Five time management hacks that will double your productivity

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has never been guilty of falling down the rabbit hole otherwise known as your inbox.

It’s a habit easily made, but hard to break – if you want to get more valuable work done, you need to reassess how wisely you’re using your time.

That’s why we’ve found five time-management hacks for you to reclaim your hours and win the time management challenge.

Here’s how:

Race yourself to complete work faster and more efficiently

If you’re a naturally competitive person, make work more fun and attempt to beat your personal bests for every task you do.

Set a goal for how long you think a task should take, then set a timer and get to work.
If you’re able to complete the task – without disruption or distraction – in less time than you estimated, record the time.

Then, challenge yourself to complete it incrementally faster the next time.
Not only can you brag (to yourself) about how you just set a new record, but your time record becomes a great tracking option to provide accurate task estimates. 

Politely decline any meeting without an agenda

We’ve all heard the jokes about meetings that should have been a one-line email, and you probably agree these meetings are time-wasters.

But if you’re still attending meetings you don’t value, it’s time to take a (polite) stand.
Simply request an agenda or politely decline.

The same applies in reverse if you’re the meeting host: set an agenda, or expect begrudging attendance from those who haven’t yet taken this advice.

On LinkedIn, management commentator Ruben Perez Vazquez strongly advocates for this method: “All of us should reject meeting invitations without an agenda, we are in our right”.

A useful agenda should set expectations for the meeting’s discussion and succinctly define desired outcomes.

Adding to his thoughts on meetings, Perez Vazquez also says they should be kept short. Invite only “really necessary” people and ensure each person leaves with a clear list of actions.

Noting down a meeting agenda

Use the agenda of a meeting to decide how valuable it will be for you to attend. 

Limit checking emails to twice daily

Claire Burge, founder of This Is Productivity, has some strong opinions about email: “It’s a selfish tool. People dump tasks into each other’s inboxes without thinking about whether they are being considerate”.

So in a bold move, Burge gave up using email in 2013, and claims she gained three hours each workday.

Of course, not everyone will be comfortable taking Burge’s radical approach. Instead, limit the number of times each day that you read emails – say, two 20-minute blocks.

You can do this without disappointing clients or team members simply by telling them – perhaps in an automated email – when you will likely address their email.

Of course, in roles such as Executive Assistant, responding to emails may be a core responsibility. If that’s the case, consider managing your email alerts to ensure that important senders’ messages are prioritised. 

Screen calls, then block out time in your calendar to call people back

If you receive an unsolicited call when you’re in the middle of an important task, set your phone to the Do Not Disturb setting (on Apple or Android devices), which automatically sends callers to voicemail.

If you believe the call is unlikely to be urgent, hold off responding until you’ve completed the task at-hand.

Then schedule a convenient time to return their call – perhaps even send them an email beforehand to organise this.

Answering phone calls when you don’t have time

Avoid answering work calls when you don’t have the time.

Empower people to solve their own problems

When someone comes to you with a problem and you’re not able to provide an immediate solution, give them a framework that can help them solve it themselves.

Ask them to do the following:

• Explain the problem in one-to-two sentences;
• Identify known contingencies and limitations;
• Recall whether a similar problem has occurred before and, if so, explain how that problem was solved previously: does that solution work in this instance?

If they haven’t found their own answer by answering your questions, encourage them to consider alternative solutions using the information they’ve provided.

If a solution still isn’t obvious after about 20 minutes of workshopping, escalate the problem or outsource it to a team leader or another expert. 

Your time is precious, so value it

Attending pointless meetings, answering endless calls or emails, and being everyone’s go-to problem solver can seem like you’re pleasing everyone, but you’re not helping your number-one customer: yourself.

Each day, think about the tasks that are important for you to complete now or in the near future, and focus only on activities that will help you achieve those important tasks.