Updated: Aug 11, 2021
I've always considered myself to be fairly great at managing time but this past year has been particularly challenging. Perhaps it was losing half of my team at work due to pandemic layoffs or maybe it was becoming a parent and working full time, nevertheless, we all go through seasons of life that demand our time differently.
Generally, we tend to underestimate the cost of time management. The Washington Post quoted some fascinating research by the University of California, Irvine that states "The typical office worker is interrupted or switches tasks, on average, every three minutes and five seconds. And it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds just to get back to where they left off."
The same article, from 2015, quoted a "loss of almost $1 trillion to the U.S. economy".
As much as I tend to fight for total and complete optimization of time in my work and personal life (Type As assemble!), I understand it is a wildly unreasonable goal. What is important, is being able to recognize, refine and reassess various time management strategies and implement the right one that fits the season AND the person. Time management is not one-size-fits-all.
"The typical office worker is interrupted or switches tasks, on average, every three minutes and five seconds. And it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds just to get back to where they left off."
Below are five time management strategies and techniques that tend to work well and can be easily flexed and applied to fit different scenarios and needs:
Do More Deep Work. Start by distancing yourself from social media or other personal distractors. Next, set a strict period of time to spend working. If not sure when you typically can get into the brain space for deep work, consider the most common "golden hours" - 8 to 10am and 12 to 1:30pm. Deep work works when interruptions are limited so, if it is appropriate in your workplace, mark the calendar "Busy" and set your messaging apps to "Do not distrub". Throw on the headphones as a physical queue to others that you are plugged in and turn on your favorite focus playlist. Then, get to work.
Do Less Fire Fighting. For most, it is human nature to want to check those 15 "fires" off our lists instead of starting that round of prospecting calls or initiating a big project. In addition, we tend to be easily pulled into others' crises. This causes more engagement in busy work, not effective work, and tends to result in procrastination, overpromising and undelivering. Ruthlessly eliminate time-wasting activities such as working on items that are not a listed top priority, saying "Yes" when you should say "No", and spending too much time on emails/DMs or unscheduled phone calls. Protect your time and do not allow yourself to be pulled into a crisis - very few things are actually "threat level midnight".
Make Time for Planning. Adhere to a daily priority check-in before wrapping up each work day and a more robust planning session each week. Recap the weekly plan and use as a tool to communicate with managers and ensure everyone is on the same page about current priorities. The plan does not need to be fancy but it does need to work on an individual level so, don't be afraid to try new versions and change it over time. To get started, download the Kick Eisenhower Matrix Template for free for help categorizing priorities by importance and urgency.
Master Time Blocking. A subject that could certainly hold its own in a solo post, and is near and dear to my heart. Divide your day into blocks of time, each dedicated to a specific task or activity. Lay it out in advance (perhaps while planning) and try to stick to them. Consider trying the Pomodoro Technique during time blocks to maximize effectiveness by working in a series of shorter bursts.
Eat the Frog. This one often gets misconstrued but honestly, both versions hold merit. The original intent was to get the most important item on the list done first then, do everything else. The alternate version is to do the "grossest" item on the list done first - that thing that keeps getting pushed off. Just do it already.
I hope these strategies and techniques have inspired you to take control of your to-do list and make the time to work on things that will make the greatest impact to your career and your life.