For the past 10 years, I’ve run a business that averages 15-20 client engagements at a time while simultaneously giving an average of 50 talks and workshops across the globe each year, serving on a dozen boards, and holding teaching positions at colleges and universities. In summary, I’m a busy dude, but at the same time, I almost never work on the weekends and am pretty much always home by 6:30pm. It turns out people have noticed, because one of the most consistent questions I get is: “how do you manage your time?” For the first time, I’ve chosen to write down the 8 time management techniques I use every day in the interest of helping to guide managers and designers to learn from my mistakes.
1. Grow your self awareness as it pertains to your time.
Whenever I take on a task that is unlike anything I’ve done before, I time myself. The next time I take on that same task, I time myself again. By the third time, I have the data I need to know how long certain tasks take me. I then keep a log of those things handy at all time so that when I’m asked to do something, I know how much time I will need to allocate toward it. For example, steaming my shirt takes 3 minutes. Writing a proposal takes 30. Writing this article will take me 45.
2. Timebox everything.
Once I know the task at hand, I check my log of comparable time estimates that I have for that task, or a similar one. I then find that exact amount of time on my calendar, and schedule it for myself. The key with timeboxing is that you restrain from working on the task before or after. It’s all about working within that scheduled moment. If my time estimate happens to be incorrect, I spend the last 2-3 minutes of that sprint estimating how much work is left to do, and I’ll schedule a new time to do it. As a result, whenever possible, I like to schedule my work sprints at least 2 days before the task is actually due.
3. Most meetings can be replaced with a long email.
Meetings are often referred to as one of the most significant time wasters, especially when those meetings are for providing simple updates. Whenever you can replace a meeting with a very long and incredibly detailed email, you have an immediate paper trail and point of reference that everyone can see. Not only does this save time for the people you were about to invite to that meeting (good time management karma!), in the long-run it saves you the time you’d need to answer inevitable follow up questions, since people are notoriously bad at remembering to take notes.
4. But also—write short emails.
One of the major time management techniques I use: if someone writes you a long email, and they’re clearly seeking a “yes” or “no” answer, just type “yes” or “no”. Everything else you’d write is just to be polite or make yourself sound smart by regurgitating what they just said. Not worth the time!
5. Surround yourself with the right collaborators.
There is absolutely no way I could do everything I do without my team. I’ve worked hard to find that team over the years, and I have full trust in them. This has allowed me to delegate many tasks I would have otherwise had to do myself. But the great thing? The people I’ve surrounded myself are far better than I at executing that task. Alisa Olinova is one of the best designers I know, and she leads my team on the art direction and design of every project I’m involved with. Florencia Di Sarli is one of the best project managers I know, and she runs the day-to-day business of each client engagement we have at verynice. This list could go on for 5 articles. Build your community of collaborators, and treat them like family!
6. Set boundaries, and stick to them.
I don’t reply to most emails on the weekend, I don’t take any calls on the weekend, and I don’t take any calls after 6:30pm. In the early days, without any time management techniques implemented, there were absolutely no boundaries between my work and my life. This is one very simple thing that I learned to do in order to conserve energy for the next day. At the end of the day, the goal is to design your work and your life in such a way that each day requires a similar amount of energy to the previous. That will then make the tasks you have more likely to be done in the time you allow due to avoiding fatigue.
7. Learn when to say no, and sometimes, nothing at all.
There are always those requests that are not urgent or mandatory. I used to say “yes” to all of them. As I started to learn more about what qualifies as a “priority,” I started saying “no.” It was hard, but ultimately took a lot off my plate. However, on occasion, after saying “no,” I would then find myself in the awkward position of having to explain “why not.” Now, more often that not, I find myself either saying “yes” or nothing at all. At first I was worried that I was being rude, but at the end of the day, it allowed me to focus on communicating with people about the things I want to do—and not having to explain my reasoning if I don’t. (By the way, if you’re reading this – I literally never reply to messages from sales people on LinkedIn. So stop doing that. It’ll save us both time, which is what this is all about, right?!)
8. Wake up earlier.
I’ve always been an early bird. I know that not everyone works best in the morning, but I’ve found that it’s allowed me to get the predictable things I tend to have on my plate out of the way before the rest of the world wakes up and brings the unpredictability with them. I tend to get to work 1-1.5 hours ahead of anyone else to do just this. While that results in me working more hours, the hours that are worked are significantly less stressful. Worth it!
The truth is I haven’t always been great at using these time management techniques. In fact, before I turned 30 years old, I faced significant and dangerous burnout 5 times. Each of these failures taught me something about myself, and in turn, about how I should be using time management techniques more intentionally. I hope this article helps you implement some really useful strategies in your life. If you have other time management techniques, leave them in the comment below!