Being in school for so long has taught me to create a plan for each semester. So how exactly do I go about this? Basically, every spring, summer, and fall, I look at all of my deadlines and map it out onto a Google Doc with the weekly dates for the 12-16 weeks. I color code the main categories and have a key in the header and footer of each page. I learned this method from the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity.
Even though I’m now graduating, I am going to continue this method of planning because it truly helps me to get a big picture overview of my goals. I can then match my big goals to subtasks by making weekly progress toward completion.
Here is a snapshot of a week from last summer (with some items removed):
Each week would have a similar format that I copy and pasted for the whole summer. In May, I go through and add in important deadlines and repeating tasks. For example, my teaching timesheet is due every two weeks. Now, I also include these repeating tasks in my Google Calendar. Some may find this process repetitive, but it actually helps me remember things by keeping it in multiple places.
So, because it’s time to think about Summer 2021, I am in the process of creating my next 12 weeks or so goals. I’m still working out what I’d like my categories to be, but I’ve started to put in my dates and then will create my outline and fill in goals. The first pass through is all the big items, and then I re-evaluate every Sunday and prioritize my week, filling in additional items as needed.
I try to keep my email inbox at zero or as close to zero as possible at all times. During the day, the emails that are still there serve as my to-do list of sorts. I work through at certain times throughout the day and make a plan to address it on the spot. I also do not like to have email on my phone. I find that I get distracted by the numbers and notifications and then I’ll read it and have to go back through it on my computer later anyway.
Gmail is my preferred email provider and has been for over 15 years. Thankfully, my job also uses Gmail so I can keep settings consistent across all my accounts. I have several accounts for different purposes. Although many people prefer to sync all of their email accounts, I actually like keeping them separate. It helps me compartmentalize the different tasks I have to do whether it be for school, personal, teaching, or entrepreneurial endeavors. And by having a separate teaching email account, I never miss a student question or concern because it doesn’t get lost in the many other emails I get on a daily basis.
Here are my top 6 tips for using Gmail efficiently
1. Compact View with Conversation Threading Off
I prefer the compact view the best in my inbox screen. I know a lot of people prefer to use the conversation view to group emails together, but I tend to get confused in threads and have to go back to figure out what was said. By using the compact view, I do not miss any comments on any emails that are sent because each one shows up separately in my inbox. The compact view is nice because you can see more emails at a glance since the space is reduced between each one.
2. Smart Compose On
In the general settings, I use smart compose, grammar, spelling, and autocorrect. In fact, it’s kind of scary how accurate the smart compose is. It allows me to respond to emails faster because it predicts what I might say when I start a sentence. If I agree with the response, then I just click enter and keep typing the next portion of my email. I’ll all about ways to save myself time, but still write a quality and professional email response to someone.
3. Using Folders
I go through my emails several times per day. Once it is filed or completed, it goes immediately into a folder. In my personal email, I have folders for advisory boards I serve on, billing information, doctor information, organizations I’m involved with, and much more. Pretty much any activity has its own folder and that’s where the email lives after it has been addressed. It makes it much easier for me to find things later and know that I didn’t delete anything.
4. Setting up Filters
This setting is helpful if you get frequent emails from a specific person or organization. You can create a label and a filter for that person. It can be color coded and make it easier to stand out in your email inbox. Once you receive an email that you may want to filter, you can click the three dots at the top and then choose how you wish to filter that type of email in the future.
5. Schedule Send
I love to use schedule send when I am trying to send an email that needs a response from other people. I tend to draft emails later in the day during one of my work time blocks. However, if it’s getting close to 4:00 or 5:00pm, I don’t send the email right away. I schedule it to send at 8:00am the next morning so that it goes to the top of that person’s inbox. Now they may have a great management system, but I’ve found that a lot people have thousands of unread emails in their inbox and may miss things, especially if they are very busy. The other great use for schedule send is to give myself reminders. Even though I keep a pretty good list of action items in my digital app, it’s helpful when I have important reminders that I don’t want to forget. For example, I needed to mention someone’s retirement at a workshop and I scheduled the email reminder to myself to come up during the week I would be preparing the agenda. I have learned that no matter how much I think I’m going to remember something, it is much better to have a plan and be prepared than to rely on my memory of something someone said 3 months prior.
This feature is my ultimate favorite use of my Gmail settings for efficiency. It is especially useful for maintaining a zero inbox. When I go through my emails throughout the day, if it is something that I don’t have time or is not urgent to respond to, I will snooze it to the next day. Sometimes the emails are informational relating to an upcoming meeting later in the week or the following week. I then snooze it to the day I plan to review the agenda or that the information is most needed. Therefore, it stays out of my inbox, but it’s not filed in a folder yet because it’s still relevant.
Making to-do lists is a helpful way to organize tasks that need to be completed. While, I do use a daily paper and pen method to keep track of tasks, I currently use Tick Tick to manage my goal-related tasks. I’ve used other digital apps as well and it all comes down to preference and whatever is best suited to your individual goals at the time.
This program is a website, but also can be downloaded as an app. I have it on my Macbook, but mostly use it on the browser and keep it in my Google Chrome grouping tab for calendar. It can synced across all your devices so that if you update it in one place, it will be updated everywhere.
Within Tick Tick, you can create folders and assign tasks to a date within a folder and category. I have everything organized by school, different work tasks, bills, and personal development objectives. I also include things in my list that are recurring like do the animals flea treatment every month. You can also choose to utilize the calendar view to visually see when you have lots of tasks due or happening at once.
Remember the Milk
This app has the same basic features and interface as Tick Tick. I personally like both. Similar to Tick Tick, you can view tasks for the current day, the next day, or the week. Remember the Milk has a really nice easy share function where you can share tasks with someone’s email address.
Now, this one is newer to me and I look forward to playing around with it a bit more. The cool part is that it has different templates that you can use depending on what type of list you are trying to create. It also has the option to organize it by boards or bullet points and you can go back and forth.
If you are an avid Google user, then Keep is for you. It integrates with your calendar and you can move it up on your waffle to keep it nice and close by when you open a new google browser tab. The neat thing about Google Keep is that you can add images to your lists and move them around. There is a lot more visual customization available than the other to-do list apps that are out there. You can add collaborators, set reminders, change the color, and copy to Google Docs. It’s definitely worth trying out!
Do you often make it through the day just putting out fires as they occur, trying to keep up? Creating and sticking to a schedule can help with managing time effectively. One helpful tool is to create a to-do list of action items that you need to get done. Over the years, I’ve tried different methods of writing a to-do list, which have worked for various purposes depending on my goals at the time.
Why is it important to make to-do lists?
Making lists and prioritizing tasks helps you become more likely to accomplish your goals and reach your dreams. It also provides a way to track your progress and keep you motivated to move forward. To-do lists are great for both personal and professional use. You can use a paper and pen notebook to track it all or there are lots of great digital apps to organize tasks by category.
I’ll share some of the methods I’ve used to create to-do lists with you here.
THE EVERYTHING LIST
I like to call this list the everything list because it’s more or less a brain dump of all that has to be done. Sometimes I make columns for personal and work action items to keep them separate, but I just get it all down on paper (or digital). I’ve seen others refer to this method as the grocery list method because it’s just basically keeping a running tab of tasks as they pop into your brain.
Top Three to Five
For me, this method is helpful when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Instead of literally writing everything down that needs to get done, I write 3-5 MANAGEABLE items at a time. Then, when I’m able to cross them all off, I write 3-5 more items to accomplish. It’s comparable to time blocking a schedule. It’s focusing me to be intentional about what I want to accomplish within a certain timeframe.
This method takes the everything method and then rearranges it based on your priorities. It’s easier to do this with a digital task management system because you can easily cut and paste the items and move them up and down on your list. One way to prioritize is to use the Eisenhower matrix. Some people even recommend a simple lettering system next to your tasks with A being the most important item to tackle first.
Big and Small
This type of a to-do list breaks task into big and small tasks. You can think of them in time commitment. If it’s something like sending an email that will take 5 minutes to write, that could be considered a small task. If it’s completing an annual report, that might be a bigger task. Sometimes it’s more helpful to break up those big tasks into smaller ones and cross of those milestones as you reach them.
No matter how you organize your tasks, the best thing to do is find what works for you. The physical act of crossing something off on paper to me feels so good that even though I manage my longer term and ongoing tasks in a digital app, I still create a daily list of items that need to get done. I also try to keep it realistic so as not to get disappointed if I don’t get everything crossed off my list.
Since I use my Google Calendar for all of my professional and personal tasks, I share it with anyone who might need to get a hold of me or schedule something. However, I do not necessarily need them to see all of the event details, so I choose the option of just Free/Busy.
Normally, I don’t like to have a lot of notifications coming through on my email, but I do have some calendar notifications set up. If something is changed or canceled, I do like the email to come through so I’m aware of it and don’t just happen to notice it missing from my calendar at a later time. Another helpful notification is to get a daily agenda from your calendar emailed to you.
Color Coding Events
Originally, I utilized the create calendar feature to make a separate calendar for each of my activities. But then I realized if I was using the share calendar feature to alert people to my availability I would have to then share all of those calendars with them. So although it takes a second longer when I create an event. After I make it on my calendar, I right click the event and then change the color to match my coding for that activity. Then, at a glance, I can see what responsibilities I have for my freelance work, my teaching, and my school.
Multiple Time Zones
Another setting you can utilize on the calendar is to have more than one time zone displayed. This is helpful if you have to coordinate meetings with people who live in a different area. I have to do this and so I have two different time zones on my calendar to make it easier for me to plan meetings with others.
Overall, I find Google Calendar simple and user friendly. I like that I can access it on all my devices and put everything in one place!
Some people say that I’m a planner. Others say I’m calendar-oriented. Really, I just like to make sure that my time, tasks, and priorities are all reflected on my schedule. When someone asks me to do something and I agree (also power in saying no), I immediately add it to my Google Calendar, which can be accessed on my phone, iPad, and laptop. No matter where I am I have access to it.
If it is a work or professional meeting, I copy the Zoom or webinar link from the email and paste it directly into the calendar event that I create so that I do not have to search for the email when it’s time to log in.
Clarify your goals
It is important to know what you want to accomplish with your time. You cannot create an effective schedule if you don’t know what you are aiming for. I wrote a post on mini-goals here. Get specific on the main areas of your life and figure out the chunks of time that need to be spent on each.
Prioritize your tasks
When you sit down to work, or even at the beginning of every day, take a look at everything that needs to be accomplished. What is that one thing that can’t be put off? Do that first, in the morning if you can. For longer term projects, break it down into smaller deadlines and place those on your calendar. If you’re not sure how to prioritize, consider using a strategy like the Eisenhower Matrix.
Utilize a digital calendar like Google Calendar
Keep a calendar that can be accessed from all of your digital devices: laptop, phone, iPad, etc. That way, you always have access to what you need in the moment if someone asks to schedule something. Personally, because I work several part time jobs and manage my own schedule, I keep one Google Calendar for everything and color code by activity, including my personal commitments. For example, if a friend texts me and says, “hey, we should catch up on the phone Thursday around 8pm.” If I’m free, I actually confirm and add that to my calendar so I don’t forget to call or accidentally make plans to do something else because I forgot we were going to chat.
At work, I utilize my email kind of like a to do list. I try to check my email at certain points throughout the day, but if something comes on that I need to take care of that day or later in the week, I also add it to my calendar and include the reference email.
Learn to Say “Let Me Get Back to You”
If you’re a kind-hearted person who wants to follow through with helping people or do a good job, you’ll be tempted to say yes to everyone and everything. That is not a realistic way to manage a schedule because you will quickly become overwhelmed. However, instead of saying no right away, give yourself some think time when someone asks you to do something or for another meeting or a favor. Evaluate if it fits with your goals and priorities or fits in any extra time you have available for leisure. If not, perhaps you may have to decline or ask the person to check in with you at a later date.
These are just some of the strategies that I use on a regular basis to maintain my schedule. Please leave a comment if you’d like to hear more about any of them!
If you clicked on this article, you were drawn in by the prospect of prioritizing your tasks. Maybe you don’t know what the Eisenhower Matrix is, but you liked the Matrix movies and you kind of remembered that Eisenhower was a president or something. No worries – I am here to help you out with this strategy of prioritizing the tasks to be completed.
History of the Eisenhower Matrix
Other names for this matrix include the decision matrix or important/urgent matrix, but ultimately came from a quote by President Dwight Eisenhower.
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
From this quote, people took away the fact that there are four main categories that our tasks and activities fall into: urgent/important, urgent/not important, important/not urgent, and not important/not urgent. Although inspired by the quote from Eisenhower, the concept became popularized by Stephen Covey.
How Do We Use the Matrix?
Red pill or blue pill you say? Well, let’s take a look at something that could alter how you think about prioritizing your tasks. First, ask yourself if everything seems urgent and the world is constantly on fire. If you answered yes to that question, then utilizing this strategy could benefit your planning and reduce stress in your life.
When you have a new task pop up in your personal or professional life, before acting on it, take a moment to pause and decide which box it belongs in. If it truly is urgent, like your kid fell outside and hit their head, then of course handle it in the moment. If it’s a work email on a Saturday morning that doesn’t really have to be handled until Monday, well … can you pause and save it for Monday?
You can do this on a daily or weekly basis, but I find it to be helpful to periodically go through my big tasks and move them to different boxes depending on what needs to be accomplished. Here is an example of a diagram you could create to visualize your task management:
You’ll notice there is a box for the not important and not urgent tasks that says to delete. I prefer to look at this box as “in moderation” or evaluate shortcuts and strategies to become more efficient. Do I really need to get the CVS newsletter emailed to me every day? Probably not. In which case, I can delete it by unsubscribing and freeing up that inbox space and mental space. I wrote another post about email tips if you’re interested in checking that out.
So, next time someone asks you to do something or you feel that pressure that everything at work is urgent, decide if it is both urgent and important before you act. If it is, go for it. If it’s not urgent, but still important, add it to your calendar for later in the day or in the week, but don’t forget about it. That’s why the matrix says to schedule it.
There was a period of about 3-4 months when my schedule was extremely busy. I was juggling three different jobs and my own school work. Not to mention, it was the middle of a pandemic and I was packing up my personal belongings to move to a different state as well. I’m usually very good about managing my time using Google calendar and my to-do lists, but I knew I needed something extra if I was going to make sure everything got done.
I did some research on time blocking and adapted it to fit my needs. How many people approach time blocking is to keep a consistent schedule and do similar tasks in that block. For example:
7am-9am – Morning routine/family
9am-11am – Emails/meetings
11am-1pm – Lunch/ light to-do list items
1pm-3pm – Projects/deep thinking
3pm-5pm – Meetings/weekly planning
And so on. It could change daily or be a set weekly routine that someone follows.
I took this idea and combined it with keeping a calendar to schedule out everything that I had to do for the week and I did this every week. I color coded it by the job or task. Here is an example of one of my weeks.
As you can see, I worked quite a bit during that time. Thankfully, my schedule is a little bit lighter now so I don’t have to schedule so strict. However, this method really worked for me when I was juggling a lot of things all at once. The blue was my personal time to do whatever tasks or downtime I needed. I should mention I worked from home through all of this so it was easy to switch between jobs because it was often just a browser or device switch.
I certainly took breaks to get water, coffee, and use the bathroom. I followed good protocol to stand up at least once per hour and rest my eyes from the screen every 20 minutes. So while I didn’t follow this schedule every week to the exact second, I stuck to it pretty closely, and it really helped me accomplish everything without feeling overwhelmed. Every day, I prioritized the tasks that needed to be done that day and followed through on those items to the best extent possible. I had a weekly accountability call with a friend on Sundays to discuss our goals for the week and keep us focused.
Another thing that helped was scheduling times to check my email. Many days I have email open in the background and respond as messages come in if I’m not too busy. However, on days or weeks when I know I will be very busy working on projects, reports, and meetings, I schedule checking email into my calendar. That way, I have the tab closed so it’s not distracting me from my work, but I know I’ll get to it because I’ve prioritized time to deal with it.
I will definitely use this method again during busy seasons of my life!
A little over three years ago I made the switch to a zero inbox and it was the best thing I ever did for my organizational skills. At that time I had had my personal Gmail account since about 2005 with thousands and thousands of emails. Instead of taking time putting everything into folders, I simply decided to archive it all and start from that day forward. Since I started a new job, I was able to keep my work email at zero inbox from day one.
Here’s how I manage emails now to keep my inbox as close to zero as possible:
Check email first thing each morning (after affirmations and to do list) and before I close my computer from work for the day. By doing this, I can deal with any emails that came in before I started my work day for all the early birds who start before me and then I can create a plan for everything left over at the end of the day.
Check email at set times throughout the day. Now, I don’t always follow this rule perfectly because it depends on what I’m working on. If I need to focus on a project or task and I don’t want to be disturbed by emails, I close the tab and set my timer to check it once per hour or every 2 hours so as to still be responsive to needs of coworkers, but not be interrupted by constant flows of incoming emails.
I use the two minute rule when dealing with emails as I go through them. This idea comes from the Getting Things Done method by David Allen. If it’s something I can respond to right away, I quickly send a reply and then file that email in a folder. If it doesn’t need a response, I file it right away. If it’s informational and a deadline is attached, but it’s not immediate, I use the snooze feature to send it back to me when it needs to be completed or responded to. If it is going to take a bit longer, I work on it during an email response period during the day.
So by the end of the day everything should either be snoozed, responded to, or filed in a folder. I rarely delete emails because I do frequently have to refer back to old emails for information and it’s very easy to find when they are in folders. I also use the search function in Gmail to find the emails that I need. For newsletters and subscriptions, I create filters that send the emails directly to folders so it doesn’t even have to come to my inbox.
My personal favorite Gmail settings are to use the compact view with conversation view off. I like to see all my emails individually and conversation view confuses me a bit. Because I see all messages individually, I sometimes will only keep the most recent email in a thread and delete the rest because it’s not needed.
And, to save myself a little time, I have smart reply turned on so it auto detects what I might want to say. It’s kind of scary how accurate it is. I also use Grammarly to check my spelling, tone, and grammar as a I go.
Keeping my email organized and efficient has helped me to save time and communicate effectively!
I rarely hear people say they’ve got too much time on their hands. It’s often more about the lack of time that frustrates most. We all get the same amount of time in a day and how we use it has important implications for the outcomes of our lives.
Time management is an area of my life where I am constantly looking to improve. I seek ways to plan and be more productive. I used to thrive on being busy thinking that that was a marker of effective time management, when in fact it is not. Now, I seek ways to engage in deep focus and practice self care to make the most of the time I have. Here are some of the strategies that I use.
Single task. In order to turn my focus to the task at hand, I close out the email tabs, turn off the notifications, and focus on one item of my to do list at a time. Each day I use a template to write tasks for the day.
Modified Pomodoro. Google the Pomodoro Method and you’ll find lots of articles and resources. I use it, but sometimes I modify it and use the amount of work time that fits best in my schedule. So instead of 25 minute work chunks, I might do 30 or 45 or even an hour.
Prioritize. I keep my recurring tasks and upcoming to do items on a program called TickTick. Each day, I use that as my guide to prioritize what needs to be completed. I set aside 15-20 minutes each morning to start my day with prioritizing that way I’m not caught off guard as the day goes on. If something comes up, I can decide if it fits in my priorities or if it can be moved to the next day.
Improve technology skills. This is an important time management tip for anyone working from home. If you spend a lot of time on the computer, then finding quicker ways to complete tasks saves time. Time saved by technology can be spent on other priority areas. Utilize the free resources available to brush up on your tech skills.
Calendar. I use Google calendar to color code all of my meetings and tasks. I add big projects to my calendar and block off time to complete them. I also use a paper calendar because I still like to have things written down.
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