Time management at work is a skill you can improve, no matter how crazy your job is. But how do you get started?
If you work in marketing, you’ve probably felt like you just don’t have enough time in the day. You have a million things on your to-do list, and it feels like you can never get anything done.
To combat that, I got to chat with Sarah Panus on the Marketing with Empathy Podcast about my favorite time management hacks for marketers (or anyone!). We discussed how to design your ideal week, time blocking, task batching, theme days, and how to navigate email bombardment.
Read on for the details, or listen to the full episode here.
Your Ideal Week
Maybe you’ve heard of an Ideal Week before. But what exactly does that mean, and how do you create it? First, let’s define the word “ideal.”
About 10 years ago, I was early in my career as a PR professional. I set out to create my perfect morning routine. It involved yoga, working out, and walking the dog… but anytime I didn’t hit every point in my perfect morning, I felt like a complete failure.
When you design an Ideal Week, it isn’t supposed to be perfect, but rather, ideal. “Ideal” is defined as the best possibility, while “perfection” is defined as without flaw. So often, we set out for a perfect schedule, when in reality, we are setting ourselves up for failure by trying to achieve perfection.
In order to design an ideal week, you have to zoom out and get a bird’s eye view of what’s most important to you and how you want to spend your time in order to support those priorities. When you decide what’s most important to you, you can carve out time around those things.
Then, you can have a template heading into future weeks… and that gives you a track to get back on whenever life throws you off course.
I love time blocking, task batching, and theme days. I consider these methods the Swiss Army Knife of time management hacks – and for good reason.
Time blocking is super simple. It’s essentially creating blocks in your calendar to do specific things. Often, we think of our calendars as a place to put meetings and appointments. But actually, they’re a place to create a visual reference for how we plan to spend our time. It’s better than putting items on a to-do list, because on a to-do list, every task is the same size… but time blocking can help you visually differentiate how long tasks will take.
To time block, you will take your to-do list and estimate how much time each task will take. Then, you will hold that space on your calendar. This will give you a realistic to-do list for the day. It’s common for people to underestimate how long tasks will take… so common that it has a name: the planning fallacy. But when you know the planning fallacy exists, you can actually overestimate how much time each task will take!
Another tip for successful time blocking: track your time. I find when I track my time, I can more closely estimate how long things will take in the future. If you want to try time blocking, start by using a free time tracking tool (like Toggl) to see how long tasks take you.
Batching is for so much more than cookies! Task batching one of my favorite time management hacks that includes taking small tasks you’ve been doing multiple times throughout the week, grouping them together, and performing them in a batch.
Think about task batching like laundry. When we do laundry, we never wear a shirt, wash it, dry it, and put it away… and then wear pants, wash them, dry them, and put them away. Why? Because that would be ridiculous! We group the laundry together and do it all at once.
But so often, in our workday, we are doing one-off tasks one at a time. We’re way less efficient than we could be if we applied the laundry method to our work.
For example, maybe you’re reviewing and editing on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings. You are popping in and out of different types of work all week, which propels you into context switching (moving quickly from one task to another). At face value, context switching doesn’t sound that bad; but every time you do it, you lose a huge percentage of your focus… and it takes you about 29 minutes to regain focus on what you’re doing.
The ironic thing is that our brain actually loves context switching. Our brain craves novelty, and it makes us feel like we’re doing a lot. But in reality, we’re being less productive than if we did one type of task all at once.
Shiny Things List
Have you tried task batching, but kept getting distracted and unfocused? You need a shiny things list!
A shiny things list is one of the great time management hacks that’s designed to capture all of the distractions that pop up while you’re trying to have focused work time. Maybe you hear the laundry buzzer go off and you think you need to go change it out. Maybe you remember that your mom’s birthday is coming up and you need to buy her a gift. You’re tempted to stop your work to complete these tasks, but it throws off your focus.
Instead of stopping, take a large piece of notebook paper. At the top of the page, write the start time and end time for your focused work block. Let’s say your block is from 12 PM until 2 PM, so you write that at the top.
Next, write the 1-3 things you’ll accomplish (in order!) during your focused work block. Limit it to 3, and prioritize them so you accomplish the most important thing first.
Finally, draw a line beneath it. Write the words “Shiny Things” below the line… and then get to work! Anytime something pops into your head that you need to do, write it on the Shiny Things list, and then get back to work. At the end of your focused time block, look at your Shiny Things list and decide which things don’t need to be done by you and delegate or cross those out.
A theme day is taking the concept of task batching and applying it to an entire day, or even an entire week. We already know that when we context switch, we lose 29 minutes of our productivity. But having a theme day means choosing what type of work and mindset you’ll be in for the entire day. Because all of your tasks that day fall under the same category, you’re able to engage in less context switching… meaning more productivity!
For example, when I worked in corporate communications, every Monday was Social Media Monday for me. On Mondays, I gathered graphics, drafted content, and reached out to other members of the team to make sure I had the most up-to-date information. Even though I had a variety of tasks, it all fell under social media. It created a consistent mindset, rhythm, and expectation with my co-workers. That meant they knew I’d be reaching out to them on Mondays, or they’d share social media information with me on Monday.
You can do this with any number of topics or themes, and you can even stretch it out to weeks! For instance, this week for me is a content week where I’m only working on content. Next week is a coaching week where I only work with my coaching clients… you get the picture!
If you work in marketing (or let’s be honest, in most jobs today), you know email bombardment is super common. It was a journey for me to get to a place where I didn’t have to respond to all of my emails right away. My entire career prior to becoming a time management coach involved crisis communications where I had to rapidly respond. I was constantly checking my email.
When I realized this was a problem, I transitioned to creating email time blocks. So often, email can consume our day. It’s so quick and easy to respond to an email, but the problem is, email is not our core work. We weren’t hired to respond to emails (usually!). It’s not the most important thing.
Remember those Dr. Pepper commercials that talked about drinking Dr. Pepper at 10 AM, 2 PM, and 4 PM will give you the burst of energy you need to power through your day? I created email time blocks at Dr. Pepper time to allow for space to get the truly important things done. Once I did that, I created an automated response to let people trying to reach me know when I would check my emails. This communicates my boundary and value, and sets the expectation for when I’ll respond. I follow that with a sentence saying my coaching clients are my top priority and will hear back from me first.
Why do all of this? Because email is a tool for my convenience, not for the convenience of others who might distract me from my core work.
Email is a prime example of how people can push your boundaries… and how you can set and maintain them. When it comes to time management hacks, setting boundaries is so important. So how do you create boundaries in a busy workplace where people are constantly demanding of your time?
First of all, remember that if you don’t set boundaries for yourself, then someone else will… and it won’t be to your advantage. Secondly, we can often have a false belief that people will only assign us a realistic amount of work we can get done. Unfortunately, in most cases, that is not true.
When you’re new to a role…
When you’re new to a role, that is your time to set your boundaries. It’s so much harder to backtrack after you have been pushed beyond what you’re comfortable doing. So start by writing down your boundaries, and the scenarios that you’d be comfortable bending those boundaries for. It might look like this:
“I will not take meetings during my daughter’s ballet class. I would be willing to have a meeting during her ballet class if our website crashed.”
Once you articulate your boundaries, hold firm to them in your early days.
When you’re established in a role…
Maybe you feel like you’ve already been pushed past what you’re comfortable with. In this case, you still need to define your boundaries – but then you need to gently push back in a way that makes sense in your company’s culture and what you’re comfortable with.
Unfortunately, you might find it’s not taken well by your colleagues, supervisor, or organization. That’s when you might realize you’re not in a good culture fit, and you need to start looking for an organization that better supports how you want to live.
Need a textbook for time management hacks?
Time Management Essentials: The Tools You Need to Maximize Your Attention, Energy, and Productivity is my textbook for managing time with purpose. In this book, I’ve included everything someone would need to know to be successful with time management, including:
- how to define your personal vision
- how to define your core values (and incorporate them in your calendar)
- how to get organized with a time management system
- how to get energized
- how to get enough rest (the most underrated productivity tool there is!)
Visit https://annadkornick.com/book to preorder today!