No matter what your job, in one way our days are basically the same: We all have
the same amount of time at our disposal.
That's why how you use your time
makes all the difference... whether you're bootstrapping a startup or running a
billion-dollar company like Jim Whitehurst, the president and CEO of Red Hat,
one of the largest and most successful providers of open source software.
Here are Jim's tips for maximizing your time and improving your personal
1. Every Sunday night, map out your week. Sunday
evenings, I sit down with my list of important objectives for the year and for
each month. Those goals inform every week and help keep me on track. While
long-range goals may not be urgent, they are definitely important. If you aren't
careful it's easy for "important" to get pushed aside by "urgent." Then I look
at my calendar for the week. I know what times are blocked out by meetings, etc.
Then I look at what I want to accomplish and slot those tasks onto my to-do
The key is to create structure and discipline for your
week--otherwise you'll just let things come to you... and urgent will push aside
2. Actively block out task time. Everyone schedules meetings and
appointments. Go a step farther and block out time to complete specific tasks.
Slot periods for, "Write new proposal," or, "Craft presentation," or, "Review
and approve marketing materials."
If you don't proactively block out that
time, those tasks will slip. Or get interrupted. Or you'll lose focus. And what
is important for you to get done won't actually get done.
3. Follow a realistic to-do list. I used to create to-do lists, but I didn't assign times to
each task. What happened? I always had more items on my to-do list than I could
accomplish, and that turned it into a wish list, not a to-do list. If you have
six hours of meetings scheduled today and eight hours worth of tasks then those
tasks won't get done.
Assigning realistic times forces you to prioritize. (I
like Toodledo, but there are plenty of tools you can use.) Assigning realistic
times also helps you stay focused; when you know a task should only take 30
minutes you'll be more aggressive in weeding out or ignoring distractions.
4. Default to 30-minute meetings. Whoever invented the one-hour default in
calendar software wasted millions of people-hours. Most subjects can be handled
in 30 minutes. Many can be handled in 15 minutes--especially if everyone who
attends knows the meeting is only going to last 15 minutes.
Don't be a slave
to calendar tool defaults. Only schedule an hour if you absolutely know you need
5. Stop multitasking. During a meeting--especially an hour-long
meeting--it's tempting to take care of a few mindless tasks. (Who hasn't cleaned
up their inbox during a meeting?) The problem is that makes those meetings less
productive. Even though you can only do mindless stuff, still--you're
distracted. And that makes you less productive.
Multitasking is a personal
productivity killer. Don't try to do two things partly well. Do one thing really
6. Obsess over leveraging edge time. My biggest down times during
the workday when I drive to work, when I drive home, and when I'm in airports.
So I focus really hard on how to use that time. I almost always schedule calls
for my drive to work. It's easy: I take the kids to school and drop them off at
a specific time; then I can do an 8.00 to 8.30 call.)
I typically don't
schedule calls for the drive home so I can return calls, especially to people on
the west coast. At the airport I use Pocket, a browser plugin that downloads
articles. Loading up ten articles ahead of time ensures I have plenty to
read--plenty I want to read--while I'm waiting in the security line.
your day. Identify the down times. Then schedule things you can do during that
time. Call it edge time--because it really can build a productive edge.
7. Track your time. Once you start tracking your time (I use Toggl) you'll be
amazed by how much time you spend doing stuff that isn't productive. You don't
have to get hyper-specific. The info you log can be directional, not
Tracking my time is something I just started to do recently. It's
been an eye-opening experience--and one that has really helped me focus.
8. Be thoughtful about lunch. Your lunch can take an hour. Or 30 minutes.
Or 10 minutes.
Whatever time it takes, be thoughtful about what you do. If
you like to eat at your desk and keep chugging, fine. But if you benefit from
using the break to recharge, lunch is one time where multitasking is great: you
can network, socialize, help build your company's culture, but not if you're
going out to lunch with the same people every day.
Two days a week go out
with people you don't know well. Or take a walk. Or do something personally
productive. Say you take an hour for lunch each day; that's 5 hours a week. Be
thoughtful about how you spend that time. You don't have to work, but you should
make it work for you.
9. Obsess over protecting family time. Like you,
I'm a bit of a workaholic. So I'm very thoughtful about my evenings. When I get
home from work it's family time: we have dinner as a family, we help our kids
with their homework. I completely shut down. No phone, no email.
speaking we have two hours before the kids have to get ready for bed. During
that time, I'm there. Then I can switch back on. I'm comfortable leaving work at
5 or 5:30 p.m. because at 8 or 9 o'clock I know I will be able to re-engage with
Every family has peak times when they can best interact. If you don't
proactively free up that time you'll slip back into work stuff. Either be
working or be home with your family. That means no phones at the table, no
texts. Don't just be there, be with your family.
10. Start every day
right. I exercise first thing in the morning because exercise is energizing.
(Research also shows that moderate aerobic exercise can improve your mood for up
to 12 hours, too.)
I get up early and run. Then I cool off while I read the
newspaper and am downstairs before my kids so I can eat breakfast with them. Not
only will you get an energy boost, efficiency in the morning sets the stage for
the rest of your day. Start your day productively and your entire day will be
more productive, too.
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