Chunking Your Time
Do you ever wish there were more hours in the day? Many people do. They think that having more time means doing more. But personal productivity isn’t about putting in more hours on the job. It’s about optimizing your work schedule by planning, organizing, and controlling your use of time more effectively.
The answer to making the most of your time is “chunking.” Chunking is an organizational strategy for making more efficient use of your time schedule. It means arranging your schedule, so you have segments of time dedicated to one task or type of activity.
Chunking time can boost productivity because focusing on one thing at a time saves the time wasted on task switching. And it can improve your state of mind, letting you concentrate on completing a task in full. And you can give yourself a ‘job done’ pat on the back!
Group similar tasks and activities together
Chunking needs to be done as you’re creating your work schedule. Consider what you need to accomplish. If you’ve kept task logs during the week, you’ll have a good idea of what you do during a typical week. And then follow three simple guidelines.
Each time you shift your attention from one thing to another, you lose focus. And reorienting yourself to the task at hand takes up time. So the first guideline is to group similar tasks and activities together into the same chunk of time. This will cut time loss. For example, you could cluster together your written correspondence — your e-mail, letters, memos, reports — and schedule a chunk of time for all that.
Or if you have regular meetings outside the office, you could schedule them together and save time on travel. The second guideline is to insert chunks of time into your written schedule.
Treat these chunks of time with respect and insert them into your schedule just as you would any other priority item, like a meeting. When chunks are included in your schedule, they’re part of your routine. For example, you could schedule a chunk of time each morning for making personal contact with clients or colleagues.
Uninterrupted time in your schedule
The final guideline is allow at least an hour of uninterrupted time for each chunk in your schedule. This stops you wasting time task switching. Minimize interruptions by explaining to colleagues that you’re not available to them during these times.
Unless it’s necessary for the task at hand, don’t check your e-mail or answer the phone. You can reply to messages later. If you’re polite and consistent, people will come to accept this time as part of your work routine.
Some people believe multitasking is the way to get more out of their time. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Multitasking actually wastes time. Instead of doing lots of different tasks at the same time, you should dedicate yourself to one task. That’s chunking. And that’s the silver bullet.
Building a Schedule
A big part of management is organization. And a big part of organization is scheduling. So if you want to better manage your team, it’s a good idea to create a written schedule. A schedule is important for personal productivity because it gives a holistic view of what has to be done during a particular period of time.
It also helps you organize your time wisely, allowing enough time to complete important tasks, and keeping time to deal with surprises.
There are seven basic principles involved in personal scheduling.
The first principle is to compile the schedule just prior to the period of time covered. This helps keep it relevant and cuts out the need for multiple revisions. The time covered in your schedule should be dependent on the tasks and their deadlines.
Begin your schedule with the end in mind
The next principle is to begin your schedule with the end in mind. This means starting with the objectives you have to achieve. Decide what has to be finished by the end of each day or week. These are your “deliverables” — time-sensitive tasks that must be completed by a deadline.
Principle number three is to schedule critical-priority tasks first. Critical tasks are high-value — important to achieving your goals — and time-sensitive tasks. After critical-priority tasks have been scheduled, look to high-priority tasks, then medium-priority tasks, and then — if there’s time left — low-priority tasks.
Recognize your controllable time
The next principle of scheduling is to recognize your controllable time. Having figured out what you need to accomplish, figure out how much time you actually have to achieve those objectives. It’s unrealistic to schedule a full eight hours of vital tasks in every workday. What’s you controllable time?
That’s the actual time you have available to complete your scheduled tasks. You can calculate it by deducting the time you typically spend dealing with unpredictable events — these include routine interruptions, like requests from your boss or ad hoc conversations with colleagues, and situations or crises that have to be addressed –from the number of hours in your workday.
Allow time for previously unfinished critical tasks
The fifth principle of scheduling is to allow time for previously unfinished critical tasks. Sometimes during the course of your day, you’ll have to deal with issues that are both out of your control and unexpected. So no matter how efficiently you plan, you may not always have time to complete critical tasks within your schedule. You’ll need “catch-up” time to get back on track.
The next principle of scheduling is to chunk similar tasks and activities together. Chunking helps efficiency because it reduces time used task switching.
Be flexible in your approach
And the final principle of scheduling is to be flexible in your approach. Don’t be afraid to adjust and readjust your schedule as required. Think of your schedule as a living document that will evolve through updates and revisions during its lifetime.
These principles will help you create an effective personal schedule. And an effective personal schedule is a key building block of better personal productivity.