Time management and being productive is a trait everyone wants to excel in. Since the pandemic, this is one of the challenging skills as now everyone is just one ping or call away. The line between work and personal is no longer the same with the weekend and weekdays.
As an Engineering manager, it is a constant battle to manage my time to get more time to do work beyond meetings and calls.
There are a few hacks I learned in 2 years. I will give credit to my ex-manager.
At work, I live by the calendar. One skill I used to take it lightly. Eg: I never bother to block time to have a discussion with a fellow teammate or for lunch or to request to block my time for any discussion.
My ex-manager taught me that how to live by a calendar and plan it (pre-pandemic). I started blocking my calendar for commute time (morning and evening), lunchtime, focus time, code reviews, etc., and requesting everyone to block my calendar prior.
It helped me in planning the week, and days prior. It saved me from ad-hoc meetings, calls. As a result, I was able to save time for myself by planning my week/day.
Eg: I used to push all my meetings to Mon-Wed. I keep my Thursday and Friday free from meetings. It helped me to focus on my work.
I always request an agenda with the meetings invites. If I am sending an invite then I make sure :
- Clear agenda is mentioned
- Approx time to be spent on each topic is allocated
- There are host(s) names against each topic
- Any pre-research etc. is added.
It helped not just me but attendees also to have productive meetings and close the next step.
Always respond to the meeting invite. I have observed that a lot of folks don't respond to the meeting invite ever. If you decline, add the reason also.
I always take MOM (minutes of meetings) or I request someone to do and share. These are my cheat notes of the meeting. Even if I am not in the meeting, I know what happened. I saved the time of asking around and everyone is on the same page too. It is important for all meetings. As a developer, I found the value of this in the tech discussions a lot.
E.g., of MOM:
Attendees: XXX, XXX, XXXX
MOM by: YYY
- Cannot take A approach as this could hamper the performance
- *B approach *would require more time
- XXX to share the metric of performance
- All agreed to meet again after 2 weeks with the numbers - performance score, the time we have to release at UAT.
If I get a meeting invite which I feel I might not require I always ask the host - "Am I required"?
If someone else can cover on my behalf, or it could be just an email. If yes, then you know what to do :)
It is crucial to protect your time, and calendar (just like a baby) 😂.
Cancel the meeting with the reason and send the email with the details/discussion.
Add optional guests to meetings. so they know their presence is not mandatory
Another hack for me to identify my preferred time for 'focus'. I call it my 'focus time'. I keep that free from every commitment and work without distractions. I keep that time blocked in my calendar and out myself into DND.
I prefer working in the early morning and that time is booked for me.
It is hard to focus on the work when pings are coming non-stop. Async communication is a blessing. Still, constant pings are distracting.
So, moving to DND mode while working is a good hack to focus and finish the work. Thanks to the messenger app(s) for introducing this. It lets me focus on my task without distractions 🥳.
Use DND mode at your focus time (which we discussed at #5)
I always make my to-do list with priority.
1) Batch similar tasks. Eg: sending emails to XYZ
2) Strike out the tasks finished
3) Put priority against every to-do. It helps in clarity to what is urgent and what is not
4) If anything is left. You can track the spillovers. More spillovers mean the need to change the strategy of managing time.
5) Any task I can delegate to someone?
Again with this list, I have clarity of the work I have on my plate, what is the priority, what can be a push towards the end of the week, if any tasks/item has dependency then I try to close that ASAP.
🤩 Writing down things is a great hack to let go of the task of 'remembering' something.
Taking breaks between the meetings is very essential. How does it help in time management? Well, it helps me not to get burnout. The worst thing I can do to myself is getting stressed and burnt out. It is crucial to take small breaks between the meetings and work. Having a 5 mins break and walking around is a no-cost and highly effective.
Try it 😊
As I told you in point 1, I keep my meetings from Mon-Wed and focus on the tasks that do not require meetings such as coding.
My Friday is a no-meeting day to finish all pending work. I focus on the non-meetings tasks such as coding, doing code reviews, working on new features, etc.
Focus-time and DND come here in handy. I also get myself ready for the next week before logging off for the day.
One of my problem areas is spending endless time on 1 task and end up with a pile of unfinished work. I started time-bounding all my tasks. I just put a 25 min clock and focus to finish the task. If after 25 mins I am not able to then I take a call should I spend the next 25 mins to finish it or what should be my next step?
It helps me in:
- Avoiding endless time on my task
- Understand how much time I am spending on every task
- Take the call should I keep going on or ask for help
- Most importantly at the end of the day I know where my 8-9 hours went :D
** 📝 Quick Summary:**
- Block calendar
- Agenda driven meetings
- Am I required?
- Identify your 'focus' time
- Use DND mode
- Follow your to-do list and priority
- Take breaks
- 1 day no meeting - Meeting free workday
- Time-bound tasks
If you have noticed I don't use any app or extension to increase my productivity. If you are using any such app/extension do share the name and how it helps you?