Crafting your winning time management technique
Time management is an Achilles heel for many product managers. The role naturally demands juggling a diverse set of tasks with various functions. And no matter how much you plan and prioritize, you will have endless action items and conversations. Each conversation or task spawns more follow-ups and action items. So, how do you win this race against time and stay on top of your schedule? The secret lies in building a time management product where the primary persona is you.
What worked for others may not work for you.
Most time-management frameworks fail because they were built by someone else. These experts optimized their time through awareness, experimentation, and discipline. Then they were kind enough to share the formula they synthesized retroactively with us.
This shared learning is necessary but not sufficient. Each person and their situation is unique. For example, feeling overwhelmed and randomized may be a symptom of an ambiguous role. So, simply optimizing your calendar may not work for you. True transformation comes from awareness of your situation and nurturing habits that work best for you.
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What are your time deficiency symptoms?
What makes you think you are mismanaging your time? It could be a combination of feeling overwhelmed, randomized, burned out, not getting the core tasks done, or falling behind on your career goals. Now, identify your strongest symptoms because that will determine the next steps.
What are your current time and energy expenditures?
Your calendar is an objective assessment of your time allocation. But also assess where you spend your thoughts and energy throughout the day. Worrying about an issue? Resolving conflicts and misalignment? Resenting over a situation? Write them down.
Now evaluate your expensive habits and behaviors. Are you frequenting LinkedIn for a dopamine sip? Or are you obsessed with a zero inbox at the minute granularity? Do you tend to take on more work? What drives that behavior? Take a neutral assessment of your behavioral patterns because your time-management strategy will emerge from this self-assessment.
What does “time well spent” mean to you?
What’s your definition of productivity? Some people feel productive when they have gotten the tactical stuff out of the way. Others want to first immerse into the most important, not necessarily urgent, tasks. Some are energized by whiteboarding with a teammate, while others like to ideate on their own first. Each person is different. Recognize your perceptions of efficiency. Find your groove.
Your peak efficacy lies at the intersection of what you like to do, what you are good at, and what makes the most impact. Shreyas Doshi articulates this extremely well in his LNO framework, where he suggests maximizing investments on tasks that give you the highest leverage. Aligning your productivity definition with what drives the most impact will help you determine your time management success criteria.
Experiment with your perfect day.
Identify a day when it’s easiest to optimize your time. Use a low/zero-meeting day or take a day off. Create a work environment that minimizes the time-expensive habits you identified earlier. For example, if you are addicted to checking emails, block access to your inbox and set an out-of-office response. If you are tempted to browse the internet, go offline. Then spend time on a high-leverage activity. Ironically, this activity could be drafting your time management strategy. Other high-leverage activities include refining your goals, addressing a systemic issue, or building a strategy for your product. Or, it may be meeting a mentor over coffee and exploring level-up opportunities. I shared ideas on cultivating a flow state in this post.
On that day, try out a proven time management framework. These are some that I use:
Pomodoro technique when I need to focus on an extended activity.
Schedule the day in 30-minute increments when I have multiple urgent and important tasks on the same day.
Organize daily todos using the 3-3-3 method (deep work, short tasks, maintenance activities).
Keep it simple. Start with a framework that jives with you instead of finding the best one. And feel free to tailor it. For example, I like the 30-minute schedule better than the 10 or 15 minutes.
Once you feel productive enough, getting tactical for the rest of the day is OK. Journal your day. Did you feel productive? What got in the way? What would make the next iteration more effective? Writing your experience will solidify your awareness which is the key to building your own system.
Expand the learning throughout the week.
Now that you piloted a productive day, explore wins you can apply to the rest of the week. For example, if you learned that walking in the morning helped you get more done, add morning walks on days when you need to be extra time efficient.
Play, learn, and evolve. If your Monday starts with a morning meeting, plan your day the night before. If listen-only meetings fragment your brain because of obsessive multi-tasking, take those on a walk or during an exercise.
As you deploy your own techniques, check back on the symptoms you identified early on. Do you feel better? If so, keep going. Else, pivot and try a different strategy on your experimental day. Treating time management as a product will clarify your product person fit. It may take time, but when you find it, it will last. And when your work evolves, you will be equipped to adopt and craft a new technique that will fit the new role and responsibilities.
In closing, the most effective time management technique will come from you, not others. It requires assessing your current situation, understanding your productivity perception, and aligning it with your high-impact endeavors. You can experiment once a week to find the best techniques for you. Apply the winning techniques throughout your work week to achieve your time management nirvana.
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