Monday, April 24, 2017

Time management : Tips & Tricks

This particular blog post will be an ongoing post. I will list time management tips and tricks that have worked for me over the years. If you are interested in time management, you may want to bookmark this particular blog post. Some points may require  separate and detailed posts, which I will write as and when possible and provide a link.

If any particular point interests you and you want to know more, please e-mail me. Time management is something I am passionate about and I have had reasonable success in discovering and adopting sustainable time management practices which have enabled me to have an effective work-life balance.

(Please excuse typos or other editorial errors. I will fix them as and when possible.)


- Getting thing done by David Allen is my all time favorite book regarding Time management and productivity. Read it. Even if you use 10% of the concepts of that book, your productivity is going to increase by many folds. More importantly by giving you a nice framework for getting things done efficiently and effectively, it will definitely reduce stress from ever increasing workload.

- Know the difference between urgent and important. When you have to add items to your 'To Do' list, prioritize using these two parameters - urgency and importance.

- Clearly understand the very very important difference between mere activity and solid accomplishment. Running on a treadmill is definitely activity. But, by running on treadmill you are not going anywhere. Compared to that walking, even slowly, and getting somewhere is an accomplishment. Activity is cheap. Accomplishment takes planning, time, focus and resources. Don't get fooled by activity. If you look at your day, many of the things we do are meaningless activities but give false impression of accomplishment. Example - checking every e-mail as it comes and replying without completely thinking through is one of the most common but highly meaningless activity. If you reply going to be useful, it requires some time and planning unless it is a very trivial thing. Remember - activity may get appreciated but it is accomplishment that gets rewarded. So, choose on what you spend your valuable time.

- Golden rule for dealing with e-mails. If replying to an e-mail takes less than 2 minutes, attend to it immediately. If you think it takes more than 2 minutes, file it for later processing. Set up a time to deal with e-mails that take more than 2 minutes. Process such e-mails once or twice a day.

- Measure where your time goes. What you can't measure can not be managed. Period.

- Organize your day according body's natural rhythm. For example - energy starts going down after 2 pm. So, keep lighter things to do after 2 pm. Get maximum work done, if possible, before 9 am, that is before the office madness begins.

- Spend 1-2 hours every weekend planning the week ahead. That will payback in a big way.

- Know that by practicing effective time management practices you will be way ahead of 90% of your peers in terms of productivity. In team oriented environments, you can see how much freedom that is going to give. Since most of us work in interdependent environments, that should give you a lot of free time when your colleagues are struggling to keep up with their workloads. Use that time to whatever you want to do. Remember to survive in the corporate jungle all you need to do is to run faster than the slowest peer! :)


- Read the books and watch YouTube videos by Dr. Cal Newport. He is too good. He stresses many important points like focus, not using social media, working with full attention etc. and shows how they have helped him to achieve so much in so less time. His achievements are very impressive. I read one of his books and watched a video and I became his big admirer. 

- Why you should have a well developed plan and a schedule? If you don't have one, you will end up accepting all the work that is dumped on you. Without a plan, you don't know how full your plate is. You will over commit. Afterwards, if you are lucky, you may be able to deliver on your commitments with a lot of extra work. If not, you may under deliver and adversely affect your professional credibility. Now, if you have a good plan and schedule in place, you can tell the person, 'I can definitely do what you want me to do and by when you want it done. But, something else from this schedule needs to go. I can't do what you are telling me on top of what you have already told me.' Use this most powerful technique to manage your workload. I can't tell how many times this has helped me to push back without having to piss off the other party, especially the boss.

- Banish your smartphone from your bedroom. Radiations from smartphone do not let you sleep early and well when you use your smartphone before going to bed. When you are unable to sleep, naturally you will use smartphone to check messages, FB etc. That makes falling asleep even harder. So, stop using smartphone at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. Get a simple alarm clock or even better a dawn simulator to wake you up. Stop using smartphone as alarm clock. Since getting a good night's sleep is very important, you want to do everything to ensure that. Keeping smartphone away from bedroom is one of the things to do.


- Getting up as early as reasonably possible and as reasonably convenient is THE key to effective time management. One mistake we have been making for a very very long time is trying to get up to the horrible sound of an alarm clock. That's absolutely the wrong way to get up. Human bodies are not designed to woken up by sound but by gradually increasing light. Think about the primitive man woke up. Dawn happens, sun slowly comes up, the eyes react to increasing light and naturally we wake up. If we want to wake up fully rested and relaxed, we must simulate that. A noisy alarm clock may wake us up but it startles and disturbs the nervous systems. It is like shaking the body violently to wake up somebody. Not recommended and not good.

Dawn Simulator is a simple device. It is a light with a timer. You can set it up like an alarm clock. The light comes up at the given time but gradually increases which simulates the sunrise. Provided you have gone to bed at reasonable time and provided you have gotten adequate rest, using the Dawn Simulator you will wake up naturally without the harmful effects of noisy disturbances of an alarm clock.

Getting yourself a dawn simulator is probably the best gifts you can give yourself. I got mine in 2006 and have been so happy since then.

Like any alarm, it works only when you are sufficiently rested. Nothing can help you to get up early if you don't sleep on time, don't get adequate sleep or have bad habits like spending time on your smartphone etc. If you have done everything you need to do to get a good night's sleep, a dawn simulator will help you wake up naturally. Try it and you will wonder how you tolerated the irritating alarm clock so long!


- Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. Know your role and responsibilities and allocate time accordingly. Many times we do the jobs of others and in the process end up doing gross injustice to our employer and ourselves. As you become more experienced and skilled, understand what value you bring to the table and give it willingly rather than sticking to your old way of doing things. For example, I have seen Senior VPs doing their own expense reports. What a gross waste of time. Companies do not pay huge salaries to such people to do no value tasks like expense reports. Admin assistants are assigned to such senior roles just for such tasks. Even a minute wasted by a senior person doing mundane work is a huge injustice to the company. Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. If you want to be productive, hire good people and delegate with clear instructions. It's a win-win game!.


- One of the best books on time management is David Allen's 'Getting things done (GTD)'. Superb book. Get it and read it. Even if you implement only a few of the concepts, your productivity will increase by many folds. There are many tools and software add-ins that are developed to help with the GTD techniques. Best bang for the every buck invested in mastering GTD.

- Pomodoro is a great technique for working in short but focused bursts. Many of us can not work for hours at a time without interruption. But finding chunks for uniterrupted time is absolutely essential. Promodoro technique proves very handy.

- Don't plan to use 100% of your available time. We don't run servers at 100% utilization. Then why have that unrealistic expectation for ourselves. If your day has 16 hours, then plan for say 11-12 hours. Other time is for tasks that materialize from nowhere but need to get done. If things go smoothly then utilize the slack to get more work done or relax and enjoy.

- One moment meditation is a great technique to rest and relax just for 1 minute. It is simple and effective. Check it out.


- Time management is a misnomer. You can't manage time. All you can do is to manage yourself with respect to time.

- The time you enjoy wasting is certainly not the time that is wasted. So, stop feeling guilty about such indulgences that consume time. If you do feel guilty then take a hard look and decide what's important. You can't have it both ways.

- Don't expect to work like a machine. We are not machines and having such expectations is totally unrealistic. Plan for adequate downtime and breaks.

- Work in small but very focused bursts. 30 minutes of completely focused work can be far more productive than hours and hours of work with all sorts of interruptions. FOCUS is the key to getting a lot done in a short period of time.

- Plan your day, week, month, year. Granularity of planning in decreasing order. When you begin workweek, it should be fairly well planned. A particular workday should be clearly planned to the lowest possible detail. When planning a day include both personal and professional commitments. You can't look at them in isolation. One may need to yield to other if you want to have work-life-balance.

- Stop multitasking. It does not work. There is enough research available to show that multitasking does not work. It is an illusion. Multitasking is nothing but simultaneously screwing up multiple things. Stop it and see the benefits for yourself.

- Do one thing at a time.

- Organize and gather everything you need before beginning your 30 minutes focused burst of work. You should organize everything you need to work with complete focus for at least 30 minutes at a time. Monitor yourself how well it works, how many things you missed, how many times within those 30 minutes you had to interrupt yourself or others to get the things you did not get in the first place, etc. and fine tune your organization skills. Write down the things you missed and try to go back only after you finished your 30 minute period. Interrupt only if you are completely blocked.

- Reduce notifications from gadgets. Frequent beeps, chimes etc. are major distractions.

- Majority of the time management schemes we devise fail spectacularly because we don't set expectations with others. Set clear expectations that support your time management strategy with others and hold them accountable. For example, if you are not to be interrupted during certain hours, make sure you hold yourself and others accountable.

- Start early. There is nothing like starting your day early. You can be on top of most of the things before the usual chaos begins.

- Establish times to check e-mails, WhatsApp, FB etc. Stick to them. Don't check e-mail, FB, WhatApp etc. just because you have a free minute or two or more. They can suck you into a 30 minutes or more time-sink. Keep a book to read if you need an alternative. Listen to music. Do anything but avoid habit forming involuntary activities like above.

- Plan in advance what you will do when you have some time free during the workday. If you don't, you will while it away and it becomes a new bad habit. I used to 'waste' up to 10-12 hours every week on Facebook alone. Of course I enjoyed my time on FB and made peace with it. But if I had better things do, as I do now, spending 10-12 hours on FB would have been a criminal waste. I am no more on FB. It was a time sink and I am glad it's gone and gone for good.


sunaath said...

Aha, there are very good tips for time management. For a retired person like me, time itself manages me!

Mahesh Hegade said...

Thanks Sunath Sir. I am sure you put your time to excellent use!