Manage Your Time to Grow Your Productivity

Time is what we want most, but what we spend worst.

—William Penn

Manage Your Time to Grow Your ProductivityTime management at work is a perennial concern for everyone. Projects, clients, budgets, schedules, meetings—all of these make for a full plate indeed. And just when you manage to juggle everything, another ball gets tossed into the mix. How do you keep all of your commitments up in the air and moving along without any of them crashing to the ground?

If you’re thinking, “If only I had more time! Then I could definitely get everything done!” stop yourself right there. Unless you’ve developed magical powers or figured out how to break all the laws of physics, you will never have more time. You can’t add more minutes to your day, but you can make better use of the minutes you do have.


Divide Your Day into Critical Categories 


Good things happen when you get your priorities straight.

—Scott Caan


Start by dividing your day into chunks of time for three vital tasks:


  • Doing. This is the hands-on work you do to complete your projects and assignments.
  • Meeting. This involves interacting with others in phone or video calls, face-to-face conversations, lunches, meet-and-greets, etc., in order to support your “doing” efforts.
  • Strategizing. This is the work you do to advance your career and/or grow your department/business by building connections and doing research. (Strategizing often involves meetings, calls, e-mail, etc., but here these interactions are related to lining up new opportunities and your future endeavors and growth, not to your current projects.) 


I run my own business, so I have a bit more control over my time now than I did when I was in corporate America. But those three categories haven’t changed much for me over the years, and neither has how to divide my time among them.


These days, I typically need four to five hours of “doing” time each day in order to keep up with all the projects on my plate. I do my best to limit my meetings to two or three hours a day and set aside an hour (possibly two if I can squeeze another category) daily for strategizing on my professional future.


Manage Your Time to Grow Your ProductivityIt isn’t always possible to stick to those numbers, however. When there’s any schedule creep, it almost always involves meetings. (I think we can all agree that meetings definitely deserve the title of Worst Time Suck in the Business World.) If meetings cut into my “doing” time, that doesn’t mean I have less to do. It means I need to make up that work time elsewhere. Because that made-up time can sometimes come out of my evenings or (horror!) my weekends, I’m highly motivated to keep the meeting time bleed to a minimum.

You might allocate your time for those three tasks very differently. You might also identify three different tasks that are your top priorities (though I suspect your big categories won’t different too much from the ones I listed above). Coming up with your own variations and tailoring these categories and time allocations to suit your specific needs is totally fine! Just keep in mind that if you want to gain control over your schedule, you need to understand the amount and type of time you need to get your day-to-day job done while also committing time for major projects.



Evaluate How You Are Currently Using Your Time


He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.

—Victor Hugo


Manage Your Time to Grow Your ProductivityBefore you can plan your time, you need to know how you’re using it now. Start logging (in a notebook, in a text file, in your Outlook calendar—wherever works for you) what you work on throughout each day.  These notes should cover activities such as attending meetings, working on your projects, chatting with colleagues, administrative tasks (such as dealing with e-mail), and anything else you do that’s part of your workday. In all of your notes, it’s critical that you be specific, comprehensive, and brutally honest.


Keep this record for a week, then look at your numbers. Are you happy with how you spend your time? Are you giving enough of your energy to the stuff that’s really important—or are noncritical activities stealing more of your attention than they should? Once you see all of this data objectively laid out, think about what changes are needed to ensure that what really matters is getting the time it deserves.


Plan Your Work, Then Work Your Plan 


A goal without a plan is just a wish.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


Once you have divided your day into the three big categories of doing, meeting, and strategizing (or whichever ones work best for you) and have identified how you actually spend your time each day, it’s time to create a plan to be more efficient and productive! 

Spend the first 30 minutes of each day creating a realistic plan for what you want to accomplish for the day. (Alternatively, spend the last 30 minutes of each day creating the following day’s plan.) The key here is to create a realistic plan: if you list 10 tasks and complete only half of them, you will be disappointed with your results. But if you schedule 5 tasks and complete all of them, that’s a cause for celebration! 


Once you know what you’re going to focus on that day, schedule your time. Put meetings in your calendar and label each with the task you’ll focus on during that time period. Consider booking the more challenging tasks for the time of day when you’re at your peak. (I typically schedule my tough stuff in the morning, when I have the most energy and focus.) Once you’ve laid out your plan, stick to it ruthlessly (and deviate from it only in the event of a real emergency)

Don’t do easy tasks just to check them off your list. If you put together a plan for the day and put one small item in the schedule because it’s a quick task, you can actually undermine your time-management efforts, because taking care of the “quick task” then becomes a habit that cuts into your time for the truly important stuff. Instead, book an appointment in your schedule just for “miscellaneous minor stuff” to help ensure that you have uninterrupted time for the critical things.


E-mail is a vital tool that can support all three categories of your daily vital tasks (doing, meeting, strategizing), but at the same time dealing with e-mail can be one of the biggest time-wasters on the planet and can easily prevent you from doing actual work. So, first thing in the morning, scan your inbox for any critical messages (such as a note from your boss or a proverbial fire that needs to be put out), deal with those right away, then let the rest wait until later in the day. The method that works for me is to work on e-mail for only 30 minutes each morning, because I’m at my mental peak during that time of day and prefer to use my best energy for my “doing” and strategizing tasks. I do another e-mail check in the afternoon to make sure I’m not missing anything timely, then again at the end of the day when I need a break from big, meaty projects.

Eliminate noncritical activities. You’re probably familiar with the old adage “20% of your effort leads to 80% of your results.” You can get more from your time if you figure out what efforts are critical to your function, then ditch those activities that are not moving you or the company forward. Be ruthless in your evaluation of what is critical—don’t let yourself be tricked into focusing on smaller tasks that can be accomplished in less time and therefore give you a false sense of accomplishment. If something isn’t mission-critical, put it on hold until later! And be sure that when you give someone your time, it’s for a good reason. (For example, insist on an agenda for meetings—especially nonessential ones—and be sure it states where your contributions are needed.) 


Reward Yourself 

The reward of a thing well done is having done it. 

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson has a point. But don’t underestimate the power of external rewards! One popular management axiom states, “You get what you reward.” That’s true when managing anyone—including ourselves. So I build into my schedule a treat (such as a pedicure or an evening at the movies) that I get to enjoy if I’ve accomplished the tasks or projects I set out for myself. 

Think about what reward would motivate you to plan your work and then work your plan. Rewards can be small (a whipped-cream-topped caramel latte, for example, or a Friday night Netflix binge) or large (a weekend getaway or that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing). The criteria are what you can manage (in terms of money and time) and what will truly feel like something fun and special to you.


Final Thoughts

Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.

—Jim Rohn


Consider using these points as guidelines to get you started on your time-management journey. As you gain a better understanding of your own goals, motivations, and limitations, you can finesse these points into a plan that works well specifically for you. Through self-discipline and practice, your time-management skills will improve—and so will your productivity!


If you have any favorite time management strategies, please share them in the comments!

And by the way, if you would like more time management strategies check out part 1 and part 2 of my series “Improve Your Time Management and Focus to Improve Your Work—and Deliver Real Results.” I take a different approach in that series which may be more useful! Regardless of what works for you, remember, you can’t make more time but you can make the most of your time!

3 thoughts on “Manage Your Time to Grow Your Productivity”

  1. Dear Abby, (he he)
    I love this approach! I think what is hard is when others think you should be responding quickly to emails and you are perceived as not responsive if you delay. I remember Laura Stack, “The Productivity Pro” once said she used to wait to see ’til all others responded to an email, and then IF she needed to add something she would. But I don’t see that as acceptable in my company. Then with the addition of TEAMS or other messaging applications, you get pinged all the time. So I really struggle with focus and prioritizing. Confession: I myself am guilty of thinking others should respond immediately to me…Just sharing my personal challenges.

    1. It’s AMAZING how we have turned into a society that expects immediate gratification – including when we send emails (and expect that instantaneous reply). We really have to recalibrate ourselves and our expectations (and don’t worry Lora, I’m just as guilty with responding expectations! I have really focused to get off the cliff as it’s SO unhealthy for me and my direct reports!). I do think it helps to have a conversation with your boss though on what they expect. I do the same with clients – if it’s urgent text me. Otherwise, I’ll get back to them within 24 hours. That way, I’m not disappointing them in any way. Hard as everything revolves around communication though and the absence of it drives us all crazy (now I’m venting my reality!). Every day is a new day to try to improve for the other person though, right Lora?!?! We keep fighting the good fight! Best of luck with year-end craziness! Merry Everything and Happy New Year! Val

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