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Time management hacks for at work and at home

I was recently approached about coaching a team on time management. While I don’t identify myself as productivity coach, per se, I often am praised for machine like intensity and horsepower with incredible focus: this boils down to highly effective time management. I wanted to take this opportunity to share my thoughts on time management and productivity in the event it might be helpful to others.

Travel time and down time

That time you are the driver…

I make use of every minute of driving time. I have a mental list of colleagues, friends, and family that need a call. If I get voicemails, I just keep going to the next person until I get someone on the phone. Often, I get calls back from those who I missed and I can fill up a few hours with calls. Those who know me well and get a call often start the call with… “Melissa, you must be driving…”. Driving time is also wonderful for listening to podcasts and audio books that require chunks of time and attention i.e. 20+ minutes. I’d much rather listen to a book or podcast than read it as I can do it while I have down time or during travel time, but I also can listen at 2x which is faster than I can read.

That time in transit (trains, planes, and automobiles) when wifi doesn’t work…

This is when I have a list of “clean up” tasks or annoyances that I always put off but need to get to, whether it’s cleaning up my computer desktop, drafting emails I’ve been meaning to get to, organizing my annual family photo album….if I am flying back from a bunch of meetings I use this time to draft my thank you/action item emails.

That time in transit (trains, planes, and automobiles) when wifi does work…

I find it helpful to clean up my email inbox, unsubscribe from all that junk I’ve been meaning to unsubscribe from.

That time when you feel held hostage at the doctors office…

Waiting at the doctor’s office for 2 hours and want to scream? No longer do I roll my eyes when I am waiting in a crowded office or for a coveted dinner table (a table in 3 hours?) or for a flight or for anything really…as long as I have my iPhone or a computer and wifi, I’m set! I can take advantage of this downtime by cracking open my lap top to get some work done or jump into an audiobook/pod cast. I take my lap top everywhere for this reason. They are so small and light these days that I can stick it in almost any bag and get work done while I wait for something that normally would suck up hours of time.

Productivity at work

Calendar-ing

When possible, I try to book meetings/calls back-to-back to allow for less down time. I find it frustrating to have 30 min on 30 min off 30 min on 30 min off which means that in my “off time,” I don’t really have enough of a stretch to get meaningful work done.

When offered dates for meetings I almost always pick the earliest date and time offered. The reason for this is why push out a meeting that can be pulled up? Think about how much can get accomplished or change in a week or month. I’d rather get going and get doing!

Keep your meetings to 30 minutes (or less, like 20, you can do it!). I cringe when I get a calendar invite for 1 hour. Really, an hour? Most topics can be covered in 15 or 20 minutes, so give yourself some buffer and snag 30. That being said, there are some times when complex topics require lengthy discussion with multiple colleagues ie 3+ people. Sure, those meetings can be 1 hour but 1:1s or small groups, rarely need to take that long.

Build in and block off thinking time / “don’t bother me time” when you can stop, sit back, and do some thinking. Often it’s easy to be “in the grind” and “putting out fires” all the time so having time a few times per week for thinking is very helpful and allows for planning and prioritizing. Carve this out and don’t allow distractions to enter your mind or space.

Don’t schedule a meeting unless you need to have one. Cancel standing meetings if there is nothing substantial to discuss or keep it to a quick 5 minutes.

Everything goes in the calendar! Meetings, date night, kids appointments, to dos. My personal and work calendars sync on my iPhone, where I can get a master view of all activities.

Focus, outsourcing, and procrastination

Do not multitask. I’ve found that 1 hour of focus with no distractions is equivalent to 3 hours of distracted multitasking. I can get an entire day’s work done in 3 hours of intense focus with no interruptions. Admittedly, sometimes I forget to eat. Putting that aside, this focus allows me to get done stretches of work that would otherwise stretch into all day territory and frees me up to do fun stuff!

Do the things you’re good at and delegate/outsource the tasks that you’re not good at. No one is expected to be an expert at everything so when they say “focus on your strengths” it means just that…find someone better than you to do the things you’re “weak” in and spend all your time hammering home on your strengths. This comes into play when building out teams and optimizing your productivity.

Do not procrastinate. It takes up valuable mindshare. I’d rather cross it off the list than spend time thinking about it unproductively for hours, days or weeks. Follow up right away after meetings to avoid taking time to recall or remember the details or action items. To-do lists are my best friend. It also gives me something to fall back to when I end up with a new-found time, i.e., a meeting goes shorter than expected. This act of anti-procrastination also includes responding to my emails more or less as they come in. I recognize this can be a quasi-form of addiction but staying on top of my emails leads to less build up, less mindshare, and more doing.

Productivity at home …GM of the household

Yup, in addition to responsibilities at work we have responsibilities at home that include tasks that just have to get done to make the world go round.

Grocery shopping

I used to love grocery shopping. I am that person who savors inspecting each item of fresh produce and get excited when I discover new, exotic fruits and veggies. Mamey anyone? Sadly that chapter of my life is over. I now exclusively use Amazon fresh or Instacart. Why do I forgo that utter joy of handpicking items at the farmers market? Well, 2 hours per week x 52 weeks per year of grocery shopping (all in from driving, shopping, unpacking) = 100+ hours. I’d rather recycle that 100+ hours per year into something more productive such as exercising or cooking a healthy dinner. So, I now outsource grocery shopping. You can use a similar rationale with other household tasks like cleaning and laundry.

Minimize mindshare with grocery lists

I keep a running list of items that we finish so when it’s time to grocery shop there is no thinking involved. The time it takes to actually think through what’s needed and what’s not takes more mindshare and time that is needed.

Folding laundry and cleaning

If you have to fold laundry and/or clean do it while having a casual conversation or phone call, listening to an audiobook. At least you can accomplish two things will engaging in a mindless task.

Partner at home

Having a partner/spouse at home to co-parent and co-GM is truly a blessing in order to maximize productivity. Having a supporting, loving partner to help share the at home burdens allows each of us to focus on work and our at work productivity when its required of us. Trading on and off is hugely helpful regardless of typical gender roles (shout out to Michael Fensterstock).

Healthy hygiene

It goes without saying but try to sleep, eat well, and exercise. I avoid binging on TV late night since I know it affects my productivity the next day. Yeah, and maybe keep it to a glass of wine over a bottle.

Making the most of unproductive times

In an attempt to unwind in “off times” I have been trying harder to leave my phone home during date night or stuff my phone in a drawer when playing with the kids in the evening. It is hard and I definitely struggle with turning it “off” at home. Sometimes just a soaking tub followed by mindless Netflix for just a hour or so is enough for me to recover and let my mind drift somewhere else.

Good luck and have fun incorporating these tips into your day!

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Life Science Entrepreneur, CEO, Anti Procrastinator, GM of Household, HBS grad

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melissa fensterstock

melissa fensterstock

Life Science Entrepreneur, CEO, Anti Procrastinator, GM of Household, HBS grad

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