5 Time Management Tools to Increase Your Productivity and Keep You Sane at Work
by Aimee Marcelo
“Stop!! Stop the bus!! I just want to get off!!“, is a version of what most of us think when we’ve had far too demands and responsibilities in our daily work-lives. And sometimes, it seems impossible to put it all down and walk away… even for 5 minutes. It’s like being a stay-at-home parent to a newborn and you barely have time to run to the bathroom, much less cram anything nutrient-worthy into your mouth. “Thank God it’s someone’s birthday and there’s at least cake for lunch.” That’s when you know that you need to revisit the concept of time management.
In this brave new work culture today, we’re expected to take on more tasks and fit exponentially more into our workday than ever before. Jobs are shared, budgets cut, and the new concept of utilizing a fractional workforce in order to keep overhead down is being embraced everywhere by entrepreneurs since it is a more effective way of “scaling up”. This can leave us feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled in our jobs as we claw through each day where everything feels like a priority. Surely, there must be a better way with dealing with these pressures?
Well, good news! There are ways around it, and it starts by mastering the fine art of prioritizing through time management.
You, too, can become a Time [Management] Master.
“Yes, young (or old) Grasshopper…it’s never too late to learn”. There are people that specifically have made millions from dialing in this process. You can’t be a CEO of a company and not know how to master the art of time management.
This is why Tim Ferriss, Mitchell Harper, Tony Robbins, or any other dedicated “time management masters” (my name for them, not theirs), are revered. Just look at the president or C-suite people around your own company. They are the hidden time management masters.
They’re juggling demands that seem insurmountable to most of us, juggling hundreds, even thousands of employees and processes that make a business run on a daily basis so that you can sleep well at night knowing you will get a paycheck this month.
If you are in or moving into leadership, mastering prioritization through time management is “a must”.
If you want to move up through leadership to the top, operate effectively as a consultant, or own your own company, you have to become a pro at this. You have to train your brain to continuously look at the big picture of time managing and prioritizing the systems/tasks in both your personal and professional lives.
Lack of prioritization through time management is probably the biggest roadblock to growth with my clients. Some people have never taken the time to learn and implement tools consistently so that they can break through the constant influx of demands in today’s job market and make true traction in their work and lives. We were never taught to manage our careers after school, so it is no wonder that many of us get stuck in this place.
Through repetition, you can become a time master and make great traction.
The great news is that you can train your brain to continuously look for ways to manage time with any incoming tasks, and ultimately dial in your systems for dealing with them. The key here is to go beyond the initial point of mastery. Your prefrontal cortex learns a new task using short-term memory, but then once it’s finished, it frees it up by as much as 90% and you can now perform that skill automatically on a subconscious level.
How do you train your brain on that level? Through automaticity. Developing automaticity is the process of going from doing to being–empowering you to become an expert and innovator. This means you have to practice something again and again through continuous repetition until it becomes muscle memory. Once you’ve over-learned a skill, you no longer need a script but can perform, even teach that skill, and also apply it in different contexts.
So try a couple of these time management tools below until you feel like you’ve dialed in the best methods for yourself. Use it again and again on a daily basis for over 60 days until it becomes second nature to you so that you, too, can be a Time Management Master.
1) Prioritize your work tasks in a matrix called Priority Matrix.
Sometimes it seems impossible to prioritize your efforts through time management to get results. The ability to do this is what separates true leaders from the masses. And though it seems somewhat like an art form, it really is as simple as repeating this process over and over again until you can do it in your sleep…so that your first thought when tackling the day’s list of priorities is to visualize these tools in your head.
Here’s a priority matrix below that comes straight from Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix with a few added key descriptors: Do, Plan, Delegate, Eliminate.
The end goal here is to prioritize tasks based on efforts that get the best results for your top goals. By keeping your eye on the end results, it simplifies prioritization. This method is useful when addressing tasks in your personal life as well.
Here’s an application example of this quadrant:
- Take your current ‘to-do’ list and sort all the activities into the appropriate grid.
- Assess the amount of time it takes to accomplish the lists and reallocate activities when appropriate.
- Determine end results for each activity to see where efforts are focused.
Example: You have a meeting with a crucial potential partner (2 hrs). Decide if you should move this to a higher priority category based on end results.
Here’s another approach:
- Use this to assess your overall weekly strategy Make 4 copies of the grid and use one grid for each of the 5 days in your workweek, listing all activities and time spent.
- At the end of the week, combine the data of each day into one summary grid and calculate the percentage of time in each grid.
- Then evaluate how well your time is spent and whether your workload needs to be reorganized.
2) Create a Google spreadsheet called Systems Cost Analysis.
We can’t do everything, so it’s important to focus on the most important areas and create efficient processes for the areas we can’t finish. One master that comes to mind for dialing in systems is Tim Ferriss. If you have not read his book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” or visited his site: http://fourhourworkweek.com/, you should definitely check it out. He believes in the “systems” of your life so they’re almost running without you. I have a daily reminder prompt on my computer that says: “The answer is in the systems.” You can’t grow in leadership if you can’t dial in your systems.
Here’s a way to determine what tasks and overall systems you need to dial in for your work and life. Write down in a spreadsheet everything that takes time in your personal and professional life. (See a more complex example of this here and make a copy for free.)
Or make your own version:
- In one column, state the task or project name. For example, too many emails coming in, consider taking your team’s email to Slack, or hiring a virtual assistant to go through them. If you have housework that needs to get done, consider hiring out wherever possible to fertilize, do the lawn.
- In the second column, state who currently does the task or project.
- In the third column, state the time it takes to complete the task or project.
- In the fourth column, state your hourly cost of completing the project (your salary divided by 52 [weeks] divided again by 40 hours).
- In the fifth column, state the hourly cost of hiring someone else to complete the project.
- Look at each task as a system that you can tackle by delegating, combining, or deleting whenever possible. Start whittling through your list and add new ones as they pop up.
When you start using tools to track your time management systems well (like the Google Sheet example above), you really start seeing the cost of NOT time managing your work or life well.
This may seem like a lot to take on, but there are other great resources like RescueTime that can help you track how you are spending your time on your computer.
3) Become a Six Sigma Master Blackbelt or at least take this foundations course on LinkedIn Learning.
If you’re a person who LOVES to optimize processes, Six Sigma is something you MUST look into. It is a disciplined, data-driven approach and continuous improvement methodology for eliminating defects in a product, process, or service. It was developed by Motorola and Bill Smith in the early 1980’s and is used globally by Fortune 500 companies and is a highly desirable skillset to have professionally showcased on your resume because it shows you how to dial in complex processes. By dialing these in and optimizing systems, this methodology is known for saving large companies millions and often billions of dollars. Many people offer the certification, and you can even take here on Linkedin with a premium subscription. I even know working couples with large families who employ this method in their home.
4) Remember, focus on the “big wins”, and turn in work that is “sufficient” for the rest.
Yes, we’ve all been encouraged from a young age to do the best we can on each project, but in reality, that only works in school (K-5 actually). When we enter the corporate world, we find co-workers who get ahead by turning in reports, presentations, or projects that are just “good enough”. But if they’re succeeding, most likely it’s because they’re getting the “big wins” for the largest goals.
If you’re goal is to do your BEST in EVERY aspect of your life, you’re unwittingly closing doors for yourself to make great impact. The irony, right?
The truth is, if we strive for everything we turn in or complete to be perfect, we will never get it all done. Instead, put your efforts where you’ll get the most return. Remember… think 80/20 Rule. Don’t strive for perfection when you’re completely overwhelmed, strive for “sufficient”. You’re not letting yourself, nor your supervisor or managers down.
College and graduate students do this when they look at the point system for grading. My son is using this now in college, as is my good friend who is currently working toward her doctorate. It’s a daily juggle for her to decide what to prioritize in her leadership role and at school. Why don’t we do this more at work?
5) Craft the art of communicating to your supervisor that you can’t do it all but you can focus on the “big wins”.
If you’ve tried all of the above and still can’t keep up, its time to talk to your supervisor. Come prepared with your time budget, show your allocation of time for each task and how you have prioritized different projects. This will help your supervisor understand where you are coming from. Remember to keep a positive actionable demeanor. Your supervisor should be able to give you insight on how to manage the project better or decide which tasks can be given to different people in the department. Sometimes it helps to throw numbers in to justify your case.
“I want to complete all that you’ve asked but I only have time to make true traction on these two projects, which are the two that will help us reach our goal faster. If we hire an intern and I have to train the intern at $50 per hour for my time and $20 per hour for his time, doesn’t it make more sense to hire someone at $35 an hour that can come in and hit the ground running? I propose getting additional consultant help or just focus on these two. What do you think?”
You can’t do it ALL effectively, and if you communicate that to your supervisor, and propose where it logically makes sense to focus your efforts, then possibly you will get buy-in, or at brainstorm a better course of action together.
Aimee Marcelo is a Career Strategist at Career5 who is dedicated to helping people raise their own bar using an affordable system for career development. Carve in meaning and strategize your career so you can take your career, salary, and happiness trajectories to a much higher level using our guided career roadmap system: The Career5 Roadmap plus affordable coaching options. Roadmapping your career growth gives you a 42% greater chance of reaching your goals.