Maximizing your productivity, happiness, peace, or impact can best be accomplished if you clearly understand the 12 Rules of Time.
1. Have goals
Being more efficient with your time is irrelevant if you don't know how you want to spend it. In managing time, the compass is more important than the clock. Know where you want to go then spend your time on the things that get you there.
Many people spend energy trying to be more efficient without first doing what's important: setting goals. Once you've prepared for it, your list of goals will reveal what is important to you.
2. Analyze how you spend your time
It is always good to know how you're spending your time right now. You can track this by setting a timer to go off every 1 hour; whenever it sounds, write down exactly what you are doing. Alternatively, divide your day into 1 hour blocks and record each activity you do. Do this for a week.
Once you have your time logs, examine them. How do they compare to your goals? Are you spending time where your priorities are?
3. Keep a to-do list
This sounds too simple, but it really is the basis of all time-management systems. Your to-do list can be electronic, on fancy paper, bound in a notebook or loose-leaf. The key is to have everything you want to accomplish on one list.
4. Prioritize your list
Once you have the list, determine which are the important items. Mark these with a highlighter, a red pen, or in any other way that makes them stand out.
I sometimes find my to-do list is too big. Every item on the list calls out "pay attention to me!", even though most of them were not highlighted as important. In this case, I move to the top of the list three or four of the most important items marked. Those are the ones to focus on that day.
5. Control procrastination
Much of your self-control is going to come from environment control. I control my environment to eliminate things that I might use to procrastinate. Take games off your phone/computer and get rid of the busy work jobs that you use to avoid the important tasks.
I have developed one effective habit that has helped break me of procrastination: "Do the worst thing first." At the beginning of every day, I do the one task that is causing me the most stress, and that I haven't been getting done. Sometimes I just give it a quarter of an hour — based on the theory that I can stand just about anything for 15 minutes. Frequently it is this short prod that breaks me through.
If I still find myself procrastinating, I review my reasons for setting a goal. To create extra motivation to complete a task, I strengthen the reasons why it should be done.
Organization and time management are linked. I find that I get important things done when I have all the tools I need to perform the job.
The opposite of organization — chaos, clutter, disorganization — generally leads to busy work. If your desk is piled high, every piece of paper says "look at me." You can end up doing a lot of work without ever getting to the important stuff.
One way to expand your time is to get others to help you with it. The key to delegation is to hand off any tasks that someone else can do significantly faster or more easily than you can. Treat delegation like networking: who in your network would be best for the job?
You might think people would resent being delegated to, but exactly the opposite is true. Many people like to help, especially if it is to do something that they're good at.
8. Master efficiency tricks
The best trick I have found is "The Power of While." What can you do while you drive? While you walk? While you clean? While you watch TV? I am a huge podcast advocate and frequently listen to motivational speakers while I am doing something else.
9. It's OK to say no
Saying "No" can be the most powerful time tool you can master. Be strategic about what you take on. When someone asks you to do something, ask yourself, do I genuinely want to do this, do I want to put my time and energy towards it? How important is it? Does it match my values and goals for myself?
Committing 100% focus and concentration on one task at a time can be very powerful. Eliminate distractions. Focus on the task at hand. When you're properly organized and prepared, when your energy and power are high, you can often complete a task in 20% of the time it would take when you're distracted or open to interruption.
11. Build your efficiency bank
High efficiency is not possible if you don't look after yourself. As much as you can eat right, exercise, sleep well and drink moderately. Mom knew best: all the things she said were good for you just happen to be best for your efficiency, too.
Mindfulness can be a great way of building your efficiency or just finding a way to get into a relaxed state that lets you focus on the task you have to do. No matter how you do it, recharging your batteries gives you the power to do more during the times you need to be at your best.
12. Take care of yourself
It isn't possible to be "on" all the time. Take the time you need to look after yourself — body and soul — so that you can reach peak efficiency when you need to. Have a list of things you like to do. Find out what activities energize you and spend more time doing them.
Finally, a word of advice. If after reading this far you're feeling a bit overwhelmed, I suggest you go back to Rule 1 and add peace (contentment) to your list of goals. Time management is not about adding stress; it is about giving you the time to be the person you really want to be.