If your calendar is overflowing with meetings and you barely scratch the surface of offline work you are supposed to do or you’re kind of pushed to finish it after working hours, you are only reacting to the time schedule like a slave rather than ruling it.
Do you want to rule again? Master your time with 10 tips I’ve collected and tried out with my team.
The first tip is the hardest of them all. All changes start with rewiring your mindset. In nowadays culture of the internet and social media, our attention is no longer strong and monogamous. We are multitasking every minute of our life.
When was the last time you focused the whole meeting where you were only listening? And by focus, I mean no other work during the call, no messages, no phone, no internet.
Most people are not multitasking to be more productive. They keep the continuous fractional attention just because of fear of missing out.
Here is where we need to change our mindset first:
- We don’t have to join every meeting
- We don’t have to read all notifications right away
- We don’t miss anything if we switch off social media for a day or two.
Instead of believing that this call or this project is the most important thing, you need to start believing that you are the most important. You and your sanity.
Would you rather spend 100$ on only one high-quality thing or on more things with less quality?
I asked this question to my team when I led the time management workshop for them and all of them answered: one high-quality thing.
But when we got to the point where they saw the amount of work they needed to do to organize themselves, suddenly it was a big investment of time.
You need to chose whether you’ll invest time now to better your time management or you’ll continue to waste your time in false productivity which is going to cost you more at the end than the investment would.
3. Block your time
Now to the easier things. Blocking time is one of the basic things you can do for your time management. It also works well outside the work life.
My calendar, for instance, is full every day. I need to block my time for offline work and add it to my calendar otherwise somebody else would take the slot for another meaningless call.
- Firstly analyze yourself — What part of the day is the best for you to focus on? How long it takes for you to finish the work when you’re fully focused?
- Block your time in the calendar ahead even though you don’t know what tasks you are going to have
- Leave some space in the calendar empty for ad hoc calls and tasks
- Block your breaks and lunchtimes and don’t cancel them, these are important for you too
- Make it colorful, it will help you to distinguish what is ahead of you that day
4. Learn to say no
We know it all. You can feel shitty when you say no to somebody or feel weird if you don’t participate in a call with the team.
But remember this: if you say yes, you also say no to something else. What does it mean exactly? You say yes, squeezing the thing into an already full schedule which leads to taking time away from another task. You are indirectly saying no to things on the other side.
Balance it. Find a default that suits you. Is it 4 calls and 5 tasks a day? Keep it that way. Something else, urgent perhaps, lands in front of you? Okay, but let’s rethink the day and remove something to keep the default.
Also, saying no to “hi-bye” meetings is essential too. Ask your colleagues for meeting notes or tell them to ping you if you’d be needed. You don’t need to spend an hour there, not even listening anyway. Use that hour for something more relevant.
Ask the questions: Can I contribute something to that meeting? Will I even? Is there information I need for today’s work? Does the meeting have a clear agenda?
No? Ditch it or make it optional for yourself.
Notifications are pure hell for attention and focus. Switch them off. All of them!
Too hard? Okay, let’s chose the really urgent ones we need. Notifications about upcoming meetings can be helpful. Nobody wants to be late for a meeting. The rest? Depends.
Slack and such can be optional — switch it off once it’s time for your focus tasks.
This is basically all you need. The rest should be off. Do it on your phone too, especially during work.
Think about it like that: Notifications make you react. They drag your attention elsewhere, away from the task. Especially social media. If you turn them off, you chose the time when you want to use the application or the device. You chose when you are going to scroll through Instagram, not Maria who just posted a new picture of her new shoes and Instagram wants you to see it right now. You chose when you are going to read emails and chat messages.
Do you want to rule your time? Rule your notifications.
PS.: if you’re a Mac user, all notifications can be switched off by option and an icon of notifications in the right upper corner.
6. No multitasking
Multitasking is not productive. It’s crap. Your brain is able to focus only on one thing at a time. Sorry to say that but it is true.
Yes, you can run and listen to the podcast. You use a different part of your brain at that time. But listening to the podcast when coding? Don’t think so. Listening to the call with colleagues when answering your Facebook messages? Hardly. Jumping from one task to another and back without finishing one of them first? Pointless.
You don’t want to miss any of this but at the same time, you are missing parts of whatever you do.
Take it one thing at a time and I bet you’ll see in a short time that you are getting faster and more effective. Maybe it doesn’t look like it can be faster but believe me that the fractional attention is really slow because switching context all the time is really hard.
7. Set up your weekly goal
It really works. It makes you happy, feeling that you achieved something. Pick one thing from the long list of to-do’s that would make you really happy or relieved if you finish it this week.
Ready? Now do everything to finish this task by your own deadline. It doesn’t matter how many other tasks you’ll finish, the most important is the weekly goal.
This way you can feel good about yourself and your work instead of feeling stressed that you managed only 5 tasks out of 15.
Just be careful what you pick. Changing a process, for example, is going to take more time than a week probably.
8. Estimate your tasks
If you work in an agile environment you know what I am talking about.
Sit down with your to-do’s, think about what you need to do to finish them, and estimate how much time it can take. We talk in hours of work.
If you’re not sure (let’s say the task is about researching something) use timeboxing — how much time you are willing to spend on it.
With time estimation it is easier to plan your work. With practice, you’ll also see your default — how much you are able to do in a day/week without being stressed. Leave some margin for unexpected problems.
This rule is old like the world itself but still important. What really helped me was the Eisenhower matrix.
Decide what is urgent — what needs to be done today or this week. It takes high effort and has high impact and ensures a quick win. The tasks have clear consequences if you don’t deal with them (the consequences are not your own feelings but the real impact on the team or project).
Decide what is important — these tasks are usually about changes, decision making, improvements. They can be scheduled and planned. It’s a high effort but low impact if you don’t deal with them but they can bring major changes or results. It can also be something important for you personally.
Decide what you can delegate — It’s something you don’t have to do alone or somebody else can do it. It takes low effort and has a low impact
Decide what to remove — They’re called “thankless tasks”. Absolutely unnecessary tasks or old tasks. If something is rotting in your to-do list for more than a month, it’s probably a candidate for removing.
The best time for prioritizing tasks is either the night before or in the morning.
10. Set deadlines for each task
It is not only good for prioritizing tasks but also for thinking over the ones with an exceeded deadline and low priority. It will help you to know what tasks to remove.
With the estimation above the setting up of the deadline should be more specific and real.
This is the list that helped me and my team. It can help you too. Find your way, your balance, and your default how to stay organized and most importantly sane.
Stress is not something we need in our lives.
Let me know what helped you to achieve better time management!