“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” — Michael Altshuler
The ability to make efficient use of time is critical for success. However, like everything else, this requires a conscious effort on your part. It requires you to understand your current behavioral patterns, identify the parts that are weighing you down, and make a continuous effort to improve.
In this article, we’ll explore techniques to help you master your time and, by extension, your life. While a few of these time saving tips are straightforward, a few may appear counterintuitive.
Sometimes, we yearn for a clear path to time mastery. Unfortunately, there’s no cookie-cutter approach to this. You need to personalize the game based on your unique context. There’s no universal rule that works for everybody. You need to fine-tune your techniques based on trial and error.
However, a few broad tips can help you steadily better your time management capability. Let’s dive into these tips.
Timeboxing is one of the most useful productivity hacks. For this, you must put your to-do list into your calendar and allocate a time slot for each work item. You already knew what you had to do. You now know what exactly to do and when.
Though it looks deceptively simple, the technique has multi-fold advantages:
- First, it frees you from analysis paralysis whenever you need to make a new decision. Barring exceptions for urgent, critical tasks, you only need to simply adhere to your schedule.
- Second, with real-time visibility into your work schedule, you’re better equipped to prioritize new tasks and set realistic deadlines.
- Third, as is natural with any data feedback loop, you get progressively better at judging how long certain tasks take. Thus, your timeboxing gets more efficient with time.
Align Based On Your Energy
You are your creative best at the day’s start. Therefore, tackle the tasks that require creativity and critical thinking as soon as your workday begins. Timing it this way also affords you the deep focus you need for these tasks.
Many people start their day with tasks that require interaction with people, documentation, communication etc. In short, tasks that hardly require focus but nonetheless leave you exhausted. Doing this leaves them with little energy as they finally arrive at tasks that require deep focus.
Aligning your daily routine with your energy levels is the best way to get more and better quality work done.
Deep Work Sessions
Earmark a time slot (typically 40 minutes) for a specific task. Focus entirely on the task at hand without any distractions (business-related or not).
Doing this is helpful when you need to juggle between multiple tasks. Focusing on just one task until it’s done may look like a good strategy. However, not moving the needle with respect to other tasks can cause challenges with stakeholders.
Scattering your focus may give the appearance of motion, but without making any real progress. Both extremes are fraught with problems. You need to balance between satisfying stakeholders and making daily progress on every task you’re working on.
Give yourself the freedom of self-imposed discipline.
Take Restful Breaks
It’s said what differentiates elite athletes from the rest is their rest regime. When they rest, they simply rest. Likewise, it’s best when you follow your 40-minute work session with a 5-10 minutes break.
Some people try to be too clever by using this break for work too. Nothing could be more counterproductive. Rather, take a short nap, meditate, talk to your colleagues, or go for a brief stroll. Consider this break as your treat for a well-used work session.
This reward mechanism can help you look forward to the upcoming work session with enthusiasm.
Schedule Time to Check Email and Chat
Responding promptly to emails and chat messages might give the appearance of high productivity. However, it’s detrimental to your time management in the long haul as it means you’re unable to have distraction-free work sessions. Therefore, your ability to work on attention-heavy tasks gets undermined.
Check your email and chat notifications at scheduled intervals only. The need to be responsive and available to your colleagues is understandable. To allay apprehensions, proactively inform your colleagues of your work schedule and possible time windows you’ll respond to them.
Time blocking is a great way to schedule your tasks. It helps you stay focused on certain tasks without getting distracted.
Wondering how to begin? You can easily get started with these free templates from Replicon:
Keep Routine Tasks for Evenings
No matter what your role is, a considerable part of your work will involve documentation, communication, coordination and other routine tasks. These tasks are typically time-consuming but may not require much brainstorming.
Handling these tasks in the second half of your workday gets you the best of both worlds:
- First, the more intensive work has already been done in the first half, when your mind is better equipped to tackle them.
- Second, by the time your energy reserves run low, your remaining work will be less demanding too.
Urgent Is Not Important
Many tasks are urgent but not important in the long run. Focusing on the important things is vital without allowing the urgent tasks to escalate into the red zone.
You can use the Eisenhower Matrix to help you better understand the nature of your tasks at hand.
The idea is to place as many tasks as possible in the “SCHEDULE IT” quadrant. Pushing the important things into the urgent domain is one the most effective ways to derail its quality. Therefore, it must be avoided by all means.
Plan Ahead and Go Agile
Unless you’re new to a job, you must be aware of the tasks coming your way most of the time. Often, people start the necessary research and exploration only after they are officially assigned the task.
Integrate research for the upcoming tasks in your daily routine. Even making small progress with research gives you an early mover advantage.
On the other hand, some people invest time and effort beyond what’s necessary to start the work. Taken too far, this squeezes in the time meant for the execution part and makes course correction difficult. Separating the execution from the exploration is vital to keep the project wheels moving.
The cult of uber productivity will make you believe you must expend every possible moment towards work. However, detaching yourself from your work world every once in a while is highly rejuvenating for you.
A day per week away from your digital equipment is likely to improve your overall well-being. It makes deep rest possible. Doing this, in turn, translates into better mental and physical capacity for work.
It allows for the conscious offloading of old thoughts, giving way to fresh ideas. It facilitates new ways of thinking and problem solving.
Do It Now
It’s good to keep a task on your to-do list – unless you can complete it within 5 minutes. Then, your best bet is to do it right away, then and there.
With that, you’re instantly free from the effort required to keep it live and complete it. Also, you get the dopamine hit that comes from completing a task.
There really is no reason to push it further in the day to do it. All you need is 5 minutes and that’s a slot you can definitely allow yourself.
Other Useful Tips
Here are some other tips that you can benefit from.
It’s never easy to say no. But what if you agree to do something you know you can’t and end up embarrassing yourself and your team at the last minute? While prioritizing, decide about the tasks that you may not be able to take up right away or at all and make it clear to the people concerned.
It’s not wrong to ask for help. At any rate, it’s better than trying it all and failing at it. Delegate to others, and, in exchange, be prepared to assist others when they need it. These are the rules you can follow while delegating:
- Have patience
- Take your time in choosing the people you’ll delegate the tasks to
- Clearly explain why you have to delegate and specify exactly what they’re supposed to do
- If the task is complex, provide adequate training
- Keep in touch to know about the progress from time to time, but don’t micromanage
- Delegate judiciously. Don’t assign too many tasks at once
Turn Off Social Media
You keep digging the rabbit hole of social media and end up checking stuff that’s of no use to you. Scheduling its use outside of your office hours is critical for deep work.
Multitask With Caution
The context-switching needed to jump from one task takes far too much time and effort. Do one task at a time. Jump to the next task based only on your schedule. Research shows that it creates mental blocks that can adversely affect productivity.
Avoid Unnecessary Meetings
Avoid meetings that could have been an email. Skip meetings where your participation is going to be passive, and instead, check the meeting’s MoM later on.
Set Agenda-based Meetings
Announce the meeting’s agenda well ahead of time, enabling the participants to prepare and brainstorm effectively.
Minimize the Number of Everyday Decisions
Creating routines can help you avoid the need to make new decisions each workday. The time and effort to make decisions are best channeled towards your existing tasks.
Finish the Last Mile
Do not stop at 90% of a task. Anything less than 100% is incomplete. Even if it needs a little more time and effort, finishing gives you the closure necessary to move to the next.
Give Yourself Some Space
Whether it’s at your home or office, have a dedicated space to accomplish your tasks. Avoid working at a place that may force you to divide your attention between different things at the same time. This comes very handy for stressful situations when you are pressed for time.
Group Similar Tasks
Put together tasks that require similar skills and tools for improved efficiency. For example, complete all your timesheets at once. Likewise, respond to all emails and chats at once.
The literature on productivity hacks is available to everybody. Yet, only a few really manage to make efficient use of their time.
Among the reasons, the chief is the inability to personalize what works for them. No two people have the same set of circumstances. Therefore, no hack is going to be uniformly effective for everyone.
The hacks mentioned above should help you make some progress. However, the extent of your progress can only be determined by how much you have tailored to these principles for your context.
We encourage you to experiment with not just the above tips but also others available elsewhere. That way, you can design your own unique productivity regime that works for you.