2020 has been the craziest year in a very long time, mainly due to the coronavirus. In fact, this is the biggest pandemic known to human kind in the past 100 years. No person alive today has experienced this before. Because of it, almost all major social events and gatherings have been cancelled: concerts, festivals, marathons, other sport events… A lot of people lost their job, had to cancel their travel plans, or even worse, lost loved ones due to the virus. The stock market had the biggest up and down movements since 1986.
With all this insanity happening, a “time paradox” has taken place. Most of us were not able to do anything at the peak of the pandemic, when most countries entered their lockdown phase. We had to stay home for months, trying to stay busy, watching Netflix, and that was boring for a lot of us. Once the lockdowns stopped, all major events we usually attend, like concerts, parties, or even just a drink with friends, were cancelled. We didn’t have anything to do to relax like we usually do. Instead, we had to find another way to kill time. It’s safe to say time felt pretty long during those months.
Yet, here we are in September 2020, and it feels like the year has once again flown by. We’ve had to handle so much, catch up with so many things, we somehow still made it to 4 months before the end of the year without seeing it coming. There’s nothing getting in the way of time, not even corona. In 4 months (actually, 3 months and a half), 2021 will be be upon us, whether we like it or not.
So how to make the most out of the time left? How to make 2020 feel like it wasn’t cancelled, skipped, taken out of our time bank? How to catch up on the missed resolutions, the lack of time, the money lost?
Well, here’s how.
September: assess and plan
September is the start of the school year, so a lot of the kids will be out. For businesses, it’s the beginning of the last quarter of the year, a crucial time. Summer is over, Autumn is upon us, and if this was a normal year, people would be sharing their last summer vacation pictures, reminisce over the good times they had, and then get back to work. Already, a fresh start would be in the air. Except this is no normal year.
It’s extremely important to take things easy with whatever you have left to do this year. Don’t start Autumn with the pedal to the metal. Assess, reflect, and plan things.
Everybody is tired, many people had their vacation cancelled, a pay cut, or a job loss. We all know someone who was affected by corona, who had it rough this year. Be grateful for what you have, think of the people who had it worse than you. You were able to make it through those unprecedented times. Now things are easing down, it’s no use to start the last 4 months of the year in a frenzy, trying to catch up on everything.
You won’t catch up on everything. You’ll never get back all the time you spent inside, confined. Whatever is gone will remain gone. You just have to come to terms with it, and focus on what is in your control.
List down things you still have to do this year. You can also list down things you were supposed to do much before, if you think you realistically have a shot at checking them off this year. But again, don’t overdo it.
One of the most life-changing time management method I’ve ever implemented in my life is the 168 hours approach. I got it from Laura Vanderkam and I cannot recommend enough the book she wrote about it. Based on my learnings, I developed a 168 Hour Spreadsheet, which I use to plan and keep track of my time.
Especially with such little time left and so much to do, it’s important to find the right balance between maximising the amount of time we have left, and leaving some time for rest and relaxation. For this, the 168 hours approach is perfect. When you look at your time in blocks of 168 hours (one week) instead of 24 hours (one day), it changes your perspective on how much time you have. It’s up to you to make the most out of those 168 hours, week after week. You can read this article I wrote on how to use the 168 hours approach.
October: move into action
Ideally, by now you should have a checklist and a timeline with the checklist items ready by October. This timeline should be based on the 168 hours time management approach. Then comes another very important part of making the most out of 2020: non negotiable execution.
Non negotiable what?
Execution. More than ever, if you put something in the timeline and there’s no good reason for you to not do it, then you need to do it. Your calendar needs to be detailed, precise, so that you don’t find yourself any excuses to skip things when it comes the time to do them.
That’s why you need to really nail your calendar when you start working on it the month before, in September. Use notifications, check-in times, weekly reviews… You need to have a clear picture of what you have to do, 90% of the time. The 10% remaining is for relaxation.
Here is a very simple example to illustrate non negotiable execution. Imagine it’s Friday evening, after an usual long week of work. You’re in your couch, getting ready to relax and watch Netflix, when all of the sudden a calendar notification pops up on your screen: Run 5km, 6:30pm, today. Dang it. You totally forgot about that, you’re exhausted, you don’t feel like doing it, at all. But it’s in the calendar, you don’t have any valid excuse to not do this right now. Non negotiable execution says you have to put your shoes on, go out the door and run. Maybe slower than usual, or with less enthusiasm. But at least you do it. It’s as simple as that.
Finding your peak time
This is another very important part of executing on what you said you’d do. Personally, my peak time is from 6:30am to around 10:00am. I work a bit more until lunch around 12, but after that I only do easy tasks, because my brain power starts declining.
Your peak time is the time at which you perform the best, have the best clarity of mind. It’s when your brain is at full capacity. It’s not always easy to find your peak time, and it often takes a lot of experimentation. Because you don’t have so much time on your hands before the end of the year, I recommend you experiment getting into deep work with one of those 4 time slots:
- Early in the morning. From 5, 6 or 7, for a few hours.
- From 9 to 12, like a normal 9–5 job.
- From after lunch, until a few hours later.
- In the evening, for a few hours.
Try each of those options for a few days and see what works best for you. I used to get into full focus mode at random times of the day, with no real structure. It took me months to figure out what works best for me. Here, the goal is to find an option you’re comfortable with for only 2 to 3 more months. You can always do a reassessment in December.
November is the heart of the action. It’s all about keeping going while fine tuning the different components of your last 2 months routine.
When it gets hard, keep pushing, but not too hard. In normal times, pushing on is a good thing, but again these are not normal times. Any time you feel like you’re going too far, like you might be too hard on yourself, remember to have a break, breathe in and breathe out. Those last 4 months are not a make-or-break type of deal, they’re just here for us to try to get back to normal. It will take the necessary time.
This is it, only 31 days left until 2021. To plan the upcoming year right, divide the month of December in 2 parts of 2 weeks each.
First half of December
Assess everything. Did you have time to finish everything you said you’d do? If yes, excellent, reflect and look back on it. If not, why not? What went wrong? In any event, don’t attempt to start any new project, or to catch up on anything you left behind. Finish what you know you can finish in time, but don’t give yourself too much of a hard time for the remaining items. It’s already been a crazy year.
Second half of December
Plan and reflect. 2021 is a brand new start, a blank slate. Plan this year like you would plan any other year. That’s the only thing any of us can do.
The wheel of life
I like to work with the wheel of life when planning for the year ahead. I even use it on a weekly basis, because long term targets have to be aligned with short term actions.
What do you want to accomplish in each of the categories? If you already have a big project for the year, ask yourself what category it fits in, and how much are you going to prioritise it over other things? One of the biggest traps when it comes to New Years resolutions is to plan to do too many things, because we don’t consider the bigger picture (another paradox). A year is so big and so short at the same time, our brains are biased into thinking we can fit everything in the timeline, every project. But the truth is, we can’t. We should only have a few top priorities.
We need to be wiling to sacrifice some things over other things. That’s why looking at the wheel of life helps a lot. Any time you have an idea for a project, something you want to accomplish this year, put it in the box where it belongs, and ask yourself: how much am I willing to prioritise this category over each and every one of the other categories?
Put it in the timeline
Set up reminders in your calendar to have check-ins with yourself regularly, to see how you’re doing. I personally have check-ins every week, and a big check-in/reassessment 6 months into the year.
What’s important here is to nail the prioritisation of the items for the year, so that when they come up in your calendar, you feel comfortable starting to work on them. That’s the way to put non negotiable execution to work. If you realise after all that you don’t care anymore about the time slots allocated to a specific project, you’re not going to work on it. Not only that, but you’ll find yourself with a whole bunch of unallocated time, and then you’ll have to shuffle your whole schedule again. Inconvenient.
Don’t do anything the last week
The last week and a half of December is for Christmas, family, New year’s eve, and celebration. Do nothing work-related during this week, unless it’s really necessary for you to do so.
2020 has been the craziest start of a decade in a very, very long time. It was the slowest and fastest year at the same time. And already, it’s coming to an end. Nobody knows when these crazy times will be over. Maybe the end will align with the end of 2020 in 4 months, maybe it will keep going into 2021. Only time will tell.
You don’t have to end the year with a bang, you don’t have to crush all your goals in 4 months. It’s been crazy for all of us, be grateful that you made it through. What you can do instead is this:
- Be kind to yourself,
- Make the most out of these 4 last months, and
- Prepare to make 2021 your best year yet.
Enjoy the journey.
Thanks so much for reading! I interviewed 50 productivity experts and made a 150+ page guide out of the project. This is road-tested advice from real people who get things done. Get it for free here.