Time flies. It’s already 6pm and I get the feeling I’ve gotten nothing done.
All I did was zoom in and out of a billion video-conferencing sessions and calls.
My agenda is packed and I’m always late to meetings.
I’m no longer losing 2 hours a day driving back and forth from work, yet it feels like I’m always short of time.
Here’s my list of tips to get your life back and win time, based on a number of books that dive deeper into the topic (listed at the end if you’d like to dig in). Some of the advice may appear excruciatingly simple, but the trick is to start applying it. So off we go.
Number 1 – Be intentional
Keep a to-do list. This may not seem like a groundbreaking technique, but it’s one of the most powerful ways to become more productive. There are multiple online ways to do this. I still take a lot of pleasure writing them down, simply on paper or in an excel sheet. The pleasure of physically crossing-out a task never gets old. You’ll probably want to classify your tasks by urgency and importance (see below).
Number 2 – Prioritize your tasks
The analogy of placing rocks, pebbles, and sand into a jar is often used to define what’s really important. If you start by putting the little things, such as the pebbles or sand, the rocks won’t fit, so start with placing the rock, the most important issue in your day/week. This is one of the pieces of advice offered in the classic book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey.
Prioritizing also means saying “no” more often to the many tasks that you accept for all kinds of reasons (guilt, will to please, lack of understanding, habit). Prioritization does not necessarily mean that you need to start with this task first. You may want to match it to your “peak-performance-time”, ie the time of the day/ week at which you know you typically super-perform.
Another way to think prioritization is to simply go back to the saying “time is money” – so spend it wisely!
Number 3 – Be focused, manage distractions
We get distracted continuously in today’s world. Emails, SMS, notifications come in at a crazy pace. As a practical piece of advice, get rid of sounds and signs of notifications as much as possible. Use rules to classify emails and color-code them by theme or sender-type.
Being focused also means getting your own mind under control, perhaps by practicing mindfulness or meditation.
The Dalai Lama was once asked “How are you able to fit in daily meditation with such a busy schedule?” The Dalai Lama smiled and replied “ on normal days, I meditate for 1 hour in the morning”. He then smiled even bigger and said “on extremely busy days, I meditate for 2 hours in the morning.” Focusing your mind can also happen through the practice of sports, or contact with nature.
Number 4 – Delegate away
Anything that can be managed or executed by one of your team-members or assistant should be delegated, so that you focus only on the most critical, most value-added tasks. If you are an independent worker or freelance, you can still use many tools to optimize or automate your time. One of the tricks could for example be to use a calendar app (such as eg. Calendly) to play your assistant’s role. Simpler tasks can also be outsourced to freelance platforms such as Fiverr or UpWork.
For more of these tips and tricks, read the “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich” by Timothy Ferriss
Number 5 – Compress time by setting tight deadlines
The mind, just like nature, hates void, emptiness. This means that if you have a lot of time to accomplish a task, you will take as much as you have. Force yourself with an artificially short deadline, to get it done in a fifth of the time that you have. This comes close to the famous Pareto-rule or 80/20 rule: 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of the results.
Number 6 – Manage meetings heavy-handedly
The best thing you can do about meetings is not to have them, or not participating. So many organisations suffer from meeting-itis. A few good rules:
Avoid any meeting that can be solved via other channels such as bilateral conversations or email
Cut meeting time away by booking 20-minute and 45-minute meeting instead of the traditional half or full-hour
Run meetings around a 1-page memo rather than a powerpoint deck
Minimize the number of people in a meeting, applying the pizza-test “only as many people in the meeting as can eat from 1 pizza”
Number 7 – First time right
There is nothing worse than wasting time redoing stuff again and again. Lean methodology calls this “muda” or waste. Applying this, means that you should try to touch things only once, solving them from the first time right or, said differently, have only one meeting rather than several on the same topic. If you notice a lot of re-work or back-and-forth, problem-solve to find the root-cause and, I bet, you and your colleagues will save time
Last one – “be home for diner”
As the saying goes, nobody ever said on their deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work.” So make time for what really matters, before you lose it. Being able to find the right “work-life balance” is critical for time management as well as long-term equilibrium. Of course, this may not be possible every evening, but keep in mind that your kids football game or piano-recital are the experiences that fulfill you and turn you into the person you want to be – and if you’re managing your time better you’ll have no problems catching up the extra work later in the week.
Now for the reading list! There are dozens of additional books published on time management that go much deeper than the above recommendations. The good news is that this article saved you some time reading them. Or you may read some of them on Blinkist, again saving time.
- “How to have a good day” by Caroline Webb
- “How to Stop Procrastinating: A Simple Guide to Mastering Difficult Tasks and Breaking the Procrastination Habit” by S.J. Scott
- “Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time” by Brian Tracy
- “Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life” by Dr. Jason Selk and Tom Bartow
- “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen
- “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport
- “Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day” by Jake Zeratsky and John Knapp
- “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think” by Laura Vanderkam
- “The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande
- “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg
- “Time Warrior: How to Defeat Procrastination, People-pleasing, Self-doubt, Over-commitment, Broken Promises and Chaos” by Steve Chandler
- “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown
- “15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management- The Productivity Habits of 7 Billionaires, 13 Olympic Athletes, 29 Straight-A Students, and 239 Entrepreneurs” by Kevin Kruse