Have We Gotten Time Management All Wrong?

Have We Gotten Time Management All Wrong?

7 Strategies For Managing Our Time More Effectively

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⏰ Is time the best thing to measure?

When it comes to time management, it can feel like turning work we'd normally find fulfilling into robotic tasks to fill up pre-set slots of time. Rigid frameworks for allocating time can suck the joy out of any work, but is focusing on time actually the best strategy?

Let's dive into why managing energy and attention are as (if not more) important as managing time.

🤔 Time + Energy + Attention = Productivity

In many ways, focusing on time without acknowledging our energy and attention sets us up for failure. The decision to work on a particular task during a set time – what is that decision based on? Without analyzing our energy fluctuations throughout the day, or our gradual slide toward distraction, scheduling becomes a guessing game.

The hosts at The Productivity Show sum up the relationship between time, energy, and attention super clearly:

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Energy + Attention - Time = Overwhelm

Time + Attention - Energy = Exhaustion

Time + Energy - Attention = Distraction

The first one really hits home for me, personally. As a dad, teacher, writer, and entrepreneur, time is the biggest variable, and the hardest to maximize. But rather than spend more time, usually at the expense of exercise or sleep – why not find ways to approach the day that maximize the times where attention and energy are at their peak?

7 Ways to Maximize Your Time

Here’s a handful of strategies that prioritize time, energy and attention.

🔬 Determine your peak energy and attention hours

This may take some self-analysis, but ask yourself: when is your mind at its sharpest? What parts of the day can you conduct heavy research without your mind wandering? These hours are different for everyone (and you likely have time commitments out of your control), but they're key to ensuring you're tackling the most challenging work at your peak.

In The Productivity Project, Chris Bailey documents an experiment to determine his peak hours, if you're interested in the topic, it's worth a read.

☕ Schedule highest leverage tasks during your peak energy/attention hours

“We need to spend more time engaged in deep work — cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results.”Tiago Forte, Design Your Work

A few weeks of tracking energy and attention will give you a strong sense on what hours to block out. High leverage tasks also tend to take longer than we estimate (see above), so maximizing these blocks and removing disruptions will have the highest impact. Speaking of distractions...

🧐 Plan creative blocks, and put on Do Not Disturb

We covered how disruptive notifications can be a few weeks back, but if there's any time to put on Do Not Disturb, it's during these high-leverage work blocks.

This may take some planning, including setting up an email auto-responder, or setting your status to away if you're using tools like Slack.

Not sure when to schedule creative blocks? It may be time to…

🧮 Time Box (with a weekly plan)

Time boxing can be transformative...but it can also be a huge waste of time without proper prioritization. Whenever the topic comes up, I always address it in relation to weekly planning; the two feed off one another.

The weekly plan allows for assessing the state of active projects, setting goals, and prioritizing the 'must ship' projects. This is a critical step that precedes scheduling creative blocks, as you need to know which one project needs focus.

📊 Segment actions into high and low intensity

In contrast to high-intensity work, some tasks are rote but just need to get done. Rather than default to these (which we often do because of the dopamine hit of 'feeling' productive), find chunks of time to bundle low-intensity tasks together, during times where your energy or attention are not at their highest.

💪🏼 Keep the "hell yeah" projects, set aside the "no" projects

In Ali Abdaal's 10 Time Management Tips, he references Derek Sivers' book, Hell Yeah or No, in which your first reaction to a potential project will likely tell you whether or not it's worth working on.

Projects have a way of wiggling their way into our purview, and before we know it, we're juggling far too many projects than we can effectively complete. Taking on too many projects leads to an unsustainable schedule, where projects either move too slow or dilute our focus across too many areas.

Decide on a cadence to review and re-prioritize projects. Whether you do this on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis, review all your active projects, and consider the following:

  1. Is this objectively tied to one of my goals or objectives?
  2. Is there a clear set of actions?
  3. Are there blockers holding me back from progressing?

🌄 Don't forget the big picture: your long-term vision

Out of all the productivity strategies I've put into practice, creating and revisiting a long-term vision is probably the hardest. Not because it's the most mentally challenging, but because it can feel too…fluffy.

On its own, a long-term vision isn't much more than a a set of notes, but when incorporated into a larger system, can ease the cognitive load when deciding what work to prioritize, by acting as a north star for how you invest your time, energy, and attention.

You can take a look at this example from Manifest OS to get a sense of what it can look like. Then consider the following:

  1. What does achieving this vision look like over the next twelve months?
  2. What about the next three months?
  3. What projects don't align with your vision?
  4. What projects align with your vision that you're not working on?