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How to Pull Off a 4 Day Workweek


The four-day workweek is back in the news after Microsoft Japan announced the results of their experiment earlier this year. A four-day workweek has been a talking point for more than a decade, but this case is particularly interesting because:

  • It comes from Microsoft, a huge brand not known for its innovative work culture
  • It comes from Japan, another huge brand not known for great working conditions
  • They claimed a 40% increase in productivity

Yeah. That’s a bit of a shocker. 

But before you jump into thinking “If Microsoft…in Japan…can pull this off, we should too!”, let’s take a closer look. 

A brief history of the workweek

The seven-day week is one of the few arbitrary time measurements humans use that isn’t connected to nature. Years, months, and days are all tightly coupled with cosmic phenomena. But the number of days in a week is manmade. 

The seven day week (usually with one day off for either religious or market functions) started with either Jewish or Babylonian cultures close to the 6th century BC. It spread to as far as India, China, and Japan. By the 4th or 5th century BC in Christendom, Sundays became the standard day off. 

During the turn of the 20th century was the first mention of expanding rest to more than a day. While he wasn’t the first to offer two full days off, Henry Ford made big news in 1926 when he shut down his factories on Saturdays and didn’t cut wages. Similar to how he doubled his workers salaries, he felt like offering additional time off was a way to look after the overall health of employees, while also creating a larger class of people who had the time and money to enjoy things like automobiles. It also ended up improving productivity at his plants. 

It took a few decades for the five on/two off system to spread, but it soon became accepted across the US and other parts of the world. 

New technological advancements led people like John Maynard Keyes and then-Vice President Richard Nixon to assume that the workweek would just keep getting shorter. 

Experiments with the four day workweek

Before Microsoft Japan, many companies have tried the pattern of four days on/three days off. Some, like governments in Utah and Slingshot SEO, have tried four ten-hour days. Others, like Jason Fried of Basecamp work a 32-hour week during the summer, and 40 hours the rest of the year.

Online education platform TreeHouse has a 32-hour week year-round. Perpetual Guardian, an estate planning company in New Zealand, has been one of the more vocal supporters of the 32-hour, four-day week. In fact, their founders, Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart started a separate community just to encourage other businesses to try it. The British Trade Union Congress has been advocating for a four day week for a few years now. 

Lasse Rheingans, who runs a consulting firm in Germany has experimented with a 5 hour working day, reducing the workweek down to 20 hours.

Thinking about a 4 day workweek?

There are lots of obvious benefits of a shorter workweek:

  • Easier recruiting 
  • Higher retention rates
  • Better employee morale
  • Smaller environmental impact
  • Fewer sick days
  • More time to care for children and elderly family members
  • Lower operating expenses

But what about productivity?

At the heart of the shorter workweek debate is if business owners can still get the same level of output on a shorter schedule. 

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands or contracts to the amount of time given. With advances in technology, it’s possible to get the same work done in less time, but very few have been willing to cut the hours. Jason Fried says, “When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time.”

Lasse Rheingans, the guy with the five-hour workday likes the challenge of getting more done in less time. He said, “An an eight-hour day you can mask problems and cheat yourself. This simply isn’t possible within a five-hour day. It’s merciless. It highlights exactly which areas aren’t working and what to take care of—it’s like holding a magnifying glass to every flaw.”

Perpetual Guardian’s study noted equal productivity between a four and five day workweek. Microsoft Japan is talking about 40% increased productivity after reducing the work time by 20%! 

But the answer to greater productivity is not just to slash the hours.   


How to do the four day week right

If you tell everyone to stop showing up on Fridays, you may have some happy employees for a while, but you’ll likely run into trouble down the road if you haven’t planned for it. Here are four key areas that you need to think through.

1. Get your motivation straight

Why do you want to reduce hours? Are you hoping for better productivity? Do you want your employees to be happier? Are you trying to reduce congestion in the office or lower operating expenses?

Your motivation will lead to the metric that will help you gauge the success of your experiment. 

Treehouse CFO Michael Watson said their motivation started from the thought, “We want to take care of our people.” In that case, strict measures of productivity may not be the right tool to use. 

If you are serious, you may want to engage a consultant or local university to help you evaluate the effectiveness of the experiment. 

2. Be employee-led

As with most cultural decisions, mandating things from the top down isn’t a good idea. You should talk with employees and get their insights and feedback. Do they want a four-day week, or would they rather continue to work five, but with fewer hours? How would it improve their lives? What other benefits might be there?

Employees should also think about solutions for how to overcome challenges. At Lassee Rheingans’s consulting company, they don’t allow mobile phones in the office and block social networks for their 5 hour workday in order to increase productivity. If you still need to meet customer’s needs throughout the week, can you work in teams to make sure all days are covered? Does it make more sense to use a seasonal approach like Basecamp?

Andrew Barnes of Perpetual Guardian says, “”The right attitude is a requirement to make it work–everyone has to be committed and take it seriously for us to create a viable long-term model for our business.” Employees must be involved in how it is implemented and monitored.

3. Four days on

Much like remote work, a four-day week is not something you can just try tomorrow. It should be the next logical step on a path your company is already on. If you have already built a culture around employee wellbeing, automation, digital workplaces, and productivity, then transitioning to a four-day week, or reducing hours makes sense. But if you haven’t done the work to prepare your team, then it’s not likely to succeed. 

A four day workweek is not something you can just start. Think about the culture you have now. 

  • How efficient are you? 
  • How well do you use digital tools? 
  • How often are decisions delayed because you are waiting on someone? 
  • Where is the most friction in your daily interactions?
  • When’s the last time you stopped having a meeting because you didn’t need it?
  • How much busy work does your team do that could be automated?
  • How much time is wasted on social media tools?
  • Do you naturally praise people who get more done in less time? Or do you reward the workaholics?

Treehouse CEO Ryan Carson said two reasons that his company was able to make the move to four days was that they had already eliminated internal email and managers. They also had a strong culture about unnecessary meetings. 

4. Think about the three days off

One very interesting aspect of Microsoft Japan’s approach was how they encouraged people to use their extra time off. They offered money to employees to do various things like:

  • Take a family trip
  • Learn a new skill
  • Volunteer somewhere
  • Visit another office and learn from it

You don’t want to put unnecessary parameters around how people can spend their free time, but you can encourage them to use it in a way that encourages rest, creativity, and service. 

The goal is not for your employees to have time to take up a second job, but to enjoy life, take care of children or family members, and be better humans. If you care for the whole person, you want to make sure that the three days off are spent on things that revitalize the mind and body. 


Take the next step

Ryan Carson gives this challenge, “Are you going to talk about how it would be nice to work less? Or are you actually going to do something about it?” The four day workweek may be the next loonshot–an idea everyone is crazy until it isn’t (ht Safi Bahcall). 

Many thinkers expect the US to be the last country to adopt these kinds of changes because of an unhealthy obsession with work and getting more money for luxury rather than leisure. 

But as a leader, you have the power to make a change. Why not start with experimenting with a lighter workweek? 

Thinking about a four-day workweek should just be the start. Once you realize that you could slash off a day, you start to wonder if it’s not a better idea to decouple the idea of work and time altogether. Or you realize that the whole concept of a workweek is something you can rebuild from the ground up.

Bill Jensen of Simpler Work says, “The real shift isn’t four days or five. That’s using yesterday’s framework to build the future of work. The real shifts are in leadership mindsets and in building completely new metrics for, and new ways of thinking about, productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness. In an AI era, where so many tasks will be automated and run by algorithms, productivity must be completely reimagined to include how teammates leverage their humanness in completely new ways.”

It’s easy to look at history and find that the workweek has always been reducing, and it’s almost always been a good thing. You can either be a pioneer in leading the way for better worker rights and wellbeing, or stick to the old ways. We think it’s time for a little WorkMinus.

10 Must-Read Time Management Books to Get the Most Out of Your Day


There are lots and lots of productivity books out there. To read them all would be…well…a waste of time. 

The good news is that most of the books out there agree on the same principles. They are all preaching some form of the same message.

The best productivity book is the one that resonates with you and that you follow. But if you are like me, you sometimes need a shot in the arm once in a while. Or, sometimes it’s nice to use a different tool for the same job now and again. 

Older books used to only focus on productivity in the context of work, but most modern books also include your non-working hours as well.

Productivity and time management books fall along the four productivity pillars pretty well. They specialize in one of these areas: 

  • Task management: Your brain is for having ideas; use technology for managing and executing them.
  • Prioritization: Don’t waste your time doing stuff that doesn’t matter.
  • Focus: Every day is a fight against internal and external distractions.
  • Time/energy management: Your day and body has natural rhythms that you can use to your advantage.

Here are 10 of the best books on productivity. 

1. Getting Things Done by David Allen

Productivity pillars: Task management and prioritization

David Allen is to productivity what Seth Godin is to marketing. It is possible to be productive/be a good marketer without reading their work, but do you really want to take that risk? 

Most of David Allen’s work comes down to clarity. Most people have a foggy sense of what they need to be doing, and an even hazier sense of how to do it, and are in total darkness to know if they finished it. 

Here are some of the basic principles of GTD:

  • Turn all the abstract goals into concrete tasks. 
  • Break big tasks down into small tasks. 
  • Define ‘done’ and ‘doing’. 
  • Reduce the number of open loops and promises that leave you feeling anxious and stressed. 
  • Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them. 

If you’ve ever been serious about productivity and time management in your life, you need to read this book. Only the most serious productivity geeks will implement the entire system, but there’s a lot of value in just being aware of the basics. 


2. Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy

Productivity pillar: Prioritization

This is another classic. 2 hours reading quickly through this book is time well spent. 

The book is based on a proverb that is likely misattributed to Mark Twain:

“If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”

Brian Tracy uses the metaphor of the frog being your biggest, most important task. Get it done first and then the rest of your day will be good. If you have to eat two frogs, go for the bigger/uglier one first. 

At its heart, this book is about prioritization and starting at the top of the list. Tracy says, “Your ability to choose between the important and the unimportant is the key determinant of your success in life and work.”


3. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Productivity pillar: Focus

This book is geared toward those whose work is more creative (e.g. writing, art, design) but we all have a little bit of creative in us, don’t we?

Pressfield names a common enemy called the Resistance. The Resistance is the thing that accompanies any creative pursuit. It says you aren’t good enough, you can finish later, you don’t need to do anything today, you’ve done enough, etc. The Resistance includes all the internal and external distractions you face in life. 

“You think the resistance isn’t real? The resistance will bury you.” 

First, you must recognize that the Resistance is a sign that you are doing something good. To combat the Resistance, Pressfield says you must turn from being an amateur to a professional, and listen to the Muse. If it doesn’t make sense, read the book. It’s short. 


4. Deep Work by Cal Newport

Productivity pillar: Focus, time management

This book makes a sharp distinction between deep work and shallow work. Deep work is cognitively demanding and requires a tremendous amount of focus. Shallow work can be done while you’ve got Netflix playing in the background. 

Newport says that:

  1. Very few people are good at deep work.
  2. Being good at deep work is where the real value is. 
  3. The more you do shallow work, the worse you get at deep work. 

He says that you need to structure your day so that you spend the most amount of time possible in a deep work state. When you jump back and forth between tasks, bits of residue follow you from one to the next. It takes time to settle into that other work without the distractions. 

Newport has other books on Digital Minimalism and other similar topics. But the thing I like the most about Cal Newport is that he takes his own advice about not coming out of deep work so seriously that he gave a friendly denial to our invitation to come on the podcast until he finished his book, Digital Minimalism


5. 168 Hours by Laura Vandercam

Productivity pillar: Time management

Laura Vandercam actually has several books about productivity: Off the Clock, I Know How She Does It, and Juliet’s School of Possibilities. They all focus on how you can get the most out of the time you have.  

Everyone thinks they don’t have enough time to do the things they want to do, but Vandercam says we’ve got plenty of time. If you try to do everything, you’ll always feel behind. But if you can focus on your core work, you’ll have plenty of time to get it done. 

Vandercam says most people have no idea how they spend their time. Similar to a food journal, she recommends keeping a time journal so that people can actually see where they have waste in their day and unnecessary activities. 

I really like that this book focuses on weeks. Trying to be productive every day can be really hard, but if you look at an entire week, it’s short enough that you can start over fresh again, but long enough to give you some momentum, while also hiding a few bad days here and there. 


6. The One Thing by Gary Keller

Productivity pillar: Prioritization

This book is a nice expansion on the adage, “Success is about doing the right thing, not doing everything right.”

Keller says that we need to focus on fewer things. Just do the one thing that really makes all the difference, and everything else will turn out ok. 

While we can all agree, finding that one thing can be very challenging. We see many tasks as equal, we believe we have enough willpower to bulldoze through anything, and we can keep multiple things going at once. 

Keller says all that is wrong and we need to choose the one thing that matters most and give it all the time it demands. 


7. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

Productivity pillar: Time management and prioritization

This is a classic book that everyone entering the workplace should read. Drucker advises executives to be as accountable for their time as they are for their budgets. He says to consolidate your time into the largest possible units, and advocating for working from home one day a week. Drucker says meetings should be the exception rather than the rule and we should focus mostly on results. 

Prioritization is also a key topic. He urges executives to answer this question to their managers, “What are the contributions for which this organization should hold you accountable?” Like others after him, Drucker says to focus on strengths and where you deliver top results. 


8. 18 Minutes by Peter Bregman

Productivity pillar: Focus, time management

Peter Bregman has given us a lot of ways to be better leaders (like being emotionally courageous), but there’s no doubt that time management and focus is a big one. 

Like others, Bregman advocates for doing fewer things and focusing on your strengths. He calls into question motivation, saying that you don’t really need that much, just enough to get you started. As long as you don’t spend a lot of time switching between tasks, you will be fine. 

The formula for the title of his book is:

  • 5 minutes at the start of the day to plan
  • 1 minute every hour to pause and reset (8 minutes total)
  • 5 minutes at the end of the day to reflect and make changes

I really like the idea of pauses and it’s easy to get distracted in the middle of something. Scheduling in a pause lets to keep in check if you are doing the right thing. 


9. How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett

Productivity pillar: Time management

This is the oldest book on the list, dating back to 1908. Bennett’s message is just as clear and apt now as it was then. We all get the same 24 hours and we can’t save it. You’ll never have more time than you do right now, so focus on the important stuff. 

While the basic principles of the book sound very familiar, there are a few interesting warnings that he offers:

  • Don’t insist that other people follow your productivity program. Everyone has unique needs.
  • Don’t become a slave to your own program. Make sure it is strong enough to keep you accountable, but flexible enough to give you space to live. 
  • Living from task to task isn’t really living. Don’t try to do everything. Be realistic in your limits.
  • Start any new system slow. Don’t overdo it at the start.

10. Indistractable by Nir Eyal

Productivity pillar: Focus and time management

This is one of the best books out there on learning about how to handle distractions. 

Eyal says that the key to living a focused life is to learn to deal with discomfort. We get distracted because we get uncomfortable and go out seeking a fix.

Instead of indulging in distractions, or feeling guilty about them, Eyal says that we should observe them and allow them to dissolve. We should examine what lead up to the distraction and explore it curiously. Rather than saying, “No, you can’t check Facebook now,” allow yourself the permission to check it, but only after 10 minutes. Usually over that time, the need will dissipate.

He also focuses on the importance of identity and promises you make to yourself. Rather than saying, “I’m not going to look at my phone for the next hour,” Eyal suggests saying, “I’m not the kind of person who needs to check his phone every hour.” That’s a much more positive, aspirational statement and much more likely to help us. 

Eyal says, “Time management is pain management.” If you can learn to be uncomfortable, you will be able to get a lot more done. 


Missed one?

I usually read 1-2 productivity books a year to refresh my mind on what’s important. Most of the ideas in these books aren’t something you couldn’t figure out on your own, but the authors present the material in a way that encourages you to take a fresh start. 

Everyone has their own favorite productivity book. What’s yours? Tag @WorkMinus on LinkedIn and we’ll add it to the list!

All Productivity Systems Boil Down to These 4 Principles


When it comes to productivity systems, everyone has one that:

  • Used to work for them
  • Has been working for the last 24 hours
  • Sounds like it would work
  • Never works

However, with new productivity books coming out all the time, how are you supposed to keep track of all of them? Do you need to use a branded journal? Do you need a special app? Do you need to buy a training program to help your team get more done?

Leaders are especially notorious for finding what they think is the best productivity system in the world, sending it to everyone on the team, and then wondering why not everyone is as excited as you are. 

We go through phases. Is everyone practicing GTD? What’s your frog today? How could we forget our Pomodoro timers!

The good news is that most productivity gurus are all saying the same thing, so you don’t need to do deep research on every trend that comes up. Instead of forcing new productivity systems on your team, start with the basics. 


The four pillars of productivity

All the productivity systems out there fit into one of these principles:

  • Task management – a way to collect and organize all the stuff you have to do
  • Prioritization – a way to decide what you do first
  • Time management – a way to structure your day so that you get the most important things done
  • Focus – a way to reduce distractions and accomplish your goals 

That’s it. Everything falls under one of these. If you and your team have a solid plan for how to do each of the pillars, you will be well on your way to being extremely productive. 

Now, here are some of the most popular productivity systems out there and see how they fall into the productivity principles. 


Pillar 1: Task management

The heart of task management is David Allen’s adage: your mind is for having ideas, not holding them. There are a limited number of things you can hold in your brain at one time, so you need a way to organize ideas and tasks as they spill over. 

When you record your tasks somewhere else, you can rest easy knowing that you aren’t forgetting to do something. Your anxiety can be better directed towards the number of things you have to get done, rather than on remembering what to do :-). 

Here are some common productivity systems that fall in this category:

Getting things done

GTD or Getting Things Done is a framework introduced by David Allen in his book of the same name. It starts with brainstorming and capturing ideas in a notepad or an online tool. Every time an idea pops into your head, you make a note of it. 

With GTD, you break down big tasks into the smallest possible next step so that your tasks are very actionable. GTD also gives you an algorithm to process your tasks and organize them into things that need to be done sooner or later. You provide context for every task so that you don’t have to start from zero when it’s time to work on it. 

Kanban

Kanban boards were originally used as a tool for project management, but it turns out they are pretty good for task management as well. Instead of the GTD algorithm, you write your tasks on cards and put them in one of three columns: to-do, doing, and done. 

(Some people like to have additional columns, such as “nearly thinking about doing” and “haven’t thought about doing in ages”.) 

This visual layout lets you see items as they move across the board. 

Kanban is cool because you can go full analog with pen-and-paper sticky notes up on a physical board and still feel cool. While highly visual, it can’t be transported easily. Instead, digital tools like Trello and Kissflow give you a digital board that functions the same way, but is also accessible anywhere. 

Kanban boards are also nice when it comes to shared tasks among a team. 


Pillar 2: Prioritizing

Prioritization is a deceptively simple concept. Anyone can do it, but few do. 

We get caught up in the moment and everything seems to be the most important thing in the world, or we are eager to get the easy stuff off our plate first. We act like firefighters that put out (and sometimes light) fires all the time.

If you are bad a prioritizing, you might be incredibly efficient at things that don’t matter that much. Here are the productivity systems that center on prioritization. 

Eisenhower matrix

You’ve seen this one before. Urgency vs. importance. True productivity is focusing on the tasks that are both. The only problem with this matrix is that both axes are subjective, and in the right frame of mind, you can be convinced that anything is both important and urgent. The trick is to take your time and actually rank the importance and urgency of tasks rather than assigning it an arbitrary value. 

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

Eat that frog

Mark Twain once famously didn’t say, “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”

This productivity principle was popularized by Brian Tracy in his time management book. You pick the most difficult, yet most important task (the frog), first. It’s the item on your to-do list that you have no motivation to do. You move on to other tasks only when you’re done with the frog.

Doing the most challenging task first thing means that no matter how the rest of the day goes, it starts off with success. 

Similar to Eat that frog is the MIT system (most important task). Some productivity systems advocate for picking three MITs instead of just one. 

Pareto principle

Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that 80 percent of the effects comes from 20 percent of the causes.

So, when it comes to prioritizing, you should forget the 80 percent of stuff and focus only on the 20 percent that is actually going to produce results. 


Pillar 3: Time management

Now that you know what you are going to be working on, you need to make the time to do it. Most people feel like their days get away from them, but if you are at the office for eight hours, that’s actually quite a lot of time to get things done. If you plan out you day well, you have all the time you need to be productive. 

Pomodoro technique

The pomodoro principle requires you to break your workday into 25-minute blocks of time followed by a 5-minute break. After about four of these ‘pomodoros’, you take a longer break. 

We tend to believe that we have an endless supply of time. The pomodoro technique breaks this notion by instilling a sense of urgency. This is based on Parkinson’s law, which states that we’ll complete a task in the time that we’ve allotted for it. By creating a faux-urgency that you have only 25 minutes left to complete a task, you tend to work faster and more focused.

The forced break reminds you to take a breather once in a while and prevents mental fatigue. 

Time-boxing

The weakness of the pomodoro system is that it treats every task as the same, whether it is a quick email or an hour-long sales call. The 25-minute period works great for me, because most of my day revolves around writing. I can write for that time, take a quick break, and return to my task until it’s done. But, this may not be the case for every line of work. Imagine being in the middle of a sales call and telling the client that you’ll be back in five because your timer goes off. Yikes!

The time-boxing technique overcomes this drawback by being flexible and giving you control over how much time to allocate for every task. You estimate how much time you want to spend doing a task, work within this time box, and take a break when the set time runs out. Here’s a list of time management apps that can help.

Biological prime time

Detailed by Sam Carpenter in Work the System, this time management system tries to take advantage of natural ebbs and flows in your momentum, energy, and focus throughout the day. You chart out when you are typically most focused and do your most intense activities there. When you naturally slump down, you can do tasks that don’t require as much thought.


Pillar 4: Focus

There’s not much worse that getting everything set perfectly, knowing you have your most important task in front of you, having significant time blocked out to do it, and then checking Facebook just before you start. 

You can do all the planning and prioritizing in the world but if you are easily distracted and switch between tasks, then you’re not managing your time effectively. Dr. Gloria Mark says that it can take up to 23 minutes to get back to the original task after being distracted or interrupted. So, it’s crucial to focus on the task at hand, finish them, and move on to the next. 

Here are a few productivity systems dedicated to helping you focus.

To-don’t list

There are plenty of things you do in the middle of work that you know you shouldn’t be doing. These are the ones that affect your productivity, your super-villains. Like twitter scrolling. One minute you’re seeing what’s trending on twitter and then an hour later, you end up taking a Buzzfeed quiz to see what kind of bread you are.

Make a list of all the activities and habits you know you shouldn’t be doing and stick to it. It’s as simple as that. 

The real challenge is sticking to it and you need an insane amount of willpower to work against your impulses. But, by listing all your productivity-hampering habits, you tell your brain that you’ll no longer focus on them. 

  • Don’t check social media from 10am to 5pm
  • Don’t check emails more than two times a day
  • Don’t set up meetings from 9am to 12pm
  • Don’t speak to Dave about the latest movies on Netflix
  • Don’t look at funny cat videos during work

Free to focus

This one comes from Michael Hyatt. It has three steps: Stop, cut, and act. With each one, you examine your habits and behaviors and find ways to avoid more distractions in your life. 

There are also many individual apps that promise to help you focus better and reduce the digital distractions that make up a large part of our lives. 


Back to work

Productivity is a big thing for leaders, but there are just too many systems out there. If you jump from one to another, you’ll never actually get anything done. 

When you look at the four productivity pillars, you’ll be naturally better at some and struggle with others. Where you find yourself lacking, you can try to find some good systems specifically designed around those principles. 

But also remember that your teams will take on their own productivity personality as well. You may be great at prioritizing, but horrible at distracting each other. 

As a leader, it’s your job to find the areas where your team needs support, and explore systems that can help your productivity skyrocket. 

PS: Check out our podcast episode with Sujan Patel to know how he runs nine companies but still has time for skydiving.

Can You Love Time Management Apps Too Much?


You know you’re serious about time management when you start researching apps and tools.  

For some people, the idea of setting up multiple timers throughout your day seems oppressive and way too robotic. But to many of us, there’s a lot of freedom in time management.

At its heart, time management is being willing to say that we need help managing our day. I got serious about time management for many reasons. 

  • I wasn’t giving enough time to the truly important tasks
  • I was giving too much time to small tasks and communication triage
  • I wanted to be able to limit my working hours
  • I wanted to feel better at the end of the day
  • I wanted to avoid distractions
  • I want to increase my capacity at work to be able to handle more high level things

I knew what tasks were the highest priority, but I still found myself struggling with managing my energy and time. 

time management apps

Do you really need time management apps?

We turn to time management apps because we don’t do a good job of managing time by ourselves. We experience time as infinite and finite at the same time. It seems like a day is never-ending, and that we will live forever. Yet we know that there is only a limited about of time in a day, and that one day we will die. 

Time management apps help us apply the principles of time management into our daily lives, recognizing that it is hard for us to do it on our own. 

What are time management apps?

Time management apps try to help you take control of your day by merging together how you spend your daily hours and keeping track of your most important tasks. What type of time management app you need is dependent on the other systems that you have already built around you. 

Timers only

These types of time management apps are simply just a clock. It might count up, or count down; you might have a lot of flexibility over it, or very little. Apps like these are for people who already have an effective task management system, and just need a way to measure and track time. 

Timer + task management

These apps are more involved as they add the functionality of time tracking along with task management and prioritization. As you blend these two things, you are less likely to find the perfect app since you have one set of preferences for timing and another for tasks. But there are some systems out there that work well for people. 

Timer + task + calendar

Finally, some time management apps try to go all the way and add a calendar function as well. All three are essential to good time management, but if you try to combine three sets of preferences, it even less likely that you’ll find the ideal app for you. 

If you are serious about time management, you will have a good system for all three of these things. If you happen to find an app that does them all the way you want it, that’s fantastic. If not, you’ll need to maintain three separate apps, which isn’t impossible, but not always ideal. 


After hours?

Most time management apps are built for productivity around work, but some of them also try to extend to your personal life as well. As you are looking for the right app for you, decide if you are only trying to do time management at work, or for every hour of your day. 

Billing or productivity?

You may think about time management apps as a way to be more productive, but some people need a time management app primarily for billing purposes. If you are a freelancer who bills hourly, or you need to track time for your entire team based on projects, you’ll need something dedicated for that. Many time management tools can help with both billing and general productivity, but they will usually do one better than the other. 

Reflective or empowering?

Lots of time management apps out there are built to show you how you spent your day. They give a lot of insights to reflect accurately where your time goes. Other apps are purely built for putting you in control of how you are going to spend the next hours that you have. The reflective side is good when you are just starting out, or are using it for billing. But if you already know your style and have a plan, you want something that streamlines your work better. 

Teams or individual?

Many time management tools are marketed to track your entire team’s productivity, especially when you are billing for an entire project. However, some of these can feel very much like you are spying on teammates and are built on the premise that you can’t trust them to spend their time well. My only motivation is improving my personal productivity, so I stay away from apps that offer team tracking capabilities. 


Questions to ask before using a time management tool

How much control do you have over your day?

Time management apps work best for people who are in control over their own day, for example, someone who stays at home to work on a novel. On the other side, if you are a kindergarten teacher, handle support tickets, or spend every day in an open office where you are constantly being pulled into impromptu meetings, you won’t get as much value from it. 

Where will you use the app?

Is it on your desktop? On your phone? Tablet? Browser? This is important because each app store is going to have a lot of different options. What works well for running in the background on your operating system may not have an option elsewhere. Your needs may be very different if you are on the go a lot instead of behind a desk. 

Who’s in charge?

Some time management tools try to dictate what you should spend your time on by sending you reminders and notifications for what you should be doing at any moment. Others merely let you track the time and enforce your own priorities. If you already have a solid plan for how you want to spend your time, you want something that will serve you. If you feel lost and need help managing your time, you want something that will be more authoritative. 


4 key dynamics of a time management app

Regardless of what type of app you want and how you answered the questions above, the best  time management apps will have these characteristics.

1. Flexible

How flexible you want the tool depends on how much control you want to give it. In my style of work, I want full control to be able to set a timer at any moment for any length of time. If you subscribe to the Pomodoro technique, then you have less flexibility over starting and stopping the timers. 

2. Unobtrusive

A time management tool should be running in the background. It shouldn’t dominate your day or your desktop. You only want to think about the app when a timer buzzes and it’s time to move on to the next thing. 

3. Quick and easy

Aside from getting it set up initially, you shouldn’t spend much time with you time management app. It should be as simple as clicking a button and starting to work. If you find yourself always inside the app and messing with things and entering details, then it’s really distracting from what it should be doing. Since I only want a timer, I want to spend no more than five seconds setting it up each time. If you need to document and track, that should also be quick and intuitive. 

4. Tracking

I’m not big on tracking my data about how I use my time. Since my main motivation is feeling more productive, I don’t need the app to tell me whether it is a good day or a bad one. But, if your goal is to actually spend more time on a particular task or advance towards a goal, then seeing that data at the end of the week or month is great. Of course, if you are using the app for billing, then you need some more advanced tracking and reporting features. 


Time management apps I’ve tried

Task Timer 

Shockingly, this has been my go-to timer app for more than a few years. It’s a Chrome extension, so it doesn’t run on mobile or really on any other browser. Even when I switched to using Safari as a browser for some time, I continued to use Chrome only to run this app. 

The unique thing about this app is that it counts up, not down. I set goals for each day about how much time I want to spend on a few particular projects, and then set the timer when I’m on that project. The main reason it has been so enduring for me is its flexibility. Even as I try different time management techniques, I find that it is always helpful. 

Red Hot Timer

This is an app only for MacOS X. This one counts down instead of up. I use it along with the other timer to give me an idea of 45 minute sprints throughout the day. It’s super fast to set and very flexible.  

Pomodoro Timers 

There are many in this category with names like Be Focused, Focus Booster, Flow, Focus, Focus To-Do, and Tomato One. All of them follow the same Pomodoro principles. I stopped using them after a short time because I wanted more control. Most of them don’t let you stop a sprint early or quickly set a custom amount of time. You are locked into whatever time you configured at the start. That said, if you can implement the Pomodoro technique completely, they are a great option. 

Rescue time

This app works in the background to monitor how you spend your time. I found it to be helpful when first analyzing what takes your focus most of the day. However, I didn’t find it as useful for implementing my specific time management strategy. It’s a great time management tool for anyone who is serious about starting out with these concepts and wants an accurate view of what their day is like. Plus, their blog is killer

Toggl

This is one of the very few cross-platform time management apps out there. It has mobile apps, desktop apps, and a Chrome extension. So, if you are on the go, this is one of the best options you can choose. It is definitely built primarily for tracking billing hours, and it’s more for team management, so if that’s not a focus for you, it can be distracting. 

Harvest

Harvest is very similar to Toggl, in that it is cross-platform, and built for billing and teams. It’s got a lot of insights built in, which can be good if you are trying to analyze what is going wrong. It wasn’t a good fit for me as it was built for teams and for reporting on how you spend your time rather than giving you the tools to take control. 

Time Doctor

This is one of the more intense time trackers out there that also incorporates task management. For me, it is a bit too intrusive and nanny-like. It markets itself as a tool to “ensure your team is working productively” by grabbing screenshots, which is a bit too invasive for my taste.


Find your time management app

There are lots of other tools out there and more being added every day. What works for you probably won’t work for your friend, and it all depends on your situation. I need something sleek and unobtrusive that allows me to just track time and stay on task. Others need something more robust that can track an entire team’s work for billing purposes. Whatever your goal, you can probably find the right tool for you. 

Measures of Success – Book Review

Imagine actually being excited about an upcoming review meeting. You have three key metrics you are responsible for, and your overall numbers were pretty decent this quarter. However, you are most excited to present some big ideas about ways to scale and innovate. 

Your part of the review meeting starts and you toss up the first chart to show past performance. As you start to move to the second slide, someone speaks up, “Can you explain what happened between the second and third week of August? It looks like there was a big dip there?”

And there goes the meeting. 

You spend the next 25 minutes coming up with 20 ideas about why there was a dip one week.

Bad metric habits

Metrics are powerful tools for every business leader but most of us never got training on how to present or analyze data. As such, we’ve picked up a lot of bad behaviors around metrics:

  • Our charts tend to unnecessarily highlight natural fluctuations 
  • We spend way too much time and energy trying to explain these fluctuations
  • People with no statistical training feel compelled to make a comment on data points that don’t need to be discussed
  • We set arbitrary targets for metrics without changing how we will achieve them

As soon as I finished my conversation with Mark Graban about Work Minus Overreacting to Metrics, I knew that I needed to understand his area of expertise better. Mark’s book Measures of Success lays out some foundational principles that are essential to anyone who needs to report data. 

It’s not about the numbers

The main point of Mark’s book is that metrics can only tell the story of your system. If you have a metric you are chasing, you have to set up a system to try to achieve it. There are natural upper and lower limits to the metrics any system can produce, and the system will almost always fluctuate around an average. 

When you plot all of these data points on a Process Behavior Chart, it becomes clear that certain data points are only noise–random blips within the natural limits that aren’t worth talking about. However, other points are real signals–clues to tell you that something has either changed in the system or its environment.

When given a target metric, most of us are focused on that number. However, Mark shares this powerful thought:

We don’t manage the metric; we manage the system that leads to the results, and we lead the people who help us improve the system. 

Numbers don’t happen on their own. When we miss or achieve a target, it is rarely the result of trying harder; mostly it is a reflection of the quality of the system we have in place. So, the metric shows us if the system is adequate or not. If it isn’t, then we need to work with the people who are a part of it to improve it. 

Don’t chase numbers, chase improvements

Unfortunately, most leaders are taught to just look at the number. When the goal is the number and not the improvement of the system, then Goodhart’s law comes into effect and people tend to either distort the number or distort the system to artificially affect the number. 

How many times have you walked out of a planning meeting where someone sets a ridiculously high target metric and then doesn’t plan to change the system at all to achieve it? Mark says this is due to the misconception that you can easily squeeze better results out of any system just by trying harder, or hiring a different manager. Instead, if you want a higher target than your system is naturally capable of, you need to make significant changes to the system. 

Worry about the signal, not the noise

A good chunk of this book shows that any system will have natural fluctuations–two data points are not a trend. When leaders don’t acknowledge these fluctuations, they end up spending a lot of time and energy trying to explain missed targets. Instead, when you accept that the numbers will go up and down, you can spend time focused on the real signals–signs that there has been a change in the system or its environment. When these signals happen, you can test it by making a change and see how it affects the metric. 

Mark Graban makes process behavior charts easily accessible and shows how to create and plot them without needing a statistics degree. 

Taking it deeper

Here are a few more of my takeaways from the book:

  • Weekly data points are much more helpful than monthly when it comes to analyzing signals and noise, and daily is better than weekly. 
  • Be wary of using linear trend lines on your charts, because they suggest that your metrics will forever only go up and you are setting yourself up to have to explain what happens when they reach their limit.
  • It’s best to test out one idea at a time to improve a system so that you can know its effect, but you may not always have this luxury. 

Lingering questions

Mark brings up the idea of success theater, which is basically how we can bend and distort numbers to say what we want. In fact, when reviewing data in a meeting, I find that most of what is happening is everyone is deciding what kind of narrative to tell about the data. If the data looks bad, can you spin a story that excuses it and assume it will get better on its own? Can you cherry pick a few data points to spin a positive story? It’s this interpretation and narrative casting that seems much more powerful than the data itself. 

I find that I’m always tweaking my systems, so how can I trust my metrics? Mark says that you need 20 data points to really be able to plot out a trend. I’ve rarely gone 20 weeks without making some kind of change. Perhaps this is a case for either collecting more frequent data or allowing a system to exist on its own for a longer time to test changes. 

As much time as Mark Graban has spent with charts and data, he acknowledges that it’s really hard to know the causes of changes; we can usually only guess. This is a hard pill to swallow sometimes. Even if we know our metrics are accurate, we often have no idea what they mean. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention, but it needs to be acknowledged. 

Measures of Success

If you are in any kind of leadership role, you’ve probably got metrics that you need to track. Mark Graban’s book, Measures of Success, is a great tool to help you focus not on those metrics but on the systems that produce the numbers, and to acknowledge that there are natural fluctuations. Check out the book, and Mark’s blog

WorkMinus Boardrooms – Event Recap

Technology industry leaders face a lot of challenges when it comes to heading their digital transformation efforts. Where do you start? Are we too big? Are we too small? How much budget do I need? What do I do about low adoption rates?

But the one element that is most challenging of all is a community. Nearly every leader tasked with trying to figure out digital transformation is doing it alone.

There’s not a platform for like-minded people to discuss ideas and have a candid conversation about the challenges they face daily in their organizations. Leaders are left alone to fight their battles. 

So, we launched a new initiative called WorkMinus Boardrooms–an event series that brings tech leaders together to talk about digital transformation, share struggles, learn from others, and encourage each other. 

The event was set in a cozy, comfortable lounge where people could converse freely and discuss their ideas with everyone present in the room. 

We invited 14 leaders from different industries and roles. There were C-level executives, IT directors, digital transformation heads, and financial advisors. Some of them had a successful digital transformation strategy in place while others were wondering if it is just a trend they had to wade through until the next big thing comes by.

What happened

The event kicked off with Neil sharing the backstory of WorkMinus–why we care about the future of work, where we are heading, and how to bend the trajectory back to a better place.  

A case for digital transformation

Our main speaker was Mr Sukumar Rajagopal, former CIO of Cognizant Technology Solutions, a Fortune 200 company.

When he started his role in 2007, Sukumar was asked by the CFO, “Are you going to be about transformation or efficiency?”

Sukumar said, “Transformation.” The CFO said, “That’s fine, but you won’t get any more budget to do it.”

Sukumar used lean startup principles to get the project going and first focused on the company’s timesheets. He faced a lot of challenges with users not adopting his tools even though they were far superior to the other alternatives. He shared how eventually, the entire company of more than a hundred thousand people started using the digital tools they had created. 

The amazing part was that by pursuing transformation, Sukumar led the company to greater efficiency too. Within the first three years of replacing manual processes, Cognizant saw a 5x increase in the organization’s productivity. 

“When organizations transform, efficiency automatically follows”, he said.

A new digital workplace for the future

This event was sponsored by Kissflow, and the CEO Mr Suresh Sambandam spoke about how modern organizations can adopt a digital workplace platform that isn’t IT-driven, but people-driven. If the platform is built right, then the finance team can create their own timesheet app in a few hours rather than waiting for IT to take six months to produce it.

“A whole generation of employees that’s used to sophisticated software and world-class apps are entering the workforce today. They have certain expectations of the software they use at work. If you were to engage this workforce, you must be digital at your core,” he said.

Suresh quoted a report from Forrester that positioned a digital workplace as the operational system of record for a company. “Your ERP is your financial system of record. Your CRM is your customer system of record. But everything that happens operationally is scattered around dozens of apps instead of on a common platform.” Suresh said that an employee-first model is key to the digital transformation success of any organization. 

Conversation time

When we established this event, we wanted to make sure there were no spectators, only participants. The issues we discuss aren’t able to be answered by a single person or at a single event. We want to start the conversation and get people listening to each other. 

We passed around sticky notes and asked, “What are your biggest digital transformation fears?”

Here are some of the most common answers we got:

  • Budget
  • Employee readiness and changing their mindset
  • Using different tools for different business cases
  • The size of their organization
  • Measuring the success 
  • Convincing stakeholders

Then we took one of the most burning questions that nearly everyone had about digital transformation: 

How the heck do you measure the ROI? 

Here’s the summary of the discussion:

  • It all begins with understanding what you want. Digitize data? Improve employee experience? Or, boost operational efficiency? Find focus areas like customers, infrastructure, and innovative disruption and start from there.
  • Depending on the functional area you choose, you can come up with metrics. Say, you choose customers, your KPIs would be the net promoter score or the churn rate or positive feedback.
  • Zoom back and look at your efforts holistically. See if it is affecting other areas, either positively or negatively. 
  • Place high importance on stability while going through a transformation. 

Swag in the bag

Once the discussion came to a halt, each guest received a bunch of WorkMinus goodies. 

A networking session over brunch followed. The guests exchanged cards. Some continued their discussion while others bonded over the books they read and love. 

And, that’s a wrap!

We broke away from all the norms with this event. We had an awesome bunch of people that sparked amazing ideas continuously for over two and a half hours. 

We want to thank all our guests and our sponsor Kissflow for making this an absolutely delightful event.

Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn (if you haven’t already) and watch this space for upcoming events. We have a lot more coming in the future. Stay tuned.

10 Time Management Tips You Haven’t Tried Yet

Here are some of the tried and tested time management techniques that will help make your day more productive.

Productivity Starts With Knowing Your Limits

The first hard truth of productivity is that you can’t do as much as you think you can. 

You can make hundreds of calls a day. You can close dozens of deals. You can write thousands of lines of code. You can recruit dozens of candidates. You feel invincible and immortal in your mind. 

But statistically speaking, you are average.

You inflate what you are capable of. You aren’t an outlier. You don’t scale the same way a computer does. You are, alas, a human. It’s easy to ignore median output and assume that you are an incredible exception that works in a flow state, at will, ad infinitum. 

But as a human, you have built-in limitations. These limitations are physical, mental, social, and chronological. Until you recognize those limitations, you’ll never feel productive; you’ll always assume that you could be doing more. The first step to being truly productive is to have an honest assessment of what you are realistically capable of doing.

Physical limitations

There are limits to what your body is capable of doing–both in one-time activities (e.g. pulling an allnighter), and over weeks, seasons, and years. Your body requires regular, quality sleep to function correctly. You need to eat properly and allow your body to digest the food. You need to maintain your body with regular exercise. You will face the limitation of sickness once or twice a year. Your body will respond negatively to repeated stress. If you travel a lot, that takes an additional toll on how productive you can be.

Think about the times you thought you could just work through the night on a project, skip a meal, or relied on ridiculous amounts of caffeine or other drugs to keep going. What about the seasons when you got so busy that you quit exercising or eating well? 

If you were to go back and judge your productivity during those times, you would probably find that you weren’t much more productive than seasons where you treated your body right. 

Accepting your physical limitations means acknowledging that these shortcuts are actually detrimental to your productivity.

Mental limitations

For most of humanity’s existence, ‘work’ has meant relying on our body and mind working together, whether as a hunter-gatherer or an early farmer. Once the industrial revolution came about, our bodies were no longer a match for the machines. But, we were able to create and move to an enormous amount of jobs that are based mostly only on our brains. In fact, we can be ‘productive’ knowledge workers while letting our bodies rot.

But our brains have limitations. Just like the rest of the body, the brain isn’t meant to work for hours on end; it requires breaks, variety, rest, and maintenance.

When you add in the required breaks, it’s unlikely that you have much more than five or six hours of highly productive mental work in you every day. Sujan Patel, who runs nine companies, admits that he only gets in six hours on a great day. When you try to go beyond that, your work becomes sluggish and you grow increasingly inefficient.

Accepting your mental limitations means acknowledging that you have a limit on how much mental work you can do in a day, and intentionally providing your brain with rest and other activities. 

Social limitations

Hopefully, you have people in your life whom you care about. These people will need you from time to time. 

You might be the mother or father of young children, or the child of rapidly aging parents, which both require a lot of time and energy. Your spouse needs you to spend time decompressing and talking about the day. 

Emergencies happen and you may need to take a trip to the hospital or make a meal for someone. You promised the kids a camping trip over the summer. Your friends plan a week-long fishing expedition. 

The truth is we cannot function without these human interactions. 

We usually sum up social limitations with the phrase “Life happens.” The more people you know, the more chances that these social limitations will be present in your life. Social limitations are a great reminder that we are much more than our jobs. You shouldn’t feel bad about not hitting your numbers at the office the same week that your cousin got married and you decided to fly out a day early to spend some extra time with family. These are sacred, human events and we shouldn’t look down on them. 

Chronological limitations

In a world that feels infinite, it’s easy to fall into the trap that we think our time here is infinite as well. But we need to constantly be reminded that we have time limits. You only get a certain number of trips around the sun.

Especially if you live in an affluent society where your basic needs are met and you have no concerns about food, water, and shelter, time truly is the main limiting factor in your life. If nothing else, your ability to be productive is directly limited by the number of hours in a day. There’s only so much work that can be packed in. You only get to be the age you are for one year and then you must get older.

Living within your limits

All of these limitations are good, but our first instinct is to deny or minimize all of them. We believe we can push our bodies even further, that doing more work is just a matter of willpower, that we could get so much more done if it weren’t for the people around us, and that somehow our time supply is limitless.

You will never feel like a productive person until you accept the limits of productivity. We’ll talk more about what it means to accept those limits, but the most important starting place is to stop and see yourself for the social human that you are. 

Network Beyond Bias by Amy Waninger – Book Review

This book is for anyone who wants to stand up and take the first step towards being an ally, but lacks diversity in their own personal network.

Who Controls Your Day? Big Thoughts on the Importance of Time Management

The hardest part of achieving productivity is believing you are mortal. 

This is how the logic goes in our minds:

  • Every person who has ever lived on the planet has either died or will die one day
  • But, I haven’t died yet.
  • Therefore, I’m probably going to live forever. 

In a fractalish way, we apply the same mindset to our time at work. 

  • Every working day so far, I’ve reached a point where I need to stop and can no longer complete any more tasks.
  • But, I’ve got a lot of things to do today and a pot of coffee.
  • Therefore, I will get all of them done today.

As humans, we struggle with the concept of time. We seem to experience it as eternal, but we have all these reminders that it isn’t. 

So, the secret to being productive (and perhaps to life–oh?) is coming to terms with the importance of time management. You only have a few productive hours to the day. Like 5-6 hours. Superhuman Sujan Patel, who runs 9 companies, says that he’s probably only good for about five hours a day.

Nonsense! You say. I can work easily for 10-12 hours if I must. 

Shut up. You are always wrong about this. You get six.

Time is on your side–unless you waste it

At its core, productivity is the intersection between task management and time management. You have a lot of things to get done and you need to find the time to do each one. 

You have plenty of time to get your most important tasks done. But if you try to get everything done, you’ll run out of time each day and not have much to show for it. So, if you know the importance of time management, then what you need is a way to make sure that you spend the right amount of time on your most important work every day. Sounds easy, right?

Two people you definitely don’t want to tell you how to spend your time

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have full control over those six hours and it feels like they get mismanaged a lot. Here are the two groups of people that tend to be bad managers of your time.   

1. Other people 

Your boss, your colleagues, your reportees, Julian in marketing, the birthday planning committee…everyone wants to tell you how to spend your time. But everything goes to hell when you let other people dictate how you spend your time. 

Other people think you are twice the immortal they are and have limitless time to get all of their priorities done. If you spend your day accomplishing what other people think you should do, you’ll never get it done and you’ll just feel bad at the end of every day. 

2. You

As established, you are a bad judge of time. You get distracted. You don’t know how long things will take to get done. You are drawn to all the easy stuff and avoid doing the hard things that have a real impact. 

So who else can do it?

The most sacred productivity moment of the day

We must start with the fact that our brain goes through many different states throughout the day. At times we are impulsive and erratic–let’s call it your survival brain. Other times we are thoughtful and wise–or, your focused brain. The survival brain is your default brain state and is in charge most of your day. It takes a lot of work to shift from the survival brain to your focused brain state. 

The time that you spend prioritizing tasks should be the most insightful and clear-minded that you will be throughout the day, and when your focused brain should be hard at work. When faced with a list of tasks and specifically asked which ones are the most important, your focused brain is pretty damn good at picking the right ones. 

But when given the same list of tasks and addinging in time crunches, messages from other people, numerous distractions, and a noisy open office plan, your survival brain takes over and starts accomplishing whatever seems like the most immediate threat, or the easiest win. 

Giving yourself five minutes away from the madness to ask the question “What’s most important?” is often all you need to make the switch from one brain to another, but there’s one point of the day when your focused brain is most likely to show up. For most of us, this comes at the end of the day when we finally come to grips with our mortality and limits as humans. 

You think back on the day and ask, “Was it a good day or a bad day?” You imagine a friend or spouse asking how your day went. If you are productivity-minded like me, your answer lies in how many tasks you got done and if you got the big stuff done. If the answer is “It was a good day,” you can probably look back and see that you made progress on your big tasks and you moved forward in key areas. You did a good job matching your tasks to your time.  

If you think back and all you can see are small tasks, distractions, meetings that didn’t amount to much, and those same big tasks that you successfully avoided, then you know that you let one of those groups of morons run your day. 

It is at this moment that you will naturally make the best decision about how to manage your time tomorrow. You are more clear-minded than you’ll ever be. Your focused brain is in full evaluation mode. Your survival brain doesn’t do well reflecting on the past, so it has taken a back seat. When reflecting at the end of the day, you have the ability to start the next day fresh and either replicate your success, or fix the issues you had before. All the most effective time management strategies boil down to whether or not your focused brain is in charge when it comes time to decide what to do for the day. 

The Ivy Lee time management strategy

The story goes that back in 1918, PR consultant Ivy Lee was working with the Bethlehem Steel corporation. When asked for help in improving the productivity of the whole company, he gave this plan to the CEO:

  • Clearly define your vision and goals.
  • At the end of the day, write down the six most important tasks to achieve these goals.
  • Rank these six tasks according to their importance.
  • At the start of the next day, start with the first task and don’t move on until it is completed. Then move to the next task.
  • At the end of the day, reassess the priority of any new and uncompleted tasks.

There are two keys to making this method work for you. 

First, you do your prioritizing at the end of the day when you are most clear minded about what is important. 

Second, when you have to start on your most important task before you do anything else. Before you say hello, before you get your coffee, before you open your computer, before you check your email or messages. Before you do anything, you must give your full attention to the most important thing. Start doing it and don’t stop until you finish it. Then go get a bagel.

If you follow this single time management technique everyday for the rest of your working life, you will have an awesome career. Even if you do a Ivy-lite version and only get 1-2 of your most important tasks done, you’ll still wind up being awesome. 

End of the day hygiene

If you really want to take this method seriously, you need to block time for it at the end of your day. You really only need five minutes to do it, but it will make a huge difference. 

However, you will need to practice good workspace hygiene if it is going to work well. Many times at the end of the day, you’ve got 10-20 tabs open on your browser of things you abandoned throughout the day. Or papers laying at your desk. If you leave them all up (or out), then when you start the day tomorrow, you’ll immediately get sucked into finishing whatever was up.

Instead, close down all your tabs. Add any lingering tasks to your task management system so you don’t lose them. Then, pull up the tab or paper that has your most important thing to do tomorrow so that you reduce any kind of friction and your focused brain can start right away with nothing in its way. 

The importance of time management

If you are serious about getting productive, then you have to be serious about time management. There are lots of effective time management strategies and tips out there, and we’ll explore more of them in the future, but the most important one is who calls the shots. If you leave that to other people or to your survival brain, then you’ll always be disappointed with what you can get done. 

Take time management seriously, trust your better brain, and plan your day the night before.