Mastering productivity

How to become a master of your time

When you’re managing your time well, important work gets done ahead of schedule, your teammates feel like they can rely on you, and you can feel good about how you spent your time.

On the flipside, poor time management may lead to important work getting neglected in favor of urgent work, your teammates losing trust in you, and you feeling constantly stressed and regretful about the work you chose to focus your time on.

These techniques can help you shift from feeling strained to on top of your game.

1. Make a pie chart of where you ideally want to spend your time

Think about all your responsibilities and types of work you do or want to do and write them down.

Your list might include strategic thinking, recruiting, personal development, managing reports, being available to help on things that come up, as well as more specific responsibilities for your specific job like customer research, making sales calls, or working on a specific project.

If you’re in a leadership position, you probably want to set aside at least 15% each for strategic thinking and being available to help.

Write down what percentage of your time you would ideally spend on each of those. If you’re in a leadership position, you probably want to set aside at least 15% each for strategic thinking and being available to help. As a leader, you need to be responsive to your teammates, and constantly thinking about the future, and not just the work in front of you.

When you do the math, you’ll probably find that your percentages add up to more than 100%. You’ll need to make some tradeoffs to get to a realistic plan, so accept that you won’t be able to do it all. Adjust the allocations or remove some categories of work until you feel good about your pie chart.

2. Understand where your time actually goes

To track where your time actually goes, look at two types of work: recurring meetings and ad-hoc work. For recurring meetings, you can make calculations like “a 3 hour meeting once every three weeks = 1 hour per week.” For the rest of your work, you can track how you spend your time more closely for a week or two.

One easy way to track your time is to retroactively add calendar events a few times per day with a summary of how you spent that time. Don’t go overboard with tracking time to the minute — a rough guess will do.

Once you’ve visualized your ideal and actual pie charts, compare them to see where you are out of sync. Seeing major inconsistencies? You’ll need to readjust how you’re spending your time to get your actual closer to your ideal.

3. Delete, defer, delegate, or diminish

When you don’t have enough time for a responsibility, there are four ways to spend less time on it: delete it, defer it, delegate it, or diminish it.

Delete it

Much of our outstanding work is less important than the work we could be doing if we just had more time.

If you consider deleting work from the perspective of what’s good for you and your company and it doesn’t feel terrible, then it’s probably the right option. It can feel scary to say no, but picking the work you won’t do is just as important as picking the work you will do.

If a teammate gave you a responsibility that you don’t believe is the best use of your time, make sure to let them know that you won’t be doing it anymore. Try showing them your pie charts to give them context on why you would like to delete this task, rather than just saying ‘no.’

Defer it

If you don’t have time now, but will in the future, deferring a responsibility is an excellent option. Set a reminder to complete the task on a specific date in the future.

At Asana we have a no meeting day every Wednesday, so we often schedule reminders to revisit deferred work on these days, knowing we’ll have time to tackle them.

Setting a reminder makes it easier for you to not feel stressed about the work while it’s deferred.

Delegate it

For responsibilities that still need to get done, evaluate if it can be reassigned to another teammate.

Delegation works best when you can hand a responsibility over completely — now the teammate you delegated to can own both the ‘boring’ and cool parts of the project, and can take pride in seeing it through to completion.

If you don’t feel comfortable delegating tasks, try using a process. At Asana, we put ideas for product improvements in a project. From there, these ideas get picked up by engineers during Polish Week. For internal efficiency work, we follow the same process during Grease Week.

Diminish it

When you really want to own a responsibility yourself, you can find ways to reduce the time you spend on the work.

A great place to start is with the oft-dreaded recurring meeting. See if you can eliminate, shorten, consolidate, or reduce their frequency. You might also feel more comfortable skipping meetings if you can get people to publish the meeting notes after.

For other work, you can reduce the scope of the work, for example, only tackling the highest priority pieces. You can also stop working when your output is good, rather than perfect.

4. Choose work based on your ideal time allocation pie chart

Once you’re ready to start working, remember the principle of big rocks first: if you put small rocks (representing smaller tasks) into a jar first, the big rocks won’t fit. Start making time for the big stuff first, then work in the little things.

Proactively blocking off time on your calendar for your most important work — those big rocks — can help you get uninterrupted time to get into the flow and take control of your day.

For important work that’s not urgent, try setting due dates. If it feels like something should be done within a month, set a date 30 days out so that you don’t keep pushing it out by a week indefinitely.

Depending on your personal preference, you can set specific times to check your Asana Inbox and new tasks in your My Tasks list instead of looking at it continuously. When you look at your incoming requests, it helps to reply to people quickly, even if just to tell them that it will take a while for you to get to the request. When they know they’ll get a quick response, your teammates will feel like they can rely on you more.

If at first you don’t succeed…

You don’t have to nail your time management skills in a day. See how things are going and adjust accordingly.

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