June 24, 2020

The Quest to Take Your Time Back

I get it. Now, as you manage multiple individuals or teams, it feels like you spend most of your time in meetings or preparing for meetings. You miss the times when you sometimes had entire days to yourself to work on a project heads down. While those days will never return, you can make changes to the way you operate to maximize the time you spend freely.

But how? Glad you asked. This article contains small tips and practices that I've been following for years and helped me regain some of my time. I hope you can put some of these to work too!

It all starts with your calendar

How does your Monday morning look like? Mine goes something like this: after my morning espresso (which I perfected on a Rancilio Silvia machine), I take a look at my calendar to understand better what the week ahead holds for me. By looking at each meeting, I try to answer the following questions. Is this a meeting that I must attend? Does it have a clear agenda? Historically, was this meeting useful to me, or can I contribute to the success of this meeting? Based on these questions' answers, I either RSVP with a No, ask for an agenda or start figuring out how to best prepare. By doing this every Monday, you not only save time for yourself for the week by declining meetings you don't need to attend, but it also helps you better prioritize what you need to do during the week.

A tool I found especially useful for my calendar is Clockwise- it helps you to block time (and move meetings around!) on your calendar to create focus time for you and your team.

Speaking of meetings

In my book, there shouldn't be any meetings scheduled without a clear agenda. If there isn't a clear agenda, attendees won't know what we want to get out of a session.

Like most people, I love it when a meeting wraps up early, giving everyone time back. This is one of the reasons I believe meetings should always have an agenda - if we met our goals, everyone could go back to their daily routine.

With that said, I believe it's perfectly fine for meetings to go off-topic for some time. It helps team members to gossip and, and through that, to build better work relationships. At the same time, it's the organizer's responsibility to jump in if it goes on for too long to make sure that we are back on track with agenda items.

Delegate, delegate and delegate some more

Delegation is the process of scaling yourself horizontally. While it requires some upfront investment on your end, like helping individuals build the skills to be successful in the project you delegate to them, it saves you time in the long term.

Delegation doesn't only save you time, but more importantly, this is how you grow talent within your company.

Notify me about...

While Slack messages may seem urgent, they are usually not. Because of this, I prefer consuming Slack by pulling messages, instead of jumping on every single notification. I disable notifications for most things on Slack, and every once in a while, I go through all the Slack rooms that need my attention. At the same time, I try to be responsive to direct messages during working hours.

Don't take me wrong, I am not picking on Slack - I follow the same principles for all the applications I use regularly, like mail clients or Twitter.

Oh, and no notifications on mobile. Ever.

Have you tried automating that?

Whenever I start doing a new activity, for the first few times, I do it manually. Once I have a good grasp of what the work is, I work on automating it, so I never have to do it again. Even if you only save 15 minutes weekly, that's almost two working days annually.

A more recent example of this was when a team I manage started collecting adoption metrics. Initially, I've done it manually, recording all the metrics we were interested in in a spreadsheet. After a couple of times, I wrote a simple Node.js script to collect the same metrics and the script creates CSVs that only takes a few seconds to import to the spreadsheet I created previously.

When applicable, take it a step further and delegate: ask someone from your team to take ownership of the automation to gain experience from building on it.

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