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.”
Twain wasn’t talking about real frogs of course, he was saying “Complete your most important tasks first thing in the morning, when you have the most energy, and it will set you up for success for the rest of the day.”
If you’re struggling with productivity and prioritizing your workload then Twain’s advice is pretty sound. With ever increasing workloads, it’s easy to neglect the bigger stuff that requires more concentration. We end up multitasking and not ever really giving 100% to anything we do.
But Twain didn’t live in the digital age. Many of us struggle to ‘get stuff done’ simply because we’re distracted by our phones bleeping, blipping and chirping just when we’re in the middle of something important.
So how do we manage our time better?
One of the simplest ways to be more productive is to turn off the sound on your phone, flip it over so you can’t see notifications appearing on the screen, and work on whatever you need to do. Once you’ve finished your task, you can check messages, reply to texts or make a call.
If you feel like setting up some tech to aid you in your quest to ban distraction, check out these tools and apps courtesy of Mission.org:
- RescueTime – a program that runs discreetly in the background that tracks the amount of time you spend on applications and websites. You can set up alerts to limit browsing time, block distracting websites like Facebook, and see at a glance how productive your day was.
- HeyFocus – a free Mac app that lets you create your optimal work environment using customized settings. You can block websites, applications and games that might send you distracting notifications.
- Flipd – a free Smartphone app that allows you to set a block of time so you can work without any distractions, and more efficiently.
Time Management Techniques
Remembering to ‘eat frogs’ in the morning is great, but smart planning of your daily workload can boost productivity and help you to avoid engaging in work that isn’t a high priority.
These two iconic time management methods are simple but they work.
This brilliant time management method was devised in the late 1980s by an Italian graduate student, Francesco Cirillo. To help him knuckle down to his studies he used a kitchen timer to break down tasks into easily managed intervals or ‘pomodoros’ (Cirillo used a timer shaped like a tomato which in Italian is called a ‘pomodoro’). Here’s how it works:
- Pick an important task that you need to get done.
- Set the timer for 25 minutes and start it.
- Work on the task for 25 minutes without stopping.
- When the time is up, take a short break for 5 minutes.
- Every 4 pomodoros take a longer 20-30 minute break.
This is a useful technique for tasks that are difficult or you don’t want to do. The time is long enough to make progress but not so long that it feels like a big ordeal, or a major time commitment. The important thing to remember is that you’re not trying to finish the task, you’re just trying to make progress. The short break at the end of each pomodoro is a reward for your brain.
The Pomodoro Technique is the opposite of multitasking. By relieving yourself of the pressure of working on multiple things at once it allows you to focus single mindedly on tasks and get a lot more high quality work done.
The Pareto Principle
Another way of prioritizing your task list is to apply a famous time management technique – the 80/20 Pareto Principle. This principle suggests that you can work less and do more by focusing on the tasks that have the greatest outcome for success.
Say you have a list of 10 tasks. With the 80/20 rule, all you have to do pick two high value tasks and focus on these for the day.
If you don’t know how to pick the 20% of tasks that will have the most impact, here are 3 tips:
- What similar tasks have been successful in the past?
- Which tasks make you feel the most productive?
- Can you meet several goals by focusing on a single task?
Choose a time management technique that works for you
The time management technique, tool or app that you ultimately use will be one that resonates with you. You may need to try out a few before you find one that you love. I personally find the Pomodoro Technique really helpful but you may prefer to use another method. For further reading check out this Forbes article which touches on some of the methods discussed here but also has some more suggestions on how to become a master of time management.