your list one important thing, three medium and five small, nine in total. This kind of distribution will help you to avoid the feeling of an emergency. This rule looks familiar to Ivy Lee method, though they have one crucial difference – execution order of the tasks.

 

  • Ivy Lee was an American journalist, productivity consultant, and founder of modern public relations (PR). According to his method to achieve peak productivity implies the following:
    • Make up a list of 6 (not more!) most important things you want to accomplish the next working day. It is important to create it in advance – the previous evening.
    • Range the tasks through the lens of their importance.
    • When you start working, keep focus on the first task only. You can move to the second one only after the first one is completed.
    • Shift all unfinished tasks to the next working day. Repeat all steps each workday.

It is obvious that emergencies will arise. You should fix those issues when necessary and then get back to your prioritized to-do list ASAP. 

  • Pretty the same idea of setting daily priorities is presented by the ABCDE Method of Brian Tracy.  The roadmap of this technique is quite simple:
    • Make up a list of your daily tasks.
    • Label each task with an A, B, C, D or E, where A is the task of the highest priority for today. There can be more than one A task, they should be marked – A1, A2, A3
    • Tasks labelled with B, C, D, or E can be started only after the A tasks are finished.

The main difference between the Ivy Lee method is that the ABCDE Method allows a few pieces of work with the same level of priority.

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  • How to eat an elephant? Desmond Tutu once wisely said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” All tasks that seem to us tackling, overwhelming or impossible can be achieved gradually by making a little step at a time. Psychologically, it is easier to do a small piece of a large project than to start the whole job. When finishing a small “bite” we see the progress and feel a sense of motivation to keep on moving to the next “elephant steak”.
  • Stay focused. Brian Tracy’s advice is “When you allocate a time block to work – work for the entire time”. He explains that chatting with coworkers or doing other non-work related tasks means that you have less time to focus on what is important. When you’re working, you should really be working.
  • Keep a time log. Laura Vanderkam’s recommendation is track on what issues you spend your time during the whole week, not only a day or two. “Think 168 hours, not 24”. This method aims to figure out exactly how your working time is distributed. Brian Tracy also mentions that people with a long-term view of their life are likely to make significantly better decisions about how their time is spent and on what tasks.
  • David Allen’s ‘Two-Minute Rule’. When a new task arrives and you can do it less than in 2 minutes – complete it right away. This rule is supposed to increase your productivity a lot, e.g. when it comes to replying to emails. It is easy and it works.

 

  • And finally, use your driving time to listen to relevant audiobooks or podcasts.

Lets Go Win GIF by Rosanna Pansino

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Congratulations! If you are still reading, it means you’ve just absorbed the essence of time-management wisdom, and most likely even marked a piece of advice for yourself. Obviously, you do not have to start applying them all simultaneously. Remember that each person, their background, experience, and walking pace are as unique as fingerprints. At the same time, you are the one who knows yourself better than anyone else and can choose the most suitable approach. Remember, if you decide to manage your time effectively, you will have to plan, prioritize, stay focused, and beat procrastination.

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