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Get your time back.

Time management not as a process of planning but owning your own time.

Time has fascinated me ever since I was a kid. I remember going through a phase where I was challenging my family as to why we have given into a Roman emperor defining the seven-day week. Why seven days? Why X hours at school vs play/do anything time? (If you want to take a minute to nerd out on history of time and calendars and then come back, please do so here.) I’m not maniacal about time however. Perhaps it’s because I’m an only child, perhaps because I grew up in a place where I was outside of the house playing until sundown, perhaps because I didn’t grow up with a digital phone in my pocket. Who knows, but I sure do respect my time and the time of others now.

My relationship with time

I was a Project Manager for many years and I’m still a PM at heart. Planning for others came naturally to me; planning for myself not so much (haha). I’ve always loved this contrast; it’s as if I am rebel and procrastinator with my own personal time because I spend so much energy during the day on planning for others. It doesn’t make sense, it makes me giggle, I accept it.

After two burn-out phases over my career, I took a hard look at how I was handling my own time. This didn’t happen overnight but over time I would take steps back and ask myself more questions, talk with my teammates, assess and take a minute before reacting to action. I’m convinced this was the only reason I transitioned to being a freelancer for a long time as well. Absolute control over your time. Pure magic.

Fast forward, I work for an employer now. The focus of my work is on how successful the outcome is, if it is innovative, if it matters, if I’m building trust and responsibility with my teams and clients so that — I’m doing the right work and doing the work right.

With that said, I have rules and pet peeves around time management. The rules are social contracts I communicate with my teams and the pet peeves are more about changing mindset and helping change bad habits to allow the future of the workforce to adjust to a less rigid way of working:

  • I have a separate phone and laptop for work
  • I don’t look at work things after 7pm*
  • I don’t work on weekends*
  • If you plop a calendar invite on my calendar when I don’t appear to be available, I send a kind note explaining and propose a new time if needed
  • If you plop a calendar invite on my calendar with no meeting objective or agenda (and no note sent separately), I kindly ask for those things so I’m aware of my role, expectations, if I need to prep etc.
  • Sending me an invite for a meeting 10mins before the actual time without knowing if I’m around. Well, that’s just silly 😛
  • I don’t need to respond to emails and Slack immediately. Your response turn-around time is yours to own.

*Unless it’s been pre-agreed to

Shifting gears

I’d like to balance my time for thinking and doing tasks but to also empower my teammates to do the same / help change the culture on ways of working. I’d love to hear from you to (comment-away!) 😀

The last 1.5 yrs I had Do-Not-Distrurb blocks on my calendar 3 out of 5 working days to separate thinking vs doing tasks. In the mornings I would work through my to-do list so I could start and end the day with a good sense of how to plan the rest of the week, to reduce any work stress and not allow work to come home. For a hot minute I even tried something super minimalistic — scrapping long to-dos and just writing 3–5 things on a post-it on my desk I could set out to do, onthat particular day. Sometimes I’d hit only 1, sometimes 3. This worked well. Trello, Pomodoro techniques, you name it, tried them all but at the end of the day you have to create something custom, just for you. Everyone’s day, work, life and time zone parameters different.

This time around, trying something similar but pairing it with other daily habits (when do I wake up, shower, eat, how long I commute for, if I exercise in the AM or PM etc.). This is the new experiment starting middle of July:

Screenshot of my work calendar. Blocks of blocked time but also of available time but labeled as a visual cue for me to stay on top of my goals.

Commute, prep and travel blocks are time for me to organize/wrap the day. Consider this time a mix of inbox and list scans, quick hits on small wins and admin tasks, pings back on either Slack. I definitely do use this time sometimes for thinking or doing tasks (depending on the form of my commute). Think time is supposed to be the block of time dedicated to the most important tasks needed and which need my brain and energy. I see this as a game of tetris — the request comes it or you have the action to do or schedule something, all it takes is to slot it in the time of day based on the task.

Obviously, I’m a morning person (indulge in chronotypes here if you fancy). Research (well, and Tim Ferriss) says regardless of your sleep duration, load up on protein in the morning (at least 30g), get out in the sunlight to jumpstart your circadian clock and work out later actually. Before lunch is ideal apparently, but who has time for that? I do all this in the AM and I do see the boost of energy at high until lunch time. Then you’ve lost me. Given this, I’m going to aim for getting through the most important tasks before lunch, take lo-fi meetings after lunch and use the morning and afternoon decompress time to bookend my goals and actions for the day. I plan to work out before dinner in this experiment and see how that goes.

Visualize your week. Getting the to-dos out of your head, on paper, visible to you is proven to help you relax about the weight of to-dos.

Mixing in the digital view with a physical one and I add the big highlights or goals for the week on a Poppin weekly notepad at my home-office.

What do you do?


“Time is the big, precious, unrenewable resource” — Brené Brown

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