About three months ago, I wrote about time management—about how to work less than six hours a day and accomplish more than you do now.
I promised I would come back with an update on how it worked for me, and ideas you can steal.
The short story is: I worked more than six hours a day.
I accomplished a ton more than normal.
It also doesn’t work as well as it sounds on paper.
I know, big surprise.
But I was committed to trying—if only to provide more realistic tips for you.
The Time Management Challenge Doesn’t Work
If you travel a lot, it is pretty much impossible to work less than six days and accomplish more.
My inbox is stuffed full of emails, my task list continues to grow, and I have a list of ideas in my notebook five pages long.
They say it takes a week to catch up for every day you’re out of the office.
But, with my new time management model, I want to prove that wrong.
I’m going to bet that time will be reduced by more than half.
It also doesn’t work if you spend most of your days in meetings.
My Mondays, Tuesdays, and half of Fridays are full of meetings, and that’s all I can accomplish.
But Wednesdays and Thursdays?
You can bet I have focused and uninterrupted time to work those days.
And, it doesn’t work if you have a day full of constant interruptions.
It could be you have meetings spread out throughout the day.
Or colleagues who like to chit-chat.
Or you keep email and Slack and your social networks open all day.
Those little interruptions, while seemingly manageable, make it impossible for you to get your best work done.
When Time Management Does Work
I’m not going to sit here and pretend we don’t all have different days.
And, in some cases, we can’t control anything, let alone try to work only six hours in a day.
But there are some time management things you can do right now to start just once a week.
Choose one day that is yours. A day you will not let anyone interrupt.
When I started doing this, it was Fridays.
I’ve since learned that’s not such a great day because clients and colleagues need stuff before their weekends begin.
Now I prefer Wednesdays or Thursdays.
Just choose one day.
And block it off on your calendar so no one will schedule meetings and, more importantly, so you will protect the time.
Then, at the start of each week, decide what you’re going to do on your deep day of work.
In two-hour increments, block your day off even further.
How You Can Build Your Time Management Routine
So, let’s say you choose Thursdays.
On Mondays, look at your task list and decide what you need to accomplish that week.
Then start blocking your time.
On Thursday from 9-11, you will do one part of the project.
From 11-11:30, you will check email, Slack, and your social networks.
Then, from 11:30-12, you will get some lunch.
From 12-2, you will work on the second part of the project.
Then take another hour break.
From 3-5, you have one more block of time.
You’re finished…and you’ve accomplished a ton.
I’d even venture to guess, if you really wanted to buckle down, you could skip the two breaks and finish working early.
That’s always fun, too.
Eventually, you’ll add more than one day to your calendar.
This will allow you to accomplish a ton every day—and focus meeting time only once or twice a week, as I do.
My Routine Has Changed
Now that I’m back from my whirlwind trips—and have no travel until the end of October (yay!)—I am going to get back into my own time management routine.
When I wrote about this at the start of summer, I had a routine that worked.
But now my Small Child is at school much further away, and I have to leave 30 minutes earlier to get her there on time.
(For those of you with kids, it’s almost shocking when they go to school and have to be there on time. Am I right? No more lollygagging in the mornings!)
Not to mention, it’s about to get too cold to ride outside, so I’ll soon be on the trainer.
Here is what my schedule on Wednesdays and Thursdays looks like:
- The alarm goes off at 5 a.m., and I feed and walk Jack Bauer.
- I am on my bike—inside or out—by 5:30.
- I wake up the Small Child at 7:00 and we leave at 7:30.
- Right now, the easiest (and fastest) way to get her to school is on my bike. It takes me an hour, roundtrip, so I’m at my desk by 8:30.
- From 8:30-9:00, I check emails, Slack, and the social networks. Then I’m ready to buckle down.
- From 9:00-11:00, I do not let distractions get me. I turn off Slack and email. I don’t open social media. I’ll work on my most pressing priority.
- Then I take a break. Typically it’s to eat because I’m riding three hours a day right now. Mmmmm…food.
- From 12:00-3:00, I once again focus. I already know I cannot write a blog post after 3 p.m., so I spend the first part of that time block writing the next day’s content. Then I work on my next priority.
- At 3:00, I open my distractions and allow myself to answer emails, get to the things people need from me, stop ignoring my team, do my busy work, and check in on the social networks.
- Then, from 3:30-5:00, I have one more burst of deep work before I jump back on my bike to get the small one from school.
That puts me at more than six hours of deep work, but it works for me.
And, if I really had the brain power, I could probably work straight through without breaks.
The two hours of breaks I have scheduled could morph into doing other things around the house or eating bonbons and getting a massage.
But then again, if I did that, the smaller stuff—like email and social media and Slack—would get ignored.
Then it would pile up, and I would need to use my deep work time to catch up.
The Moral of the Story?
The moral of the story is, for most of us, it’s pretty impossible to work only six hours a day.
Sure, it can be done, and maybe you start out doing it just once a week and build from there.
But, in our line of work, there are journalists and clients and executives and colleagues who work 24/7.
And need stuff when we’d prefer not to be working.
It’s just the nature of the beast.
That doesn’t mean time management and deep work won’t work for us.
We can control some of it.
And that is my challenge to you.
Choose one day every week that is yours and protect it fiercely.
Define what it is you are going to accomplish before that day arrives, and work hard to do only that.
I guarantee you will look forward to that day each week, and it will be your most productive.
Now it’s your turn.
What have you found works best when you have large projects to accomplish?