How to be the master of your time

Making minutes count

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As an Art Production Manager, time is my art. Prioritising, delegating, scoping, scheduling, catering to individual needs, diverting tasks, last minute changes… Time is really exciting to work with when literally everything boils down to this:

Do we have enough time to deliver an awesome product?

As a full-time employee, mother of 2 young children, and micro-business owner, juggling these roles and responsibilities is definitely not an easy feat. I do not claim to fulfil all of them to perfection, but my experiences can be boiled down to a few important lessons on how you can better own how you spend your day.

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There are too many time management tools

Jira, Scoro, Trello, Clickup, Toggl, Timecamp… There are so many applications out there to help you optimise your time. There’s also the GTD Methodology, Pomodoro Technique, Eisenhower Matrix, Pickle Jar Theory etc., as well as the jumble of things that many people use to track things they have to do: writing on a notepad, using sticky notes, setting alarm clock reminders, pasting to-do lists on the refrigerator, asking a friend to help remember events — the list goes on.

It is overwhelming, especially for the uninitiated. Where do you even start? Is there a magic tool that can help you track everything from your first waking moment to when you go to sleep?

Is it even humanly possible to not be behind time?

Here’s a method that has worked very well for me so far: timeboxing, using a shared calendar, and having reminders.

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The Timebox

Imagine the timebox as an actual physical box: its space is limited, and you can choose to fill it with whatever you want as long as you understand the objects’ shapes and sizes, and how they fit. The box is a week’s worth of time, and your objects are tasks, and its purpose is to help you plan our weekly objectives. While it is not realistic to plan tasks down to days and hours since the box often gets shaken up by external events, typically they can still fit in place as long as the contents within the box remain reasonably sized.

I use ClickUp to timebox tasks for the art team and myself, since it has very helpful timeline views that are both flexible and customisable. It’s my job to ensure all these tasks fit into everyone’s timeboxes regardless of however many times they get shaken up, and help with delegation if something looks like it’s going to go beyond its owner’s bandwidth.

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The Calendar

In order for the timebox method to work, it also has to be used in conjunction with a team-wide calendar tool. In the ongoing work-from-home situation, people who are in charge of planning and management are often packed with essential virtual meetings. With hands-on tasks to also execute, I need to ensure my time is not getting eaten up by ad-hoc meetings and other syncs.

I did that by blocking time on my Google Calendar. Focus time and lunch time blocks are very useful in this case, and I indicate the tasks I’m working on in the meeting block titles to give the rest of the team visibility if they need to negotiate for more of my time. I do keep this fairly flexible by shifting my focus time to another open slot if someone needs me at that specific moment. If things get too crazy in the week and I end up with almost no focus time, then it quickly becomes clear that something is wrong and I’m not pushing back enough or sitting out of discussions that don’t need me.

My recommendation is to block out non-negotiables: appointments, important syncs, routines. I even block out my kids’ bedtimes. While I do not keep to this extremely strictly (sometimes the kids go to bed at 10pm instead of 8:30pm because things happen), having this visible to the team and being able to mindfully choose when to deviate from the plan has been helpful for me in understanding my time budget and what has to go if I commit to another very-important-thing.

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The Reminder

For the rest of the things that don’t fit into your timebox or calendar, use reminders. I generally do not trust myself to not remember anything since I’m somewhat forgetful in nature, so reminders are important.

Tasks that crop up within the work context are generally traceable. Slack has been very helpful in that aspect. By setting reminders to follow up on threads at a more appropriate time, I do not have to think about coming back to this as Slack will remind me to do it.

On a personal level, I still use the Sticky notes app to track minor day-to-day to-dos and notes, but I am playing with the idea of using Slack for this by creating a private channel to put in all my notes and reminders.

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Everybody works differently

Ultimately, it’s not the end of the world when a task slips; the magic of time and managing it is flexibility.

It is inevitable that external events or mis-scoping will sometimes cause the entire plan to be messed up. However, with mindful prioritisation and delegation, time is often more forgiving than you might think. Allow yourself to make mistakes and pick your battles. Align yourself with your capabilities as much as possible, and if possible, always try to scope better. Everyone works at different speeds with varying levels of commitment so scoping is usually done most effectively by yourself.

As you embark on this endeavour, a good tip would be to allow yourself 30% more time than what you would think you need. It is a common pitfall for people to underestimate the time they realistically need to accomplish a task. They forget that they are often booked for meetings, and they have less time than they think.

As you get more experienced fitting your oddly-shaped objects into the time box, your estimations can only get better and more accurate.

There is always something to be done, and tasks are never ending, so remember to allocate yourself time to do nothing. As a mother of two toddlers, downtime is both precious and much needed to get everything else done. Household chores, micro-business matters, checking in on work messages, there’s always something going on. I’ve found that allowing myself a couple evenings every week to do absolutely nothing has been really helpful and this has led me to be more refreshed by the next day.

Schedule downtime if you have to. Taking time to do nothing at all is a non-negotiable that we often neglect and suffer for in the future, because if you don’t pick a day to relax, your body will end up picking it for you.

So above everything, remember to take a moment for yourself.

Ultimately, your time is yours to control.

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