Although the average American works 8.8 hours per day, most employees deliver peak productivity just 3 to 4 hours a day. Knowing this, you and your team can experiment with different time management strategies to maximize your peak hours. This will elevate ideation and the quality of work completed on your latest projects.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to time management, so each team member must identify what works best for them. A mix of the tips below will help.
#1 Know Your Most Productive Times of Day
In addition to delivering peak performance in just 3 to 4 hours per day, you also have a time of day that you are the most productive. For some people this is first thing in the morning, for others it’s mid-day, and for some, it’s late in the day.
So, schedule your most pressing tasks, most creative tasks, or most challenging tasks during this time.
#2 Create a Daily To-Do List
Even if it’s not an everyday occurrence, unexpected obligations will arise. So, knowing that you will deliver your essential to-do list items within a maximum of 4 hours—schedule your time accordingly.
This is easier said than done, as your to-do list may be lengthy, which takes us to the next time management tip.
#3 Know Your Priorities
Once you create your to-do list, prioritize the items on the list. Utilizing the Franklin Covey A, B, C system may be helpful. Or utilize another planner system.
Assign a letter next to each task to indicate its level of priority:
- A = Must be done—Critical
- B = Should be done—Important
- C = Could be done—low value
- D = Waste—No value—delegate
At the end of each day, assess whether you have completed all of your “A-list” items. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t, as the objective is to learn what you can realistically achieve during your high-productivity times.
The “D” above is delegate and most leaders could be doing a much better job of delegating. If it can be done by someone else, let it go. Or delegate portions of a project. For example, gathering research and data.
Who do you delegate to? Ideally, someone who excels at the task you are taking off your plate. Also, consider delegating to external experts. When everyone does what they do best, everyone is more fulfilled—and the outcomes are elevated.
#5 Time Block Instead of Multitasking
While it might sound like multitasking allows you to get more done, it actually leads to decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is one of the reasons peak performance fades. It’s the concept that you only have a limited number of high-quality decisions you can make each day. If you continue trying to innovate or make major decisions after your peak-time, the decisions may not be as sound or as creative. Over time, decision fatigue leads to exhaustion, overwhelm, stress, and anxiety.
Time blocking is the concept of optimizing your peak-time by focusing solely on one task without interruptions of any kind. This means no phone calls, emails, or smartphone use—just hyperfocus on the task at hand. Further optimize this time by limiting it to 3 to 4 hours and blocking your time at your most productive time per day.
#6 Unplug Throughout the Day
Unplugging while you time block eliminates distractions. Unplugging is challenging, as the average American checks their phone 96 times per day, which is once every 10 minutes. In terms of time, this results in an average of almost 5.5 hours of smartphone use per day. Yes, much of this is for work, but it’s for personal use too.
In addition to unplugging during your peak-time and while time blocking, unplug at other strategic times during the day.
- During team and client meetings.
- During one-on-one conversations.
- At dinner with family and friends.
- An hour or so before bed.
- The first hour or so of the day.
- For blocks of time over the weekend.
Also, consider turning off all work-related notifications on the weekends or using an app to manage personal and professional contacts during your time off.
#7 Task Batch
Task batching is the process of completing similar tasks at the same time, including both peak-time and off-peak time tasks. For example, many highly productive people only respond to emails 3 or 4 times per day, instead of as every email comes in. This might be first thing in the morning, at lunch, and at the end of the day.
Or a marketing professional may create all of their social media content for the next 7 days in one setting, instead of creating one post every day.
Task batching can also get you in the zone.
#8 Think on It
There are always deadlines and decisions that can’t wait, but not every decision should be made in the moment. When you can, give it a day or two, particularly if it’s something that requires creativity. Then, schedule brainstorming solo or with your team during your peak productivity time.
#9 Take Your Breaks
More time doesn’t always equal more productivity. While you may be able to push through to get more done, pushing through isn’t sustainable. Even a 10- or 15-minute break provides the following benefits:
- Value alignment
- Increased productivity
- Improved mental health
- Improved well-being
- Increased job satisfaction
- Restored focus and attention
- Minimized decision fatigue
- Increased creativity
- And more
For your break to be effective, you must unplug from work and ideally leave your desk. It’s even better if you take a walk, do something active, or have a social non-work-related lunch.
#10 Utilize a Time-Management Rule
In addition to taking your daily lunch break and a 10-minute break or two, consider these scientifically proven time management strategies:
30/30/30 rule—this is the concept of spending 30% of your workday working, 30% teaching and developing your team, and 30% in self-development.
52/17 rule—this is the concept of working for 52-minutes, followed by a 17-minute break. Set a timer, even if it’s closer to 60/20 instead of 52/17.
Last but not least, don’t schedule every minute of your day. When you can, pre-schedule at least a few open blocks of time each week. This time can be dedicated to projects that unexpectedly take more time than designated—or to innovations that arise along the way!