AMA: How Do You Manage Your Time?

Mike asks:

I’ve read in Be the Master how you focus on managing your time. But I get yanked around a lot at work – email, meetings, crises, and I suppose some Facebook and Twitter time. How do I figure out where it’s being wasted?

I hope you’ll ask a question, too! And here’s the list of everything asked so far.

Well, first, time isn’t necessarily “wasted.” I do try to track my recreational time spent while working — e.g., Facebook and such. Not because it’s wasted; you need some brain-rest-time now and then. You just don’t want it out of control. The waste comes when you’re trying to task-switch too often, rather than being able to focus on one thing for a productive amount of time.
I use a Timeular ZEI. Not joking, and not earning commissions on them. It’s got eight sides, and I set them up like this:

  1. Communications. I flip to this side whenever I’m doing email, Slack, or other communications.
  2. Recreation. Whenever I’m doing something non-work-related.
  3. Writing.
  4. Researching.
  5. Administrative. Stuff like expense reports.
  6. Staring. Seriously, I do just sit and think a good bit sometimes, and so I flip to this side.
  7. Off the clock. Meals, bio-breaks.
  8. Other work. Work-related stuff not covered by one of the above. Productive things, not administrative overhead.

It’s easy to just flip this thing as you move between tasks, and I can go back at the end of the week and start looking for patterns. This is how I leaned that I need to explicitly block off writing time, because I wasn’t getting the 2+ solid hours I need to make writing productive. It’s how I learned to block administrative time for the end of the day and ignore it until then – I was burning 2-3 minutes throughout the day, interrupting other things.
Your sides will be labeled differently, but give it a shot. Ideally, you’ll see some patterns and can make some improvements and adjustments. And you obviously don’t need to buy the gadget; you can do just as well with paper. I’m just not terribly disciplined about journal-keeping in that way, and having a gadget to flip gets me to actually do it. I just have to be a bit careful to not use it as a fidget spinner, which means I’ve got fidgeting stuff on my desk as well. I cannot be on a call, for some reason, without having something in my hands to fiddle with.

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I found my biggest time waster was my smartphone. I finally gave it up and went back to an old-school phone without Internet access.