Last updated: 1 December 2020
Now that working from home is more prevalent than ever before, the importance of time management regardless of your work setting is critical. Arguably all the more crucial in a remote work location. Optimizing your time in a remote work post (usually at home) takes some essential time management secrets.
If you feel something’s not quite right with your current time management methods, you might ask the following questions:
- Are you having trouble striking a balance between home and work life?
- Perhaps you are working over your contracted hours to get everything done?
- Is juggling pets, or chores, or children getting in the way of smashing out a full day?
- Do you get super distracted by social media or time-wasting and find yourself buried under a burgeoning inbox?
- Are you getting to the end of each day feeling like you’re constantly playing catch up without making any clear headway?
Whatever your situation, if you are struggling with how to get the best out of your time while working from home, this guide is for you.
Based on Kevin Kruse’s book 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, comes ILN’s very own list of essential time management secrets to optimizing your time successfully in a remote work setting.
7 Essential Time Management Secrets in a Remote Work Setting
Working from your home is naturally full of distractions– from the TV and social media to family, pets, or chores jostling for your attention.
To work effectively from home, it’s up to you to create an effective structure for your own time to complete tasks and meet deadlines. This can be easier said than done, especially if your phone is pinging with emails late into the evening (or your favorite daytime TV shows just came on).
Fortunately, Kevin Kruse has done the heavy lifting in cracking the time management code by analyzing data from a range of successful people. The work habits of 239 entrepreneurs, 7 billionaires, 13 Olympic athletes and 29 straight A students made up the research behind Kruses’ hacks. And so, ILN has condensed these into: 7 Time Management Secrets.
1. Identify your Most Important Task (MIT) and Work on it Each Day Before Others
According to H. V. Macarthur in her Forbes article Effective Time Management While Working Remotely During the COVID-19 Pandemic time is one of your most valuable, if not the most valuable resource.
Spending time on tasks that are not a priority or even wasting pockets of time on things that don’t matter adds to the stress of all the recent changes.
Time management is a vital tool for your productivity. It also creates more meaning, empowerment and sustainability through the chaos of change you might find yourself in.
So, to profit from your time, get clear on your priority, your most important task. Schedule it as the first thing you work on, before others.
Be firm with yourself – it can feel like checking and reading all your emails in the morning is the most important thing to do, however, usually it’s not your MIT!
Give yourself a set amount of time to skim through emails and mainly get acquainted with anything that might affect your plan for the day (you can go back to working through them at a later point in the day) and then get straight to your MIT. It’s a top time management secret!
2. Work From your Calendar (Not a To-Do List)
Kruse is emphatic about ditching your to-do list in favor of working from your calendar. However, if you are a list-aholic this might just be rocking the foundations of your world.
The point is that, to-do lists can be haphazard in nature.
They often do not reflect the chronological necessity of tasks, and their related deadlines. They can also sway you away from your MIT, so use your time wisely and use your calendar.
- Place everything on your calendar, not simply deadlines.
- Effectively use your calendar like your to-do list.
- Once you have entered your deadlines. look at how the tasks break down.
- Be realistic and ask yourself – what needs to be done and when to achieve that deadline on or before that date?
Place those tasks in your calendar, working backwards from your dates. Enter it all, day by day, week by week. Make sure any tasks related to a closer turn-in date appear higher up on your daily schedule, so you get to them before other less urgent work.
Macarthur of Forbes says:
“Distributing a fixed time for each task is an effective method for completing work on a given day. It ensures you have given the right proportion of effort to different tasks in relation to the tasks’ value.”
Don’t be afraid to block out times in your calendar when you are not available– set your time up to support you getting work done.
Don’t leave your calendar open like a ‘blank slate for others to populate’ says Macarthur. She suggests taking time every Friday to plot in chunks of focused time for the upcoming week, in advance. This will allow you to keep on top of your responsibilities and to meet the multiple demands that you are managing.
Check tomorrow’s schedule before logging off, getting clear on what’s up next, the day before, will help you be ready to stick to your list of tasks.
3. If a Task Can Be Completed within Five Minutes, Do it Immediately!
Putting off the small things in favor of the big (or preferred) things means that a lot of small things pile up. So, once you have done your MIT get to any little things.
Kruse says that done is better than perfect. So just do it. No need to fluff around the edges if the task is complete.
When it comes to completing tasks, notice at what time of the day you’re most productive.
Everyone has a peak time for productivity. Often it is the morning, when you are fresh from some quality rest time. For others it might be in the afternoon when you feel like you’re really hitting your stride.
There is no right or wrong here – just pay attention when yours hits. And then schedule your tasks that require more concentration and a greater amount of focus for this time. A key time management secret is to build your schedule to align with your peak productivity times.
Be aware that others might have a different pattern of output, so discuss and plan accordingly. Coordinate your energy windows with others’ on your team.
4. Control Your Inbox
Kevin Kruse refers to your email inbox as a great way for other people to put their priorities in life. It’s true, with each email is someone else’s priority, which can throw you off yours.
It’s up to you to set your boundaries to minimize this effect, and still be attentive to what comes in. A way to do this is calendarize a set time, or times, to work on your emails daily.
That might be a 10-minute slot at the very start of your working day before your MIT (simply a quick check for anything urgent, or last minute that could potentially affect your day plan). And then follow this up with an hour after lunch to make any necessary full and considered replies – for example.
Replying to and reading a constant flow of emails can be a massive distraction. While written communication is vital, it can be done in scheduled chunks to keep it manageable and allow you to focus on your tasks at hand.
5. Say No to Everything That Doesn’t Support your Immediate Goals
This includes reading and replying to every single email in your inbox!
Ok, saying no to everything that doesn’t support your immediate goals might sound like a hard line to take. But remember, this comes from all those entrepreneurs, billionaires, Olympians and straight A students; people who all nailed their goals.
How? By giving them their full focus, all of their attention.
That means batting off the stuff that doesn’t support your immediate goals.
To set this up: your immediate goal might be to finish a project, or a specific part of your project, for the next two hours. So, for that duration if other demands are being made on your attention, note them down and look at where they can fit after you complete your task.
For example, if your phone rings and it’s’ not urgent, let it go to voicemail and respond in an appropriate and timely manner.
Kruse even goes as far as to advise not answering calls from an unknown number! Why? Because it can potentially be a total waste of time. If it’s important they will leave you a message.
Just to be clear, immediate goals are different to long-term goals: telling your CEO to back off because your long-term goal is to be in the Amazon conducting ethnographic research probably isn’t appropriate (depending on your line of work of course).
Immediate goals are the things that need to be done – now.
Your immediate goals can be subject to thousands of distractions. These distractions are very often a product of your environment. Your job is to reduce these as much as possible so you create as much potential to focus as you can.
First of all, says Dan Marzullo in Ten Time Management Tips For Working Remotely remove all non-essential apps and reminders, and all the pings and dings from social media, from your phone and laptop. And avoid seeing (or hearing) the TV from where you work.
Next, look at your workspace. Dan writes that a cluttered home can be anxiety inducing for many, so making sure to clean the night before helps you to focus while you’re in work mode.
Then check out your desk space. Jonah Hill in Top Five Time Management Tips for Remote Employees suggests occasionally moving your work table or desk to a different location of the house, until you find the ‘sweet spot’ to keep your working vibe fresh.
If, like many, space at home is limited, keep your working space tidy and clear of distractions, this will help you stay focused and energetic at work.
6. Schedule and Attend Meetings as a Last Resort
You all know those meetings that go on forever and waste big chunks of your day. They can be frustrating or stressful if you have a lot of pressing business, or just a totally non-productive way to spend an hour (or three).
The focus instead needs to be on productive communication outside of the meeting arena. Keep in touch with colleagues with one-to-one or specific, relevant group dialogues.
Kruse suggests agreeing on a time to call people instead of calling without an appointment ahead of time. You can waste tons of time chasing folks when a simple agreement makes the conversation happen (without the chase).
When much of your team works remotely, part of your role as a manager or leader is to connect with your team for many reasons. Keeping up morale, to update your workforce, and gauge levels of productivity and engagement for example.
Rather than ad-hoc or unfocused meetings, Macarthur in Forbes suggests coming up with a list of meeting rules that everyone works from. She writes, “work with the team as a whole to determine the best frequency and purpose of the meeting to set everyone up for success.”
7. Batch Your Work with Recurring Themes For Different Days of the Week
What you are aiming for here is to structure not only a daily routine but also a weekly routine. Planning your time to give you different and recurring themes week-on-week reduces anxiety because it creates the structure for you to continually build regularly on each one of your responsibilities.
For the super conscientious it is tempting to ram the week full, overfull, to prove you are showing up to the powers that be.
Remove the guilt of working from home!
Guilt-driven overwork is a recipe for burnout. Lay out clear expectations on hours. As a leader, consider your focus being on results rather than visible computer time, says Macarthur.
Ok, so that’s all good in theory, but in practice – like when your inbox is brimming, you’re bored with your tasks and some news story has really grabbed your interest, how does it work?
How do you implement these 7 time management secrets?
Easy, use Kevin Kruse’s formula: Energy, Capture, Calendar, Concentrate:
Get the right amount of rest. This means good sleep hygiene, a regular bedtime and eight hours of sleep per night. Provide yourself optimum energy with a healthy diet and getting your exercise.
Have a morning ritual like a run, or some meditation, something that sets you up for the day. Take regular breaks. When you cook, always cook more than one meal at a time, this is a two-fer: great time saving and good nutrition!
Capture all your thoughts and ideas with a system such as a notebook. That way, getting distracted by stuff on your phone isn’t an option.
Set your priorities using your calendar rather than simply making a to-do list. If you like to work with lists, use your calendar to generate your daily priorities. Before your workday, Kruse says, schedule time to invest in rituals that enhance your body, mind and spirit.
Multitasking is a myth, so get real and get focused on one thing at a time. Focus on your MIT’s. Take regular breaks. No TV! Buy birthday cards in bulk, pay bills electronically – or even better, automatically. Eliminate all the stuff and fluff so that you get to concentrate on your immediate goals.
Get more valuable tips on how to be an effective remote leader by checking out our article How To Be An Incredible Remote Leader: 10 Ways To Build Trust, Support & Get Shared Results.
To Wrap it Up…
Essentially, time is your most valuable and most scarce resource. Managing your time by setting your priorities and boundaries, working from your calendar, minimizing meetings and distractions, and having a solid schedule are your top time management secrets.
These essential time management secrets will enable you to work at your most productive, wherever you are. Ultimately, according to Kruse, productivity is about energy and focus, not time. So, tip-top time management is a way of creating focus, energy, meaning, stability and work-life balance and not just productivity.