How to 'rule your time' and actually get things done, according to a productivity expert


As the year draws to a close, you may be thinking about your goals for 2020. To make those goals a reality, experts say, it helps to start small: Revamp your to-do lists.

"Part of achieving your goals really starts with practicing accountability and good time management," says Keita Williams, the founder and chief strategist of Success Bully, a service that assists women trying to keep up with their career goals.

Williams says the key to being productive and meeting your goals is knowing how to make an impact with the time you have. That means prioritizing the tasks you tackle each day, and outsourcing other tasks or even getting rid of them when necessary.

"I call it 'ruling your time,' and when you rule your time, you get to decide how to make your time have the most impact," says Williams.

Here's how to master the art of the to-do list and be more efficient and productive in the new year.

Do it

To make your time have the most impact, be selective about what you put on your to-do list and think about your "peak times," says Williams.

"I always see people make this laundry list of things they need to get done, and then they let it roll over to the next day and it becomes this perpetual cycle of not getting things done."

Williams suggests writing out your list for the next day the night before. Set aside some time in the evenings and make a long list of items that you'd like to get done, without any intention of checking them all off.

Then, Williams says, pick a maximum of six items that you intend to tackle the next day.

When selecting the day's tasks, Williams thinks about her "peak times." These are the times of day when you feel most energized and productive. Try to structure your day so that you tackle the tasks that require more focus during the hours of the day when you're at your peak performance level.

When you're less focused, Williams says to tackle the easiest thing on your list for a "quick win" that will help you keep the momentum going.

I circle my high priority thing because, if the day goes off the rails and I still complete only that one thing, it's still a win in my opinion.
Keita Williams
founder and chief strategist of Success Bully

Dump it

Williams stresses that it's easy to create a to-do list that makes you feel busy, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily a high-impact list, or one that will give you a sense of accomplishment.

Think about the tasks that are of the utmost importance. These tend to be tasks like wrapping up a project at work or planning out your next month's budget that, if completed, will motivate you to push forward. If something isn't a top priority for that day, or if it can wait, you should dump it.

In order to ensure you're accomplishing your high-impact tasks, tackle them during your peak performance times.

"I circle my high priority thing because if the day goes off the rails and I still complete only that one thing, it's still a win in my opinion," says Williams. "And if I power through those six things, there's always something I can add onto my short list, from my longer list."

Delegate it

In a series of articles in the Harvard Business Review, researchers found that spending as little as $40 on something that saves time (in their example, an hour of home cleaning through TaskRabbit), will make you happier than spending that money on "stuff"— especially if you use the purchased time to do something you enjoy.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the task on your list, think about the things that you don't have to do yourself, but eat away at your free time. This might include laundry, grocery shopping, or cleaning your home.

Tips for avoiding career burnout

Video by Courtney Stith

For a little extra money, platforms like Care.com offer child-care services, while Instacart, TaskRabbit, and Fiverr offer household services like grocery shopping, household cleaning, or personal assistance for a small fee.

The tasks you decide to delegate may depend on your budget and time constraints. The average babysitting rate for one child in 2018 was $16.25 per hour, according to the 2019 Care.com Cost of Care Survey. Instacart offers an annual membership that includes free grocery deliveries for orders $99 and above.

While that may seem like a lot for certain tasks, you're really buying back your time, and the trade off may be worth it to you.

"I need those two to three hours a week," says Williams. "There are certain parts of my life that I have to outsource so that I can be high functioning. You don't have to be Superwoman all the time."

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