4 Time Management Techniques to Optimize Your Time
A successful executive I know attributes his impressive productivity to the Pomodoro Technique. If you’ve never heard of “Pomodoring,” it’s a popular time management technique designed to reduce distractions and boost your focus. Sound like something you’d want to try? We’ll get to the details in a bit.
In a previous post, we covered a few ways to work smarter, not harder. Now let’s dive into the Pomodoro Technique and four other time management strategies.
1. The Pomodoro Technique
To try this simple system, set a timer for 35 minutes. Now work until the timer goes off—ideally on a single activity or task. Try to avoid all interruptions, including different tasks or non-work diversions like Facebook or ESPN. If something comes up that requires your attention, you have two choices.
First, you can postpone dealing with the matter until your next Pomodoro “sprint.” Do this when it’s important but not highly urgent. And make sure to give any other people involved a heads-up on your timeline with a response like, “I’m in the middle of another task but will work on this in X minutes.”
Second, you can prematurely end your work session. While you don’t want to make a habit of stopping your sprints early, it’s important to recognize when to adapt your system to the circumstances.
When the timer goes off, give yourself five to 10 minutes to do whatever you want. Grab a glass of water, check the score of a sports game, read a short article, send some texts, etc. The point is to give your brain a brief break so you’ll be energized for the next sprint.
Use the work-break pattern until the end of the day.
Do you feel like you’re constantly racing from task to task and can never get in the zone? Work batching might be the answer. Simply divide your work into categories, then schedule a chunk of time for each.
For example, you might slot “answering emails” for 8:30 AM to 9:30 AM, “work on specs” for 9:45 AM to 11:45 AM, “meetings” from 12:30 PM to 3 PM, and so on.
This system helps you spend time more efficiently, since you’re not wasting mental energy deciding what to work on next. However, if you regularly need to put out fires, it might not be realistic.
It also requires you to do some work upfront, which can be less than desirable for some people who don’t “warm up” until the early afternoon.
You may already use an informal or ad hoc version of the “prioritization” technique. Essentially, you create a master to-do list of every single item you’d like to get done for the week. Then, you go through each item and assign a priority score.
That score is based on two factors: importance and timeliness. A “1” is a task that’s both important and timely, a “2” is timely but not important, a “3” is important but not timely, and a “4” is neither timely nor important.
Do all of your 1s, then all of your 2s, then all of your 3s. Don’t touch the 4s, unless they become more timely or important.
This system allows you to focus on the most critical deliverables and responsibilities. But it can feel unorganized or overwhelming at times; plus, you can’t always tell what score a task deserves.
4. The Three-Day Weekend
Although working four days a week isn’t feasible for everyone, it definitely has its merits. If you adopt this system, you work 10 or more hours four days in a row, then take three days off.
Having a long weekend allows you to reset and take mini vacations, so you’ll be more productive once you’re back at work. It’s also easier to put in long days at the office if you know you’ll be rewarded by a relaxing three-day break.
And according to Jason Fried, the CEO of 37signals, a compressed workweek forces you to focus on what’s most important. You naturally prioritize—helping you achieve the same results in fewer days.
The four-day system is ideal for people who already decide their own schedule and don’t need to be available on the last day of the workweek to answer questions, attend meetings, help their colleagues, and so on.
5. No-Meetings Day
In a similar vein, the “No Meetings Day” time management system completely bans meetings for one day per week. Meetings can be a huge time-suck; not only are many unnecessary, they also make it harder to get things done in between each one. Setting aside one day each week for purely uninterrupted work can help you move through a long to-do list.
People who use this system typically choose the same day every week for consistency’s sake.
Block off this time on your public calendar—we suggest setting yourself as “Busy” from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a label like “No Meetings Wednesday.”
You should also give your team the heads up so they know you’ll be unavailable to meet on this day. Say something along the lines of, “I’m experimenting with a productivity strategy. Every [day of the week] is a ‘No Meetings Day.’ Please don’t book me on this day—I’m more than happy to meet any other day.”
It’s worth keeping in mind this system might be inconvenient, or even impossible, if you currently attend lots of meetings. Your coworkers won’t appreciate regularly shuffling around the date and time because you’ve blocked off an entire day. If you’re going to try this, first consider your average number of meetings per week.
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