You’ve likely heard the saying before, “Everyone has the same amount of hours in their day as Beyoncé.” My usual response to that is, “Sure, but she also has a personal staff to take care of nearly every minute detail throughout her life.”
While the above may be true, the most successful people out there aren’t successful from always being ‘busy.’ They’re successful because of their ability to focus heavily on the right task without being distracted. These people are ninjas when it comes to their time management techniques.
In this article, we explore 5 useful time management techniques to more effectively to produce results. Time management is critical in order to enter states of deep focus throughout the day.
Quickly, you’ll find that by employing these time management techniques, you no longer feel ‘busy’, are able to accomplish more in a day, and end up having more time to do the things you love.
5 Time Management Techniques To Get More Things Done
1. Calendar Blocking
This time management technique may be the most effective way project managers can manage their time on a weekly and daily basis, and is a personal favorite of mine. At the end of each week (or at the very beginning of each week), I take about 10 – 15 minutes to review my schedule for the next week to begin planning out my time. Outside of already scheduled meetings, I know I will need time to simply get things done. Rather than looking for small chunks of time to fit in this work, I look for gaps in my schedule and fill those gaps up with events titled “GTD” (Get Things Done). This ensures that as things begin to get crazy throughout the week, that I still have time reserved to do my job. This also ensures that as client’s request meetings, that I’m still taking into account the time I need to remain effective.
Thankfully, I work with a great team that respects my schedule and does not double book me. However, this has not always been the case. In the event that colleagues begin to book over that time because they realize that they can schedule over GTD time, start marking the meeting as private so it just shows you’re busy. Alternatively, you can just make up meeting titles. Of course, there are certain circumstances that may require you to jump into an unexpected meeting during your GTD time. This should be an exception, not the rule. If it ends up being status quo, request your coworkers to respect your schedule and ask before booking. Are things STILL rough after that? This might be awkward, but sit down with the person (or people) scheduling over your time and have an honest conversation about why that’s detrimental to your team’s success.
2. Reduce Notifications & Distractions
In the world of Slack, text messages, social media notifications, email, etc. it’s hard to stay focused when you’re constantly getting notifications throughout the day. Notifications are designed to pull you into whatever is sending you that notification. Additionally, just unlocking your phone and seeing a notification badge can be enough to pull your focus away from the task at hand if you were just trying to look up someone’s number. I’ve recently made a few changes to my phone notifications, as well as my overall home screen (see below). This has greatly reduced how often I get pulled away from a task at hand. Here’s a great article on how to do this on your own. Fair warning, it is a bit of a process up front, but the payoff is great.
‘Wait, if you take away my notifications, how will I stay on top of things!?’ I’m not advocating for removing ALL notifications, just notifications that aren’t critically important to your day-to-day. For example, I don’t need to know every time someone likes a picture of mine on Instagram. Do I like the validation throughout the day? Sure, but it’s not essential and by turning it off, I don’t get sucked into spending 15 minutes on Insta.
Once you turn off all essential notifications, you’ll need to make time for yourself to process your inboxes. This can mean that you process your email, Slack messages, Asana inbox, etc. all at set times throughout the day. Or, if you’re like me, usually at the beginning, middle and end of the work day. Not only does this allow you to stay focused, but it also helps set some healthy expectations with clients and colleagues.
3. Energy Management
Have you ever finally had time to get things done, you pull up to your desk and you simply can’t focus? You feel drained and don’t have the brain power to be effective, so, you throw in the towel only to make your personal backlog of tasks grow the following day. It’s super easy to fall into this cycle, but extremely hard to pull out of it. Without spending time to recharge your PM batteries, it’s easy to feel burnt out without any end in sight. Managing your energy well throughout the day is akin to effective time management.
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If you’re always feeling stressed, you’re bringing that energy into every conversation, every project, and every room you walk into, thus, making everyone else stressed out. It’s contagious! Of course, a little bit of stress can be good, but if it’s how you’re feeling the majority of the time, that’s a problem. That problem likely lies in a lack of a consistent self-care routine. Start with the basics first. Are you getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep per night? No? Time to go to bed earlier. Getting a good night’s rest is one of the most, if not THE most, critical process our bodies go through each day to heal from daily stresses. I don’t care what you say about not having enough time to get that much sleep. It should be your highest priority. Period. If you’ve covered this very basic step, it’s time for you to develop a self-care routine that fits your needs. I could write an entire article about this one topic alone, but have found this resource to be extremely helpful in developing a lasting self-care routine.
Once you have a self-care plan developed and you begin to get a good feel for your daily energy, it’s time to figure out when you’re the most productive for certain types of tasks. This changes from person to person, but could mean that you schedule all meetings in the morning (for the most part) and get things done in the afternoon. Again, this all leads back to proper time management. You can utilize the calendar blocking strategy mentioned earlier to structure your days around your energy. For example, I find that when I go to the gym late morning/early afternoon and break up my work day, I’m A LOT more productive throughout the day (both before and after). It can be challenging to make this work, but I make it a priority because it allows me to be my best self both personally and professionally.
4. Ruthless Prioritization And Daily Goal Setting
What kind of project management article would this be if I didn’t mention setting goals and priorities? This may be a given, but we often spend our days helping clients prioritize and set goals, but we do often forget to do this ourselves.
Treat your task list as if you’re in the heat of a project and pushing a team to prioritize every task left in order to reach the desired milestone. No two tasks are the same priority, some can certainly be done later, and others need to be done ASAP. Sometimes, this is at a higher level than tasks, it can be clients, meetings that need to happen, etc. Whatever you do, be ruthless in the way you prioritize it and stick to it.
Once you have a well-prioritized list of work, that can be used to set your goals on a daily basis. For example, “Today I’m going to review the estimations for project x, write a proposal and send it for approval by my manager so that I can send it to my client by first thing tomorrow morning.” Once you complete that goal, you can move on to your lower priority tasks, but having this goal allows your to manage your time throughout the day to complete that goal.
5. GTD During Meetings
This time management technique is one of my personal favorites. It’s something that can’t always be done, but when it can be done, it’s glorious. Let’s say, for example, you have a meeting with your team and it was the only time you could schedule to get the entire team in the room for a discussion about a project. During the meat of the meeting, you identify that a follow up meeting needs to be scheduled with a stakeholder. Get that meeting scheduled while you’re in that meeting. Don’t wait. Someone throws out a question that needs to be answered by the one team member that couldn’t make it. Shoot that question over to them right after the person asks it. Don’t wait.
By not waiting, you’re saving more time down the road than it would have taken to just complete the task then and there. As project managers, we know that context switching can take up an ample amount of time. If you were to wait, you might see these tasks on your list and have to remember what the discussion was about and why you needed that meeting, so you end up spending more time thinking about those details than you would have spent simply completing those tasks during the meeting itself.
BONUS: Evaluate Where Your Time Is Spent
One time management technique that I’ve found helpful when I’m feeling overwhelmed is to take a few minutes to review where my time is going. This can be done a multitude of ways based on how you do your work. If you accurately track your time in a time tracking software, simply pull a report to see where you’re time is divided up and make adjustments based on that.
If you don’t track all your time, or don’t track it super accurately, take a look at where your time is allocated. My team uses a forecasting tool that allows me to see where I’m contractually allocated. Taking an objective look at this allows me to understand where I should be putting my effort first and foremost, and adjust my time management accordingly.
What Do You Think?
Are there any time management techniques you use on a frequent basis to help get things done? Do you disagree with any time management techniques I’ve listed above? Why or why not?