This article was based on episode 019 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher. Get the mini-guide here or the full guide at Patreon.
For many of us, there never seem to be enough hours in the day. Our to-do lists seem to accumulate new tasks faster than we can cross them off. There are demands from colleagues and clients at work, family obligations, and social responsibilities. And in addition to all the things we’re supposed to do, there are things we wish we had time to do - like going to the gym, cooking, playing an instrument or reading a book for fun, or getting a full 8 or 9 hours of sleep at night - that feel impossible to try to squeeze in.
While it’s true that we probably can’t do everything (at least at the same time), on the whole, when you approach your time with intentionality, you may be surprised by how much you can accomplish in 24 hours. Here are 4 time management strategies I use to manage my time as a busy entrepreneur, mom, wife, friend, and philanthropist.
#1: DO FEWER THINGS
One of the most obvious time management strategies is just to do fewer things. For someone who has a heavy workload or whose ego is attached to “being busy,” the notion of doing less may feel irrelevant or even impossible. Yet, doing fewer things means determining what tasks actually move you forward toward your goals and eliminating those tasks that don’t.
In his book, The Five-Hour Workday, author and entrepreneur, Stephan Aarstol, dares you to consider, “What happens if I stop doing X or do it for less time?” Aarstol advises to write down all of your obligations and ask yourself: Do I need to be doing this and why? Does the return on investment warrant the inputs? If not, can I spend less time on it? Can I do it less frequently? Can I replace it with something else that would be more impactful?
I asked myself these questions when I first read Aarstol’s book and it changed how my company and I approached the Meeteor blog. Until then, my content team spent 80% of their time researching and creating original blog content each week. This left them with little time for other work, like pursuing public relations opportunities or pitching ideas to high profile publications. We decided to test out switching from 4 original pieces each month to 2 original and 2 curated or repurposed articles. We’d consider the switch a success if our open and click rates did not change. After a few months, we were pleased to discover they hadn’t. We were able to save hours each month for other content pursuits.
To help you discover if there are things you can do differently or not at all, it can be useful to know how you’re spending your time. I suggest you track your time for 1-2 weeks and then work to reduce wasteful patterns of activity. You can download the time tracking version I use for free at http://bit.ly/MMTimeAudit.
If you have the luxury of having an assistant or someone in your corner, take advantage of the opportunity to delegate. Sure, some things need to be done by you but other tasks can easily be done by someone else. What can you hand off? Can you hire an assistant for a few hours a week? Can you bring in an intern? Can your partner or kids take on some responsibilities?
In order to effectively delegate, you need to know which tasks on your plate can successfully be done by someone else. I like to make a comprehensive list of all my obligations, including work-related and personal responsibilities, and then plot them a 2x2 matrix. Along the top of the matrix from left to right are “Things only I can do” vs “Things someone else can do.” Along the side, from top to bottom are “Things I like to do” vs “Things I prefer not to do.” Decide where each item on your list falls on the matrix.
Items that fall in the bottom right are prime for delegation. Those in the top right, things that someone else can do that you like doing, are harder to let go of because we enjoy them. But, we need to prioritize those activities in the left-hand columns - things only I can do. To help you delegate those activities you enjoy, imagine what else you could do with that newly freed time, or how you’ll be less stressed when managing the ‘must do’ work.
If you decide to delegate, be sure to set the person up for success by providing all the information he or she needs to get the task done. I discuss effective delegation with Dave Stahoviack, delegation expert, in episode 22: stay tuned for the upcoming release!
Sometimes delegating is a time versus money trade off. You can clean your home or you can hire a service to do it a few times a month. You can schedule your own appointments or you can have a virtual assistant do it. Only you can decide if it’s worth the money to free up those few hours for you to accomplish other activities.
#3: CHANGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO TIME
This may sound counter intuitive, but according to Laura Vanderkam in her book Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, people who feel like time is expansive and abundant are able to accomplish more. When you shift your mindset to one of plenty rather than scarcity around time, your mind relaxes, as does the anxiety around your obligations. When you feel like you don’t have enough time, you feel stressed and get less done.
I’ve experimented with this mindset shift to help me find time to practice the ukulele at least 3 times a week. Up until now, I’ve only been able to practice two times a month. How was I going to find time to play three times a week?
Step one was to figure out when it would fit into my day. Would I get up earlier? Practice while my kids did their homework? The idea of practicing in the evenings felt optimal. Usually, once my kids are in bed, I watch Netflix, catch up with my husband or friends, and/or work. I decided to play the ukulele instead for 15-30 minutes several evenings each week.
It’s only been one month, but it’s been surprisingly easy to consistently find the time. When we intentionally do the things we want to be doing, we let go of things that don’t serve us. We spend less time on social media or watching Netflix, or whatever that thing is for you. For me, losing an hour of Netflix each week hasn’t taken much willpower because I’ve been using that time for something more meaningful. Just as importantly now, I feel like I have more time because I’m the kind of person who has the time to play an instrument regularly.
To help make time feel more expansive, write down all the things you want to be doing and pick one to start. Maybe it’s going to the gym twice a week, visiting museums once a month, or playing that instrument again. Practice feeling time expand rather than constrict by incorporating this new activity into your schedule. Put your new activity on your calendar or attach it to an existing routine to help you stick to your commitment. Then, after you’ve done it a few times, congratulate yourself. You’re now a person who has time to read a book a week or go for a walk each day!
#4: DO THE SAME THINGS FASTER
I’ve been practicing doing the same things more efficiently for several years. I use 4 time management strategies to achieve this: I bundle similar tasks, automate whenever possible, time block my tasks, and develop new skills.
Some tasks can be done more efficiently if you bundle them together and do them all at once. This simple example demonstrates the point well:
I have a special gift for each guest on The Modern Manager that I mail after their interview. Every time I go to the post office, it’s a 10 minute walk each way plus up to 20 minutes waiting in line, and about 3 minutes per mailing. If I went to the post office to mail the gift each time I completed a recording, it would take me over 40 minutes every week - or about 2.5 hours a month. But, if I bundle this task and go only once a month, it takes me under an hour.
Many tasks take less time when we do more of them at once. Every time we start an activity, we invest both mental energy and time setting up or getting focused. Take advantage of bundling by amortizing the getting started efforts and then riding the momentum to get more work of a single type of work done. I bundle activities like managing email, creating graphics, making changes to my website, and responding to social media messages. Consider which activities you do that might bundle well. Then, rather than do each task as a one off, decide how frequently you need to do each one to still be responsive and maintain quality.
A second approach is to automate whenever possible. I define ‘automate’ as using technology to reduce the time and mental energy you need to invest in getting a task done. I use automation very effectively in email in two different ways - templates and sequences - using a tool called Mixmax.
Templates are a wonderful way to automate or streamline your emails. There are a number of emails I send on a regular basis, such as responding to an inquiry about my coaching offerings and sending outreach about being a guest on my The Modern Manager podcast. Rather than compose these emails from scratch each time, I have templates with language already created that I simply insert into the email. Then I update the appropriate details.
Not only does this mean I save time by not having to type a full response, but the messaging is higher quality because it’s thoughtfully crafted rather than whatever comes out in the moment.
Sequences, and reminders, greatly simplify the follow-up process. Remembering to and actually following up with people takes a surprising amount of mental energy and time. So instead of tracking who I’m waiting on a response from or who I need to follow up with in a month, I have MixMax automatically send a follow-up that I’ve pre-drafted if the person doesn’t respond in a designated time frame.
Some other tasks I’ve automated are scheduling meetings, sending reminders for upcoming coaching sessions, purchasing groceries (which I do in an app that then makes them appear at my doorstep), social media postings, and agenda creation (I use a template to make it easier to fill in the information).
To identify tasks that would be good candidates for automation, think about what you do repeatedly and see if there’s an app or tool that can take over some of the actions for you, or if the content or structure would benefit from a template.
Sometimes the challenge is that you’re spending too much time on a task that doesn’t require that type of effort. This could be because you’re striving for perfection when good enough will do, or because it’s a task you particularly enjoy doing. In either case, you can shift some of the excess time towards other activities by designating an appropriate amount of time for each of these tasks.
One activity I regularly time block is finding images for my blog. I could look at images all day simply because viewing great photography is fun. However, it’s not a good use of my time because it doesn’t correlate to a better blog article or increased engagement. Yes, the image matters to some extent, but the ROI isn’t there. If I spend twice as long finding an image, I’m unlikely to get twice as many readers. I find that 10 minutes is plenty to find a good enough image.
So, I set a timer, start looking, and download any pictures that have potential. If I haven’t chosen an image by the time the buzzer goes off, I pick from the downloads and move on. It’s not always easy to stop but that’s where the timer comes in. It helps to have that external signal reminding me of my intention.
If you’ve made your list of all the activities you do, consider which ones you could time block. How long do you want to be spending on each task? Assign yourself a limit and set a timer. You may need to be flexible at first as you practice spending less time while not reducing the quality of the work. A few attempts at each task, you’ll likely find ways to shave off even more time.
That’s what happened for me in my podcast planning. In the beginning, it took more time than I could afford to plan each episode. I started time blocking, in essence, forcing myself to work faster by spending less time researching (I don’t need to read ten articles on a topic) and writing the script. Now I spend a reasonable amount of time that fits into my schedule each week and I’m proud of each episode. I aim to produce high quality content, which I believe I’m doing (and hope you agree) even though I reduced the time spent by almost 30%.
Develop Your Skills
Lastly, you can develop your skills to be better or make the job easier. This can feel less like a time saver due to the upfront time sacrifice you have to make before you feel the investment pay off. In the long run, though, it’s often worth it.
One area in which I coach people is developing their skills as a meeting leader. The vast majority of people who lead meetings were never taught how to do so effectively. Were you? It’s mind boggling given how many meetings managers lead. With just a bit of knowledge and skill building, you can quickly reduce the amount of time you and your team members spend in meetings.
Another area that often is worth learning more about is technology. I frequently pause to learn about new functionality offered with the tools and apps I use regularly.
TIME MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES: PRO-TIPS
These next few suggestions are a few lessons I’ve learned that help me make the most of my time each day:
1. Separate planning from doing
Making a decision and taking action on it are actually two different behaviors. If every time you complete a task or walk out of a meeting you need to decide what to do next, you’re creating micro-opportunities for distraction or slowing down. Instead, take 10 minutes at the start of your day to review your calendar and your to-do list. Make a separate list of what you need to get done today and keep this list handy so you can easily refer to it. Then, each time you finish one task, refer to your list so you can quickly get going on what’s next.
2. Strategically Multi-Task
In episode 8, I spoke with strategy consultant Dorie Clark about lessons from her time tracking experiment. One of her takeaways was that there is such a thing as strategic multi-tasking in which we really can do two things well at once. Look for opportunities like making phone calls during your commute or listening to an audiobook while folding laundry. Schedule lunch meetings instead of coffee meetings so you can have lunch and connect with your lunch companion.
3. Say No to Some Meetings
If you’re in a position to question your meetings, do it. Numerous studies report that up to 50% of meetings are considered a waste of time. If you aren’t sure why you’ve been invited to a meeting, ask the meeting leader. What will the meeting accomplish? Why is it important that you attend? Is there another way you can contribute without having to be present? If you’re the one calling all the meetings, consider if you really need to have each meeting - what’s the desired outcome for each? Can you achieve the same outcome by sending an email or asking for feedback on some material? Be clear as to what each meeting will accomplish, create an agenda, and stick to it so that you don’t need to have another meeting to finish the agenda from the last meeting.
Experiment with these time management strategies and see if you can find time to practice your ukulele more often - or whatever that activity is for you. To help you manage your time more effectively, download the free mini-guide here or join The Modern Manager on Patreon to access the full guide.
This article was based on episode 019 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.
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