1) First of all, schedule your time. Yes, the first “tip” is just do it; schedule!
If you do not schedule your time, you risk being primarily reactive instead of proactive. The level of scheduling is up to you (mine is somewhat loose – I do not micromanage my time, but that does work and is entirely appropriate for many). Sometimes I’ll just have an (ultra short) list of projects I’m working on for a given week, other times things will be far more granular.
2) Time Blocking
Schedule (see #1) uninterrupted blocks of time for the most important thing(s)/project(s)/task(s) – whatever term you prefer!
3) Limit Email
Email is the biggest time eater for many of us. Email is rarely the most important thing for us to do.
Schedule (see #1) and limit email as much as you can. For example, one very effective friend checks email in the morning for about 15 minutes, before lunch again for 30 minutes, and then again at the end of the work day briefly. He does allow himself to look sometime after dinner in case something critical comes in, but rarely responds.
4) Avoid or Limit Time Wasting People
There is always someone to waste time with, but some people seem to always waste other people’s time. It may be that dolt who stops by and rambles on endlessly about nothing, who everyone tries to avoid. I’m usually able to make some time if a friend or colleague needs a few minutes, but that is a far cry from letting Time Wasting Tom ramble on for 45 minutes about his Aunt Gretchen and her lumbago. That will blow any semblance of a schedule away.
5) Use lists Well
I use lists of various types. The “To Do List” needs to be short, perhaps 5-7 things maximum. If it has 15 you will not finish them all, and often will NOT do the most important (which are usually not the fastest or easiest).
Some of these list items may be quick to complete, some longer, some of unknown duration. Remember you have a schedule – at very least “pencil in” the longer duration items to your schedule!
You can also have longer term lists, sort of like a life time bucket list, e.g. maybe you want to write a book someday, drink Scotch with a Pope (I was once told The Coptic Pope, a very cool dude, likes Scotch), or date a Victoria’s Secret Model.
One critical concept is the “Not To Do List” – what are you NOT doing? Often these are things you used to do that are not worth doing anymore or that someone else is doing. Remember, every time you say “yes” to something you implicitly say “no” to something else.
6) Use Travel/Commute Time
Travel and commute time should not be wasted time.
I do drive a fair amount, although my daily commute is usually from my bedroom to the kitchen table. I return email and phone calls when driving (yes, you can return an email via the phone). I listen to security and business podcasts. Lately I’ve been listening to Arabic lessons in the car since I seem to hang out, professionally speaking, in The Middle East these days.
My commute this Wednesday will be about 24 hours door-to-door (New Hampshire to 10 time zones away). Yes, I may watch a movie or two, have a drink or two, and hopefully even sleep, but I’ll have HOURS of time getting great stuff done. I’ll study for my GFCA certification, I’ve got a work related book I can’t wait to dig in, got some documents to review/update, etc.
7) Reserve some time for “unplanned events”
Even if our jobs and lives are not primarily interrupt driven (and yours may be!), there will always be unplanned events we will need to deal with. These could be as mundane as the printer or Internet dying or as exciting as a fantastic new opportunity arising.
“Downtime” is also important. Time to rest and recover. Time to do something fun (although being a Rock Star or working towards Rock Star status IS fun).
I often get some of my best ideas during downtime. A lot of brilliant ideas have arose while “wasting” time singing during unusually long showers. I often stop during bike rides to jot down ideas.
I’m not claiming you can always schedule your time of course.
Sometimes you simply cannot. It may be already scheduled. For example when I teach bootcamps for SANS, the 6 days of showing up around 7:30 or 8:30AM and then leaving at 7PMish pretty much eats up my time. And of course then there is email to browse and fall behind on.