If you’re someone frequently overwhelmed by requests, to-do’s, and tasks, you may wonder how some people seem to do it all effortlessly.
(Spoiler alert: They’re not.)
What I mean is that they’re not doing everything; they’re doing what matters most to them and their careers. And that’s only possible when you proactively protect your time.
We’re all dealing with the same 24 hours in a day, so prioritizing, managing, and protecting your time is essential for your professional development and career growth; here’s how:
Get clear on what you want
People who are fuzzy on what they want tend to wander aimlessly, allowing time to slip through their fingers; those who have clarity focus on their goals without distraction. When you’re clear on what you want (and what you don’t), you can use your awareness to align your attention with your intention, prioritizing and making the most of your time.
Establish (and maintain) boundaries
You are not obligated to be on 24/7, so limit your availability. The truth is that people treat us the way we allow or train them to. If you make a habit of responding to emails in the wee hours of the morning, others will assume that it’s okay to make requests at all hours—and to expect an immediate response. Conversely, if you’ve made it clear through your words and actions that you’ll respond to work messages during business hours and within a day, you’ve established boundaries that support reasonable expectations. People who don’t protect their time might be put off; people who protect their time will respect you even more.
Remember, busy is not the same as productive. Busy people take on everything and offer unfettered access to their time, expertise, and attention; productive people set boundaries.
Learn to say no
In a quest to be accommodating, you may have inadvertently trapped yourself in a “yes-land,” always agreeing to things you wish you hadn’t, that are unnecessary, and that burn through your precious hours. Become more discerning with your time by asking yourself if what you’re about to do supports your short- or long-term goals.
If you’re invited to a meeting/project/initiative where you know you’re not needed, try saying:
“I love what you’re doing. While my priorities will preclude me from assisting or participating, please keep me in mind for future endeavors.”
You’re not obligated to accept every request or provide your expert opinion or services for free. Use one of these responses to decline politely:
“Thanks for reaching out and considering me for this. Unfortunately, I’m unable to take on any unpaid projects at the moment, but I wish you much success with ______.”
“Thanks so much for your inquiry! Out of respect for my paying clients, I’m unable to give detailed advice via DMs, but here’s where you can book a consultation, and I have a wealth of free resources at _____.”
Remember, saying no to the people and things that don’t support your goals will give you more time to say yes to those that do.
Do, Decide, Delegate or Delete
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of requests, believing that everything is urgent and important, which seldom is the case. Instead, realize that not all tasks are created equal. Utilize a simple decision-making tool like the Eisenhower Matrix, in which you place to-dos in four boxes: Do it now for urgent and important items, Decide to schedule a time to do it for non-urgent but important tasks, Delegate it to someone else for urgent but unimportant things, and Delete items that are neither urgent nor important.
Stop trying to do it all, and instead, use your resources.
Skip unnecessary meetings and time-sucking email chains by trusting the smart folks you’ve hired to do their jobs without you and keep you in the loop, freeing up your time. Outsource your essential but most unfavorite (and therefore, time-consuming) tasks to independent pros. And save time by using technological tools, processes, and systems to do things like schedule meetings, automate invoicing and collect information from website forms.
Batch routine tasks
Some of the biggest time wasters are those everyday tasks like checking social media or responding to emails. Batch routine tasks by carving out specific times in the day for them—and then communicate that to others. For emails, employ an auto-responder message that says something like, “Thanks for your message. I check my emails twice a day, at 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on weekdays. If your matter is urgent, please call me at 555-555-5555.” This lets people know that you will respond, provides another way to contact you if something is pressing, and, more importantly, allows you to manage your time effectively.
Block out non-negotiable time in your calendar
Protecting your time means regularly building in periods where you aren’t working. Replenish yourself with whatever (or whomever) fills your tank, and make that time non-negotiable. That might mean spending time alone in nature, taking a few hours off to play with your kids, doing those things that improve your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being, or carving our uninterrupted blocks of time to think and strategize. Protect your time by treating it like the valuable and precious commodity it is.