If people thought time management was challenging ten years ago, they didn’t foresee the kinds of challenges people would be facing in today’s hyperconnected world. With constant pop-ups, notifications and alerts, it’s becoming more and more challenging to stay focused and achieve what you’ve set your mind to.
So, how can you step away from distractions and master the art of time management? Here are 5 strategies that will actually help you prioritise meaningful work, block out distractions, and schedule time to get things done.
1. Create an effective to-do list including these 4 elements
If you’re like most people, your to-do list is always growing and you rarely get to the bottom of it. The rise of project management tools like Monday.com, Todoist, Airtable and others has shown that most people don’t actually know how to create a powerful to-do list and what elements to include. In order to be effective, your to-do list should include more than just the tasks you aim to complete.
After analysing dozens of ways to manage to-do lists, here’s the winning combo:
● List out everything you need to do this week — the smaller tasks, the bigger projects, meetings you will be attending
● Rank your tasks by priority levels — low, medium or high
● Write down how much time it will take you to complete each task
● Write down the date on which you intend to complete your task
Once you’ve completed this first draft, re-organise your list so your tasks are ranked by priority level (high at the top, low at the bottom). Remember to focus on the high priority, most impactful tasks first! It’s easy to get lost in the tasks that can be completed faster, but are way less impactful.
Note: One of my favourite ways to manage to-do lists is to create a board on Monday.com using one of their weekly to-do templates!
2. Build your schedule with time blocks
Having uninterrupted time to focus on your most important work is key to getting things done and feeling productive. Based on the to-do you developed, create blocks of time in your calendar for your most important tasks. How? Simply open your calendar and create meetings for yourself to focus on your most important tasks. These blocks of “focused work” are meant to prevent you from interruptions, whether it’s instantly replying to emails, doing work that is less impactful, or being distracted by something or someone.
Time blocks in your calendar will also help you fight Parkinson’s Law — the concept in which the more time you allocate to a task, the more time it will take to complete it. Defining the amount of time you think it will take you to complete a task will therefore help you to complete it faster.
3. Better manage your email inbox
Email is an incredibly effective communication tool, but many people feel overwhelmed by the amount of emails they receive and need to respond to. It might sound extreme to schedule time to look at your email but as productivity expert Cal Newport explains, it’s important to schedule a time for both proactive blocks (such as deep, focused work that you want to do) and reactive blocks (such as emails, unplanned meetings and tasks).
To avoid constant interruption and distraction, I’ve tried in the past checking my emails 3 times a day: in the morning, right before/after lunch time, and at the end of the day. When skimming through your emails, start with the “Two-Minute rule”, a concept explained by David Allen in his book, Getting Things done. If it takes less than two minutes to reply to the email, then you can take care of it immediately. If it takes longer than that, you can plan to answer this email during your email time block.
In general, I’m also a big fan of creating labels, folders and categories in my inbox to keep things organised. This will help you dissociate the emails you need to reply to, the emails you were included in as a FYI, and emails that require you to do some deep work in order to reply.
4. Control your meeting availability (even remotely!)
Meetings can really turn out to be productivity killers. Luckily there are a few ways to help you have more control on your meetings at work. First, make sure that every meeting you join has a clear goal, that can only be achieved via face-to-face interactions (that also works for remote meetings!). Colleagues will sometimes initiate meetings to share the status of a project which is something that can be shared in an email, or via a simple status change in your work management tool.
Second, just like you schedule blocks in your calendar for focused work, you can schedule meeting blocks. This will help in two ways: it will make sure that the meetings end on time as you have other meetings to go to, but more importantly it will be better for you to have a series of meetings, rather than trying to do focused work in between two meetings.
5. Use these tools to boost your productivity
With so many tools out there to help you be more productive, which ones are really worth the try? Here are some of my favs:
● Pocket — If you want to save reads for later
It’s easy to get distracted by all the pieces of content shared online and you might not (and shouldn’t!) always have the time to read things the moment you see them. Pocket allows you to save your findings for later so you can focus on your work.
● Slack — To communicate with your teammates
Most high tech companies use Slack or other alternatives like Workplace by Facebook to communicate with their teams. What’s so great about it? You can share information in all kinds of formats, the UX is delightful and it integrates with lots of other tools you might already be using (Google Drive, Zapier, Typeform, Monday etc…)
● Zoom — For video conferences
Zoom has established itself as the leader in video communications and one of the most reliable video conference tools out there. It’s easy to use, reliable, and allows for one-to-one conversations as well as company-wide meetings and webinars. It also offers lots of functionalities like breakout rooms with dedicated chat boxes, a polling system etc…
● Forest — If you can’t resist scrolling through your social media feed
It happens to the best of us. You’re supposed to be finishing this presentation but keep being tempted to scroll through the ‘gram. Forest is an app that allows you to stay focused: every time you need to focus, you start planting a tree.The more you stay focused, the more your tree will grow. If you lose focus, your tree will die.
A great alternative to Forest is to set “Screen time” restrictions on your iPhone. Via the settings in your iPhone, you can access reports on how much time you spend on social networks and set limits for yourself.
● Superhuman — for the email hero you truly are?
One of Silicon Valley’s buzziest startups, Superhuman claims that it is the fastest email experience ever made. The platform has a simplistic design, designed for speed. Superhuman also integrates with social media to collect user information and offers other useful features like the use of AI for email filtering, the ability to schedule email sending times, and the ability to work offline.
I hope these strategies will help you better manage your time (whether in the office or while working from home) and ultimately achieve your goals. Let me know if you have more tips to share!