There are busy people who accomplish a ton each day and then there are busy people who run in circles getting very little done. What separates the two? How do the successful busy people manage to be so productive?

There are 5 noteworthy areas of time management skills where, when applied, busy people can stay ahead of the game and get things done! If you’re struggling with productivity and focus, the following strategies could make a huge impact on your daily life.

Employ To-Do Lists & Schedules

Busy people don’t just write to-do lists, they also schedule their tasks in a calendar. Using a calendar gives a visual representation of time and where it’s going. How many tasks per day? It depends. A general rule of thumb is to underestimate how many tasks can be done in a day and overestimate how much time each task will take.

Key points:

• Break up bigger tasks into small, more manageable milestones.
• 1-3-5 daily to-do list; 1 big task, 3 medium tasks, and 5 small tasks.
• Get one big project done before lunch.
• Outsource what you can; you don’t have to do everything all the time.
• Schedule time for things you enjoy avoiding burnout.

Become a Master of Your Time

Time management is critical. Busy people are masters of their time. They develop methods and techniques specific to their situation and stick to them.

  • Set deadlines to force a finish, or tasks end up unnecessarily and indefinitely hanging on the list.
  • Schedule breaks to stretch, walk, check-in on social media, etc., to avoid feeling overworked and unmotivated.
  • Organize tasks according to energy level; choose your best time to get things done and schedule the harder tasks there.
  • Don’t multitask! Do one task well or do several tasks mediocre. Your choice.
  • Plan ahead. At the end of the day, plan tomorrow. At the end of this week, plan next week.
  • Say NO! It’s okay to politely say no; offer suggestions on how they could do their own task or refer them to someone else who might have the time and skills available.
  • Make decisions quickly on things that don’t really matter. If it’s not going to negatively affect you in 10 minutes, 10 months, or 10 years, make a decision and act.
  • Perfectionism leads to procrastination. Learn to accept perfection as a farce and strive for your best effort.
  • Make a “To-Don’t” list. Personalize your to-don’t as a strategy to avoid bad habits and maintain focus. For example: No morning meetings. No coffee after 11am. Don’t answer emails until after 10am.
  • Have backup tasks to do when plans fail. If a meeting is canceled, choose a backup task to replace it.
  • Fill time gaps. While waiting in line or in a waiting room, read articles saved to Pocket. On a run or at the gym? Listen to your favorite podcast. Internet down? Organize files, folders, drawers. Catch up on filing or do inventory for supplies.

Undertaking Email

Some people deal with more than 100 emails each day. It’s wise not to schedule email duties as the first daily task. It’s easy to get sucked in and lose track of time. Then the whole schedule is out of whack for the day.

  • Manage email 3-5 times daily for 15-30 minutes each time, depending on needs.
  • Use filters to auto-sort into folders and handle priority folders first.
  • Do a monthly or quarterly email clean-out.
  • Unsubscribe from lists that are no longer useful or irrelevant.

Dealing with Distractions

Busy people manage to stay focused because they are detail-oriented and organized. Staying on task is nearly impossible in chaos and clutter. Decluttering doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes discipline to keep things organized.

If your areas are disorganized, take one bite of the elephant at a time. Meaning, spend 30 minutes a day decluttering/organizing a specific area, like a desk drawer or kitchen cabinet.

Solutions for other distractions include:
  • Pause notifications on email and phone apps.
  • Take advantage of the Do Not Disturb setting on interoffice messaging systems
  • Use earbuds (even if there’s nothing playing) to reroute coworkers causing interruptions.
  • Use a “signal” letting coworkers know you’re not to be interrupted at the moment like a sign on the door or desk.

Automate When Possible

There’s an app for just about everything these days. Take full advantage and use these measures to automate routine tasks which are taking up valuable time which could be better spent on something else.

  • Canned text responses and emails responses are beneficial for saving time repeating the same answers.
  • If social media is part of marketing, create posts in bulk and schedule ahead of time.
  • Set reminders for time-sensitive events; appointments, phone calls, tasks, meetings, etc.

Tired of spinning your wheels and getting nowhere fast? Within each of the categories listed above is a great deal of useful strategies to gain ground, increase productivity and get things done in an already busy lifestyle.

You might hit a few roads blocks along the way and find out one way works better than another. And that’s okay, as long as you develop a routine and stick with it. Being busy doesn’t always mean being productive; don’t let that happen to you!