Productivity Lie #11: You should know how to master your time

Boost productivity and lose your deeply misguided assumption that you’re the only one in the office without enough time...

Our most popular training module at Productivity Playground is Productive Time. We teach it in different formats, sometimes with add-ons, always with a measurable. The programme is taught across the board from fresh-faced interns to wiser been-around-the-block-six-times CEOs. You’d think you would have it organised by now, but you don’t. Why is it that time management mastery has so little to do with position, status, been-there-done-that got the T-shirt?

It’s not a subject taught at school, not a factor in college, varsity or any of your new job inductions (that I know of), just a simple expectation that, well, by now you should have got sussed. But you haven’t, have you?

What productivity lies are you telling yourself?

PRODUCTIVITY LIE #11: You should know how to master your time

If you are one of the many in a deeply misguided assumption that you’re the only one in the office without enough time, here’s something you really need to know right now…

Few people have mastered their time, while many more are still searching for the answer to being able to juggle workload and life. The finest line exists between getting it and getting it right. But it doesn’t have to be difficult, complicated or complex.

The 3 things you can do right now:

Okay, here’s a quick overview for mastering your time. You can remember each step with the acronym LIPS (without the ‘i’). L – List, P – Prioritise, S – Schedule. 

1. LIST: Untangle your brain spaghetti 

I don’t usually speak to contact centre staff, but this project was a challenge and I thought I’d done my prep well enough. 10 groups of around 10 delegates each over 3 days certainly got me thinking. You see, I asked the first group what I thought was a fly away question: “How many of you use a list?” Expecting at least half of the hands to shoot up, I was greeted by a blank stare and a guilty sea of smiles. Slightly floored by the non-response, I repeated the question to each of the subsequent groups and got pretty much the same response. These people relied on their brains to remember what needed to be done – e.g. return the call, order stationery, complete the report, pick up a loaf of bread on the way home from work etc. Relying on your brain is like working on a slow computer, I call it brain spaghetti, the cooked type. You see, when you keep every task in your head, you slow down room for taking action. When you un-jumble the spaghetti and capture your tasks on a list of some sort, you free up room in your brain to think straight, get creative and process better. It just makes sense to work with a list.

  • Practice the mantra “one life, one list”
  • Choose a single place to capture your list (other than your brain) and then stick with this one place
  • Written lists work just as well as electronic ones so don’t be bullied into downloading an app if you honestly prefer to work with pen and paper. If however you are searching for the right task management app, check out Wunderlist, Trello or Teudeux. For written lists, choose a side bound book and note down everything you need to get done one under the other (call this your ‘brain dump’)

Tip: spend the last couple of minutes of every workday populating your to-do list. This way you can leave the office with a clear(er) mind.

2. PRIORITISE: Sort the gold from the silver

Now that you have a running list of everything that you need to do, all contained in one place other than your brain, you can start processing by priority, instead of taking action on the fly and doing what needs to be done purely based on deadline, or on who is shouting the loudest. Time management is not about getting everything done on your list, but everything about doing what is important on your list.


Review your list and place a number 1 next to each task that is of high value and high reward. Ask:

  • What on my list brings me or my company closest and quickest to bringing in money?
  • What on my list is closely linked to me fulfilling my key job specification i.e.why was I hired and where can I add the most value?

Prioritise your priorities:

Now that you know what is a priority, look back over your number ones and select a hierarchy so you know in what order you need to take action:

Disclaimer: All your number 1s are important; you just can’t do them all at once. You want to focus on your highest value, highest reward tasks first so if you don’t get to all your number 1s today, at least you’ve got to the most important ones first. Here are some questions you can ask to help you filter/rank your priorities based on return on investment (ROI), deadline & length of time it will take to complete the task.

  • If the task is directly related to bringing in money, ask:

o   What high value tasks will bring money into the bank account the quickest (i.e. the invoiced client needing a phone call to clarify banking details would take precedence over the prospective client needing to place an order)

  • If the task is deadline driven, ask:

o   When is this due (date & time)

  • If you are filtering by the length of time a task will take, ask:

o   How long will this take and how can I slot it into my busy day (e.g. you might need to break a 1 hour task into three 20 minute chunks over 3 consecutive days).

Tip: Instead of leaving your high value tasks for later on in the day when you think you’ll be less disturbed, do your highest value tasks as early on in your day as possible.

3. SCHEDULE: Set aside time to make it happen

Now that you have a prioritised list, you can wisely schedule your tasks for specific times in your day which means you’ll have greater chance of getting them done. Yup, you should be scheduling more than just your meetings.

Block off time in your calendar/diary for:

  • Power hour: The first hour in your workday (preferably early in your day) where you focus solely on your highest value, highest reward, priority task.
  • Pre-meeting prep and post-meeting action: when scheduling a meeting, allocate appropriate time in your diary for preparing for the meeting as well as taking action post-meeting. This will save you rushing from one meeting to another without any time to add any real value.
  • Communication: Instead of checking email on the fly or returning calls on the run, schedule 3x 30 minute communication slots in your day. Working to the clock will help you move through this time sapping task swiftly. If an email needs more time to process, simply add the action to your to-do list and prioritise accordingly.
  • Planning: Block off the last 15 minutes of every workday for planning your tomorrow (this is where you do a brain dump onto your to-do list, prioritise based on priorities & schedule appropriately in your calendar). Doing this later in the afternoon when you are tired is way better than doing it first thing in the morning when you are at your peak for taking action.

Tip: Every time you feel overwhelmed, rushed, pressed for time, hop back to step 1 above (then 2 & 3). Clearing your brain is the very first thing you need to do to move forward with taking action.


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