Doing more isn’t better; doing more of the right things is.
If you’re always stuck in reactionary mode addressing every task or request that comes your way, it will forever pull your focus away from the work you should be doing, and you’ll end up being busy but not productive.
Enter time management, the in-demand soft skill and secret sauce of leaders looking to prioritize and protect their most valuable asset.
Here are the eight best ways to level up your time management to maximize your productivity and put your talents to the highest and best use:
1. Get clarity on what matters most
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of to-dos and requests, believing that you must do everything now, which seldom is the case. The best time managers know that not all tasks are created equal and get clarity on what matters most before working on anything. A fantastic tool to simplify this process is the Eisenhower Matrix, in which you place to-dos in four boxes: Do it now for urgent and important items, Decide to schedule a time to do it for non-urgent but important tasks, Delegate it to someone else for urgent but unimportant things, and Delete items that are neither urgent nor important.
2. Eliminate distractions so you can focus
It’s hard to be productive when you have many things vying for your attention. To maximize your time management, turn off your social media notifications, click out of tabs on your computer, and put your phone on airplane mode. You can also close your door or put on noise-canceling headphones. Do whatever it takes to remove distractions to help you focus on the matter at hand.
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3. Resist the urge to multi-task
Multi-tasking destroys clarity, which is essential for productivity. Worse, it promotes a sense of “time creep,” where you lose track of your precious asset in an attempt to do more. To combat this and get the most of your time, switch to mono-tasking, where you’re singularly focused on the most important and urgent thing. Then, after you complete that, tackle the next most important but less urgent task.
4. Don’t try to do it all
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s the best use of your time. If there’s something outside of your wheelhouse or a task you despise doing, consider outsourcing it. From accounting to lead generation (or even social media ghostwriting), if there’s a need, there’s a niche of hyper-focused talent available to serve it.
Another time-saver is to use systems and tools for recurring tasks. A little time spent initially setting up things like scheduling software or automating your monthly invoicing will save you much more time later.
5. Batch routine tasks
Some of the biggest time wasters are those everyday tasks like checking social media or responding to emails. Batch routine tasks by carving out specific times in his day for them—and then communicate that to others. For emails, try using an auto-responder message that says something like, “Thanks for your message. I check my emails twice a day, at 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on weekdays. If your matter is urgent, please call me at 555-555-5555.” This lets people know that you will respond, provides another way to contact you if something is really important, and, more importantly, allows you to manage your time effectively.
6. Leverage the power of FAQs
If you’re like me, you regularly field a set of questions on process, scope, and audience. Compile a list of those frequently asked questions (FAQs) and highlight a section on your website that addresses those queries. Also, be sure to include questions you’re routinely asked about a service you don’t offer. This helps people quickly understand what you do and who you serve, which will attract your ideal customers (and dissuade the less-than-ideal ones) and prevent you from wasting time speaking with someone you can’t help. Most folks will find their answers quickly, but for those who haven’t seen that section and ask a question directly of you, you can copy and paste a response from your established list, saving you precious time. Be sure to review and update your FAQs regularly.
7. Work with your body’s natural rhythms
Would you describe yourself as an early bird or a night owl? Listening to your body can help you better manage your time. In his book, WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel Pink explains that each of us has a “chronotype” — a personal pattern of circadian rhythms that influences our physiology and psychology. We each follow a three-stage day that includes either a peak-trough-rebound pattern (if you’re an early bird, or “lark”) or the reverse, a rebound-trough-peak pattern (if you’re a night owl). Pink found that regardless of your chronotype, you should do your most important work (whether that’s creative or analytical) during your peak period and your second-most important work in your rebound period. And those mundane tasks? Don’t allow them into your peak period—save them for your trough. Keep this in mind when planning your time so you’ll align your tasks with your body’s rhythms.
8. Protect your time
If you find yourself always agreeing to things you wish you hadn’t, that are unnecessary, and that burn through your precious time, you need to learn to say no. The best leaders are available for their teams and clients within reason but establish and maintain healthy boundaries. You’re not obligated to be on 24/7, so limit your availability. This also means empowering the smart people you’ve hired to do their jobs without you and trusting them to keep you in the loop, which frees you up to focus on and say yes to what matters most.
This article is part of a multi-week series covering the range of soft skills and how to cultivate and apply them to your career. Be sure to check out my earlier articles on empathy, persuasion, connecting with others, listening, communication, creativity, collaboration, and adaptability.