Over the past decade, I’ve been scheming. Plotting in secret. I’ve been experimenting with tactics that serve the most selfish of goals.
I’ve been collecting data (mostly in the form of gut feelings and Wunderlist stats) on personal time management and productivity. My goal is to maximize the time I keep for myself to get things done, which means minimizing work day distractions and interruptions.
Understand, I’m a bit strange.
I get satisfaction from the feeling that I’m accomplishing things every single day. To that end, I employ a rather severe approach to time management.
If you love life, don’t waste time. For time is what life is made up of.”
So now, out of pure immodesty, I’m prepared to share some of my tips with you all in hopes that you’ll leave me alone, and take care of your shit.
Chapter 1: Kill the Noise
Phones are the Worst
Don’t know the number? Don’t answer your phone.
Do know the number? If the person calling is likely to steal the next 10-40 minutes of time? Don’t answer.
This applies to your personal and desk phones. Punt this advice if your core job function includes answering the phone.
If you’re a productive person, you likely go into the day with a plan. Don’t feel obligated to abandoned your schedule because someone called you. Reject the idea that you should lose momentum because a device is ringing at you.
Some see this as a generational issue and I respectfully disagree. A telephone call is usually unexpected and is absolutely a distraction. Email is a communication method that treats both parties time as equally important and allows you to stay focused and on your own schedule.
“I do love email. Wherever possible I try to communicate asynchronously. I’m really good at email.”
– Elon Musk
Consider creating a voicemail message that tells callers what to do in case of an workplace fire. Make sure the people you work most closely with know which notifications will get your immediate attention.
One of the best things I ever did for my digital well-being was read a post from my colleague Gil Osborne about using the Apple Watch effectively. I took his advice and extended it to all of my devices.
I took inventory of the apps I allowed to send me disruptive notifications across my smartphone, smart watch, and tablet.
Here are the apps I allow to send me disruptive notifications:
• Dark Sky (weather)
• Text Messages
• Wunderlist (to do app)
Everything else, I get to on my own time. I don’t need to know immediately when I get a retweet, like or friend request. In fact, I like it a bit more when notifications pile up to be sorted through later. It’s also more efficient.
Blind to the Carbon Copy
Email auto-responders: not just for out of office notices.
Task-switching is a detrimental to productivity. Yet, most of us in an office or corporate setting take it lying down. Very few of the emails you’ll receive on a daily basis are urgent, and many don’t even require a response at any point, so why stop to read them immediately 50 to 100 times a day?
Take drastic measures. Consider setting up an inbox auto-responder that lets your contacts know when you read and reply to email.
For instance, you could decide that you’ll respond to emails twice daily; once at 10am and once at 4pm. This would free you from task-switching all through your day and has the added benefit of freeing up your attention for the meetings and calls you do take.
Chapter 2: Using the Whole Animal
Squeezing More Out of the Morning
Get up early to work out. This helps to get your brain and body working, leading to increased productivity in the AM. It also opens up time at night (when most people exercise) for social stuff, personal projects, cooking, housework, and taking it easy.
When you play, play hard. When you work? Don’t play at all.
Avoid the Water Cooler
I find that I’m focused and fresh in the morning, so when I get in, I get a coffee, put in my ear buds and knock out my most important or most taxing to-dos for the day. I try hard to avoid starting my day with meetings or calls, which is a luxury not everyone has.
There’s a time for catching up with co-workers, but for me, and for maximum productivity, that time is not first thing in the morning. Studies have shown that regular, short mental breaks are important, but getting down to business first thing is a strong move.
Use the Lunch Break
I try to use my lunch break for something other than eating or working.
If I didn’t wake up with enough time for a workout that morning, I try to get outside for a run. We have a shower in our warehouse so I can get in a legit sweat and come back fresh. Some people find this strange. I’m good with that.
The impact that movement has on my mood and energy level is well worth the looks and comments I’ve gotten over the years. Now? People are used to it. The lunch break run has become a hallmark of my oddball time management program. I encourage you to establish your own symbol of dedication to the extreme time management movement.
These are just a few examples of how to maximize your 24 hours. Maybe you’re a night owl and realize you can double your daily output with a couple hours of quiet, late night work.
Get crazy, man.
Chapter 3: Become a Moving Target
Embrace Your Inner Drifter
If your office has nooks and crannies, explore the space a bit. A time-tested method for avoiding ‘the drop by’ is to be absent from your desk. If you don’t have an office with a door, book a huddle room and close the door to distractions. Get creative and find areas where you can focus and be free from interruption.
Become Outwardly Hostile
….I just thought this was a funny sub headline.
I’m a pretty laid back guy, but I do use body language to let people know when I’d rather not be interrupted. Earbuds are helpful, but full-sized headphones and squinting hard at your monitor really do the trick.
In reality, politely letting people know that you’re knee-deep in data, designs, reports, or blog posts with an offer to schedule some time for another day is usually enough. Consistency is key in establishing that you’re the type of person who prefers scheduled meeting time vs. unplanned drop-ins.
As a peace offering to those who stop by your desk for the time and focus-stealing chat, offer some planned time in the future in exchange for your time in the present. There are exceptions I am open to, but in general I decline same-day meeting requests or frown upon impromptu (longer than 5 second) chats so I can stay focused.
Before I show up to work, I have a good idea of my scheduled meetings and my open pockets of time to get work done–I guard my time closely.
Schedule your lunch time so your calendar isn’t open for those in other time zones to steal, unless you allow it.
Schedule the time you plan to spend responding to emails.
Decline or leave meetings and calls if/when it becomes apparent you aren’t needed.
I realize in reading what I’ve written that I sound like a guy with no friends who has no fun at work. You’ll have to take my word it, but this isn’t the case. Not at all.
I care about and enjoy what I do. When I feel unproductive it affects my overall mood, so I take somewhat radical measures to make sure I can point to my output each day.
This isn’t to say I don’t talk fantasy sports, weekend plans, and HQ trivia with the people around me.
Shoot, I’m even guilty of the drop-in somewhat regularly, although it’s most often into my bosses’ office, who has a highly-publicized open door policy–so it’s mostly his fault.
Have you got any unconventional time management techniques I can steal? Leave me a comment and let me know.