In case you missed or forgot them, the first two steps in getting back in control of your business and your life can be summed up as follows:

  1. Brain Dump – write a list of absolutely every big (and little) thing that needs to be done in your business and personal life. Don’t try to organize anything, just write.
  2. Two-Part Priority Assessment System – assess every item on that long list according to 2 metrics:
    1. Its importance – on a scale of 1, 2, and 3
    2. How willing you are to do it – on a scale of A, B, and C

You can get fuller explanations about these two strategies in my two prior blog posts. However, before you go on to the third step, it’s really important to complete the second part of the system by dividing all activities into 3 basic categories:

  1. Vitally important items that you must do (or delegate)
  2. Somewhat important items that you can do if time allows (or delegate)
  3. Unimportant items that can either be delegated or dumped from your list altogether.

Now comes perhaps the trickiest part of gaining control of your schedule and your life, the part I call Designing Your Time Bucket Puzzle.

What in the heck kind of system is that?

It’s viewing each segment of your day (perhaps 55 minutes) as a time bucket, and then assigning certain types of tasks to different time buckets.

Why 55 minutes and not an hour, you may be wondering?

That five minutes at the end of the hour gives you time to get up, stretch, walk around, make a comfort stop — some type of activity that will allow you to start the next part of your day revived and refreshed.

DANGER ZONE: There are a number of buckets that are often sacrificed to the demands of any given day, and yet are crucial to living a well-balanced and healthy life:

  • Sufficient sleep (what???)
  • Exercise (do I have to???)
  • Meals actually eaten at a table (really??)
  • Human connection time with family and friends
  • Personal renewal time (things you do just for yourself just because they enrich your experience and quality of life)

Along these lines, I happen to consider that one of the greatest gifts of the Hebrew Bible is the concept of a Sabbath, a Day of Rest.

If you cannot see your way to unplugging and taking an entire day a week as personal time, start with a few hours on a given day and work your way up to it.

For the rest of the time buckets, you can use your online calendar or perhaps an Excel spreadsheet, listing the days across the top of the sheet and the time not set aside for sleep listed in hour increments along the side of the sheet.

The advantage of a digital calendar is that it allows you to easily enter and keep track of recurring events, thus simplifying figuring out what other time buckets are available for your seemingly never-ending to-do list. (At least that’s what my list sometimes seems like to me.)

I find an online calendar very helpful to use, especially when it comes to entering special events ahead of time so that I don’t miss important commitments, such as interviews and events where I’ve promised to speak.

One of my tricks is to always save the access code for any event on the calendar itself.

It helps me to avoid the last minute frustration and aggravation of trying to find the email where that access code is hidden.

However, in addition to the digital calendar, I still like to keep a written list of projects that fit in the important but not urgent category.

That way, when some time opens up in my day, I simply look at my list and decide which piece of my bucket puzzle will fit best in that time slot.

You may think it’s odd, but I consider every canceled appointment to be a gift of time. It allows me to catch up on emails, phone calls, even personal letters (yes, those that require a stamp).

The processes I am sharing with you are certainly not a one and done deal. Life has a way of continuing to happen (thank goodness).

Every once in a while, when things start to feel overwhelming again, it’s a good idea to go back to basics:

  • 1) Do a Brain Dump, listing everything on your to-do list
  • 2) Reassess what’s truly important using the Two-Part Priority Assessment Systemand
  • 3) Once again Design Your Time Bucket Puzzle.

If you’d like to add some suggestions to this system, please feel free to share them in the comment section below.

Good luck!