“If only I had more hours in the day.” I bet you have wished for just this — maybe a few hours to finish up a task or 5 more minutes to proofread an email. Tempting, especially when you feel overwhelmed by multiple projects and impending deadlines. But finding more time is impossible. And time alone will certainly not make anyone more productive.
The reality is that time is not something we can get more of — so it is up to us to decide how to use it best.
Even if it were possible to find some elusive reserve of time, you would find ways to fill it. After all, there will always be another activity to do or a new task to complete. This is especially true if you work at a fast-paced company or have multiple teammates who rely on you. To be successful and make a real impact, you need to figure out how to use your time in the most constructive and productive way.
As the CEO of Aha! I have more flexibility than most. Our company is 100 percent remote, and I have capable teammates who achieve great things each day. I can even set my own schedule to a certain extent. But my time is still filled with the team, customers, and candidates. So, I carved out quiet time on my calendar (I call it “Wonder Wednesdays”) for creative and big-picture thinking.
Doing this made me realize that you will never find time to focus unless you create it for yourself.
Time to focus is wonderful (yes, that was my inspiration for the name) but it is only part of the solution. And I understand that not everyone has total control over their workday schedule. It is hard to implement new workflows, especially in a big organization — especially if you are an individual contributor or lead by action, if not explicit authority.
But if you are struggling with the feeling that you do not have enough time, there are things you can do to use your time more efficiently. Here is how:
Evaluate every task
Before jumping into the work, you need to assess whether each item on your to-do list actually serves your goals. If it does not, remove it or ask your manager to help you understand why it is important. Of course, you might work at a company where the goals are unclear or there is no consistent strategy in the first place. But you can still evaluate your tasks and prioritize based on what you think will bring the most value to the team and to the organization. And when you are in a position to explain that something should not warrant your attention — say so. Saying no is often the biggest time saver.
Look for repeats
Break each project into activities, then identify the repeatable requirements for the different types of work you do on a regular basis. For example, you can make a checklist that details each step of the process of a go-to-market launch or packaging up technical requirements before sending to the engineering team. Documenting recurring work helps you and your teammates quickly replicate what needs to be done and make progress towards your goals.
Use basic templates
If you want to digest your tasks and requests more efficiently, you need to know what to expect. Our team uses assignment templates and meeting agendas. We have found that these tools help us save time by creating consistency and repeatability across projects and functional groups. Whether we are collaborating within our own team or cross-functionally, we aim to communicate in a way that is scannable, succinct, and logical.
Make meetings efficient
While you probably cannot decline all meeting invites, you can make the regular meetings you lead or attend more effective. Our secret? Adopt a meeting agenda template so that every attendee can see what is planned, add updates and questions, and review action items from the past week. Share this agenda with everyone before you meet, and assign a weekly notetaker for ongoing meetings.
Many people view interruptions as the enemy of productivity. But interruptions are simply opportunities to help others. This is the basis for The Responsive Method (TRM) — the framework for personal and business success that we pioneered in 2014. When a teammate approaches you with a question or problem, do not wait to respond. You may even find that these interruptions help you get your own work done more quickly or are able to remove items from your load based on new information.
How you structure your work and interact with the team can have a big impact on your productivity.
Even if you feel that you do not have the power to reclaim your time, there are small steps you can take today. Speak with your manager, encourage the rest of the team to adopt time-saving measures, and show what is possible when you increase your own output. No matter how much authority you have in your organization, you can be a positive example to the people around you.
Instead of wishing you could turn back the clock to complete all your work, you can feel satisfied knowing that you were making the most of what you have — no extra hours necessary.
How do you structure your time?
Our team is happy, productive, and we do not waste time — join us!