If you work in a busy company, then you’re no doubt familiar with the expression “time poor.”
When I transitioned from working in a small digital agency, to working in a 700 person company, I was completely overwhelmed. I’d never worked across so many projects with so many stakeholders who all wanted my time.
The key to squeezing as much out of your day, and being as productive as possible, is a discipline. And in this article I’m going to give you my best tips for guarding the precious commodity of time.
Step 1. Plan Your Days And Weeks In Advance
This is one of the most cliche and overused time management tips…that said, it’s one of the best principles I’ve ever come across. It’s simple and it makes sense. If you arrive at your desk in the morning and start to plan your day, it’s just too late. You’ll start talking to someone, they’ll want to get a coffee, then you’ll get pulled into a meeting, and all of a sudden your entire flow and focus is gone. But if you can do it the day before, taking into consideration your schedule, you’re just setting yourself up to win. I do this every day at between 5:00PM-5:30PM. It’s simple and easy to do, but the upside is massive.
Step 2. Block Out Time To Do Deep, Focused Work
Have you ever noticed how effortless work feels when you get into a flow? Well this shouldn’t be rare or fleeting experience, but something that you schedule into your week. Forget multitasking. Juggling too many different tasks or projects within a 40-60 minute time period is a sure-fire way to destroy your productivity. The key to blasting through complicated, time consuming tasks is to block out time to focus on JUST one project. You need time to warm into the task, to get some traction, and once you’re in that focused zone you want to get as much done as possible. But this only happens if you block out chunks of 40-60 minutes to FOCUS. When it comes to time management, focus is the name of the game.
Step 3. Tackle The Big Rocks First
This was something I learned from my current manager, and the principle itself was invented by Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People). He uses the analogy of your day being like a bucket, and the tasks and activities for that day as rocks. The big rocks are the most important tasks, and the little rocks the least important. Here’s the crux of the analogy: if you don’t put the big rocks into your day first, your day will fill up with little, unimportant rocks and there’ll be no room left for the important tasks. The solution? Fill your days and weeks with the big rocks first. Then fill in the little rocks around them. That way you’re always prioritising the most important and highest impact activities.
Step 4. Isolate Yourself In A Quiet Space
Distraction-proofing your environment is a great way to develop and maintain focus. When it comes to doing deep, focused work for 40-60 minutes, there’s nothing better than finding a quiet space away from your co-workers to smash it out. I find that I always get more done when I’m alone – however it isn’t feasible to work like this all day, and besides, I personally enjoy the company of being around my team. To make this work for me, I’ll often book a meeting room for 1-2 hours a couple of times a week. That way I can power through some work without people coming up to my desk with questions or random chit chat.
Step 5. Demand Lead Time
When I implemented this time management strategy, it literally transformed the way I worked. Demanding lead time is simple – it means that before anyone comes to you with a task that needs to be done, they need to give you a heads up that this task is coming. For example, if someone needs something from you, they should give you plenty of notice that something is required. This gives you time to factor the task into your weekly, and then daily, schedule. Demanding lead time prevents people coming up to your desk and demanding that something be done urgently every single time. It’s critical to avoid, or at least minimise, these situations. Why? Because they totally disrupt your flow, focus, and schedule – three things that are critical for successful time management.
Step 6. Have Set Check-In Times For Daily Tasks
In my current job I have two types of tasks: ones that are unique for that week, and ones I need to do every single day. For example, when I’m writing copy for a marketing campaign, that’s usually a unique task done once a month across a week. However, responding to comments on our Facebook ads, and managing our team of external freelance writers are tasks I do every single day. Because I’m juggling these two types of tasks on any given day, it’s crucial to ensure I’m giving both their due attention. I found that the best way to manage these two tasks was to have set times to check-in on my daily tasks. Put simply, I would check-in on the writers, and respond to Facebook comments twice a day: once in the morning, and once in the late afternoon. This way I wasn’t being reactive to messages and emails from the writers as they came in throughout the day.
The Importance Of Time Management Is Bigger Now Than Ever
You’ve probably seen and heard all of the press these days about how short our attention spans are. While it may be true on some level, really, we haven’t lost our innate ability to focus – it’s there, but certain conditions need to be in place to allow us to experience it. I truly believe the key to time management is discipline and focus. It’s about being smart with how you juggle your blocks of time in any given day. It’s about minimising situations and influences that cause multi-tasking, overwhelm, confusion, and reactiveness. In fact, reactiveness is the death of time management. You need to become the master, not the slave, of your time.
Working In Your Job Vs. On Your Job
It’s super important to dedicate time at the end of each week to reflect on your work. You need to step back and take a top down look at what’s working for you, what isn’t working that needs to be stopped, and what you can add to improve your time management. Every Friday my team and I have what we call “Retros.” This is short for an “Agile Retrospective” which comes from the Agile system of working (which I suggest Googling if you want to learn more). This is where we look back, as a team, on the week that just was. We spend three minutes jotting down what worked, what didn’t work, and what we could do differently. This makes a massive difference over time. And it really exposes blocks in your workflow that you can work together to solve.
Time Isn’t Replaceable
There are many things in life that can be replenished. You can get your energy back, you can make more money, but you can’t get back time. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. So I highly suggest you prioritise the development of this core skill, and by following the steps in this article you’ll be well on your way.
Did you have a favourite time management tip? Have any of these worked for you? Leave a comment below and tell me what you thought.
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Will Vaughan is the Founder & CEO of Your Career Mastery. He’s dedicated to helping young professionals discover and land the job of their dreams using a mix of proven strategies, tips, tools, and mindsets. He currently works as a Content & SEO manager for a 100 million dollar tech company in Melbourne, Australia.