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Time Hacks

Top 10 Tips from the Washington Post Time Hack Series

  1. Create a Plan – Work the Plan: Without a plan, our efforts are wasted. Have a work plan focused on what will affect your business the most. Think quality not quantity of work. Don’t be distracted by opportunities which will not positively affect your goals. Create a plan then stick to it.
  2. Only Do Your Job: Type A’s have an amazing ability to see what needs to be done and often jump in to make it happen. However, in many cases, we overreach what is our responsibility. Stay focused on only your work (and life) responsibilities.
  3. Manage Expectations: We often feel like we need to respond immediately and get things done in superhuman time. Moving at the speed of light can take a toll on us. Let your associates and clients know what is a reasonable turnaround on projects or returning calls. Make it manageable for yourself. If you set up expectations initially, you limit disappointment and provide yourself with breathing space.
  4. Create a Schedule: Don’t let your day run you. Take control by setting a schedule that works for you. Carve out time for projects and communication being sure to leave space for emergencies. Don’t forget to include free-time for yourself. Then have the strength to stick to your schedule.
  5. Do One Thing at a Time: Contrary to popular belief, humans can not multi-task. We end up doing multiple things poorly. Start one task and finish it before moving to anything else is a much more efficient system. When you are overwhelmed by a big project, break it down into manageable chunks. Then work only on one piece at a time.
  6. Make Technology Your Friend: Technology should be a tool and not the ruler of our day. Stop playing Pavlov’s dog every time you receive a text. Manage when you respond to emails, calls, and texts. Touch your communications only one. Turn off laptops and smart phones during family and personal time. Turn off your laptop at least an hour before bed.
  7. Reconnect with Yourself: When we are massively busy, we tend to focus on everyone and everything but ourselves. By reconnecting with ourselves we can take back control and stop being a victim to the things around us.
  8. Grow Your Awareness: You can’t change what you can’t see. Be a detective and see how you are spending your time and what is creating stress. Take time to turn off and tune in to get centered. This gives you the power to get outside of your day so you can see it objectively.
  9. Focus on Your Values: Instead of jumping into responsibilities and to-do’s, rate them first by what you truly value and want in your life. Be sure what you are doing is in alignment with how you truly want to live your life.
  10. Take Care of Yourself: You can’t accomplish anything if you are in pain or tired. Eat well, get sleep, and move your body throughout the day. Give yourself space away from the craziness so you can recharge and be fully ready to do your work.

Case Studies

Her biggest revelation through the time hacks, she said, was realizing that she didn’t give herself time, because she didn’t value herself. And her biggest motivation to change that, she said, is recognizing the kind of role model she wants to be for her children.

In a country where long work hours are the norm, non-profits can be among the most notorious – the people who are drawn to work in that world tend to be passionate and driven, and the work is never ending. “Perhaps, being so young, he thought working more hours than necessary was the norm,” Heisler said. “Giving him permission to draw boundaries around work was powerful.”

“I used to work crazy hours, put the kids to bed, and work another four or five hours,” she said. “Now, I have a clearer sense of what’s important. I’m much more refreshed when I come into the office. I’m discovering it’s so much better to work eight super-focused hours, than 16 tired and distracted ones.”

Though “certainly not perfect yet,” Melissa is no longer panicked, stressed and feeling guilty all the time because she now has specific times to pay attention to what’s important. She’s actually doing better work because she’s able to focus and finish. “I always felt such a desperation to work, because I didn’t know when I was going to fit it in,” she said. “Now that I’m not feeling stressed, it’s easier to tackle any challenges that arise.”

“When we love our job and find what we are doing to be important, we often create unachievable expectations for ourselves,” Heisler said. “Re-evaluate what you are doing and what you really need to do. Look for the quality, not quantity of work. Stop equating hours with doing a good job.”

Colleagues are noticing a change. “After two weeks working with Melissa, people started to say, ‘You seem more centered,” Rice said. “I felt I was listening more, rather than frantically jumping from one thing to the next. I feel like I’ve been able to differentiate between what’s critical and high priority, and the things that can wait.”

Think of exercise as a gift. Not work. If exercise becomes one more thing on the To Do list, it’s hard to get and stay motivated, Heisler said. “It’s more about having the intention to exercise than having a resolution,” she said. Setting the intention is an easier way to start, rather than feeling the pressure of keeping a resolution, and the disappointment if you can’t.

Melissa Heisler’s TOP TIP: “Not moving forward is often a symptom of a larger problem. Take a few steps back and look at your life. What is working? What is not? Where is there tension, conflict or stress? Many times once some emotional issue is resolved, the work moves forward naturally.”

Melissa Heisler’s Top Tip: “Break overwhelming tasks into manageable chunks. And do a little bit everyday. Just 15 minutes a day can start to make a big difference over time.”

Case studies originally published in