Why Hacks Won’t Help You Manage Your Time

Here’s a confession: When I first began writing this article, I had to pause a few times, stop, and then start again. The words wouldn’t come, so I gave up and went to the gym.

Two hours later, my thoughts started flowing, almost like magic.

If I’d gutted it out and forced myself to articulate my ideas — it would have been time wasted. That’s because in my thirteen years as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that going against my natural prime time only produces half-assed results. So instead, I wait for when I feel fresh, alert, and my creativity is at its peak.

Sure, there’s no shortage of apps to help me organize my schedule, but they all mean very little if I don’t possess the self-awareness to know when I’m at my sharpest.

In his enlightening story for Harvard Business Review, professor of management and entrepreneurship Erich C. Dierdorff notes that “using a scheduling app without the prerequisite time management skills is unlikely to produce positive time management outcomes.”

We all have moments like the one above — beginning a grueling project and realizing the energy just isn’t there. We might slog through and force ourselves to get it done, believing we’re making the best use of our time. But was the quality of work worth the time and pain it took to do it?

Many of us have tried using different tools to manage our days, but the reality is, there’s no hack that will help us better schedule our time than simply knowing ourselves. Luckily, it’s an ability that can be honed and developed.

Related: 15 Time Management Tips for Achieving Your Goals
Better time management is about being strategic

Time management has been shown to help us organize our personal and professional lives, leading to greater levels of well-being and job performance.

According to Dierdorff, people who are able to harness their productivity use three key skills to separate time management success from failure:

1. They are realistic about their time and are aware that it’s a limited resource.

2. They organize their goals and schedules to use their time effectively.

3. They’re flexible and able to adjust to interruptions and change priorities accordingly.

Imagine you stayed up all night with a sick toddler. Your schedule the next morning has you working on a big report for a 90-minute block. Only, your thoughts are scrambled from lack of sleep and you jot down whatever comes to mind, which let’s face it, isn’t all that great.

In the end, it wasn’t your best piece of writing.

Rather than forcing yourself to follow a rigid schedule, being flexible and realistic about your energy would allow for a better performance.

It all comes down to listening to yourself.

Related: 15 of the Best Time Management and Productivity Books of All Time
A little self-awareness goes a long way

“Self-awareness is our capacity to stand apart from ourselves and examine our thinking, our motives, our history, our scripts, our actions, and our habits and tendencies.” — Stephen Covey

As the founder of JotForm, a company with over 150 employees and 5.3 million users, preserving precious brainpower has been essential for making good decisions. The cornerstone of my growth has ultimately come down to becoming aware of and working with my natural rhythms (a process that’s involved a lot of trial and error to get right).

But understanding when I’m at my best is only half of the equation to be effective. “Self-awareness is useless without an equally important skill: self-management,” writes Jennifer Porter, which she defines as demonstrating a more productive behavior. When I can channel my productive energy into my creative work, I’m excited to head into the office every day.

Below is a no-BS (mini) guide to time management:
Harness your prime time

Keep a personal journal where you monitor your activities and evaluate your energy levels while performing them. This doesn’t have to be an all-consuming task — try it out for a week and pay attention to when you feel your brightest. Dierdorff recommends that we break up our typical day into three to four time slots and rank these from our most and least productive. This will also allow you to become more realistic in how you assess the amount of time you thought it would take to do something versus how long it actually took.
Observe your energy levels, and plan accordingly

Just as you shouldn’t slog through your most creative work after staying up with a sick child, it’s also important you allow flexibility for rescheduling when the unexpected comes up. If that morning meeting lasted longer than you planned, avoid taking on critical projects afterward. There’s no use in forcing yourself to actively engage in a heavy workload at those times. Opt instead for completing smaller, low-energy tasks like admin work or responding to emails.
Allow for pauses

Relaxation promotes creative thinking — and giving your mind a chance to freely wander will do more for your work than dragging yourself throughout the day. A vital part of successful time management is allowing for these moments of recovery. There’s also evidence that shows even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve our ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.
Respect and honor your downtime

In today’s competitive workforce, many of us are tempted to glorify the 24/hour hustle culture, trying to squeeze out every last inch of juice from our day. But unlike CEO of digital marketing company VaynerMedia, Gary Vaynerchuk, I don’t encourage founders to work relentless 18 hour days. I like to think that one of the things that sets us apart at JotForm is our dedication to sustaining a work/life balance. For this reason, I encourage my team to pay attention to their prime hours, and also to honor the time spent away from the office — to take Slack off their phones and use up all their vacation time.

I don’t know what will work for everyone, but I know this: No scheduling app or life hack can make up for listening, acknowledging, and respecting your own needs.

Smart Tips for Setting the Pace at Your New Job

The following excerpt is from Kanika Tolver’s book Career Rehab. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes
When you start a new job, it’s important to begin the career relationship the way you want it to be for as long as you plan to have that job. You’re in the driver’s seat, so don’t be afraid to set your work pace in the first 90 days. During this stage, you should be evaluating what you like and dislike about your job as you get to know the people, the culture, and your responsibilities.

The first 90 days is your career relationship trial period, and it may look something like this:

Related: Building Your Street Cred to Get the Salary You Deserve

First 30 days. When you start a new role, it’s important to really observe the culture of your new organization. Analyze when people come to work and when they leave to go home. This will tell you a lot about how to set your work schedule and whether your team values working from home and flexi­ble work schedules.

First 60 days. Clearly understand the expectations of your role. Ask your management team and co-workers what you should expect from your daily tasks and regular meetings. Also, try to shadow your teammates and management team before you’re fully thrown into a specific project.

First 90 days. At this point, you should be able to identify the subject matter experts on your team. These will be the go-to folks who can help when you’re stuck on a deliverable or don’t understand an organization policy or office politics. Make sure you’re creating a strong circle of trust so you can easily navigate work-related challenges.

To set expectations and boundaries for your new job, address the following four issues with your direct supervisor:

Have your supervisor clearly communicate your work schedule.
Find out the actual percentage of time you’ll be spending on specific tasks or projects.
Ask if you’ll be able to work from home a few times per week or per month.
Find out how your manager and supervisor will be rating your performance.

Don’t make the mistake of not addressing these issues early on, because once you’ve created bad working habits, you may never be able to change them.

Related: How to Work the Room Like a Network Hustler
Work faster with technology

Professionals spend a lot of time tracking conversations and information through email and manually keeping track of their calendars, which is a pain in the ass. Projects suffer because teams aren’t effectively collaborating or communicating ongoing changes. Organizations are working in silos, which is frustrating to professionals who are forced to stay late every day. Productivity starts with organization. If you fail to be organized, you won’t succeed.

These five tools can help you be more organized and productive:

Calendly. This is a super easy tool that allows you to automati­cally schedule meetings and appointments for your online cal­endar. This tool sends a notification to your email and places the scheduled meeting on your calendar and the requestor’s calendar.
Jira. A project management tool that teams use to gather project requirements and assign user stories and tasks to team members. It also tracks progress, assigns due dates, and allows you to attach documents.
Slack. An online tool that teams can use to communicate and collaborate on projects. This tool cuts down on emails because you can use the app to talk to the entire group or to individu­als. No more chasing down emails!
Google Drive. This free product allows you to create docu­ments and save them in the cloud, which can be linked to your email account. Google Drive is a great way to back up your computer files and share them with other contributors.
Zoom. A free online conferencing tool that allows you to conduct video meetings, record webinars, and host team meetings. It also includes a screen-sharing option.

Put yourself first

On average, you’ll spend more than 90,000 hours of your life at work, according to a 2018 article in Business Insider. (This number doesn’t include overtime.) When do professionals have time for their personal lives?

Growing up, I watched my parents work overtime and weekends during their entire careers, which lasted more than 32 years of my life. They were both considered “essential professionals,” who had to report to work even during snowstorms. Now retired, my mother has more time to herself and reflects on everything she missed out on while she was working. Your personal life, family, and health matter now. Don’t wait until you retire to focus on the things that matter today.

Related: Preparing for Showtime: The Job Interview

Your organization clearly knows what they expect of you for eight hours a day. What do you expect from yourself while you are at work? To have a healthy relationship with your job you first have to have a healthy relationship with yourself. So, make a conscious decision to put your wants and needs before the job.

Here are ten ways to focus on you:

Pray or meditate daily. It helps ease your mind before your day begins and promotes positivity in your life.
Work a hard eight hours and then go home. Working longer hours may only mean something to you. Once you’ve done all you can do in those eight hours, leave on time.
Turn your work mobile phone off once you’ve finished work. There’s no need to respond to every call or email that comes through after work hours. You can follow up with them the next business day.
Work out three to five times a week. It will help you feel and look better, as well as help you cope with work-related stress. It’s so important to take care of your car­diovascular health.
Eat healthy meals throughout the day to stay energized and keep yourself feeling great.
Take daily walks while at work; a change of scenery can help you feel better. Get outside and get a good dose of Vitamin D.
Make time for routine doctor appointments. So often we work so hard that we neglect our health. When you’re not feeling well, follow up with your doctor and get diagnosed early.
Schedule monthly massages for your body. For those who sit at computers daily and those who have labor-intensive jobs, deep tissue massages help ease the pain in your upper and lower back.
Sign up for non-work-related classes or online courses that interest you. This will help you learn new topics and skills outside your job duties.
Embrace your hobbies, talents, and gifts outside work. Too often we focus on our career-related skills and neglect our other abilities. Your hobbies and passions will help keep you sane.

Leaders Need Time to Be Great. How to Support Rising Stars in Your Organization.

Becoming a great leader takes time. It’s an evolution that demands commitment, relentless focus on the end goal, and intentional effort every day to get better. As the old saying goes, “Experience is the best teacher” and nothing could be truer when it comes to becoming a great leader.

Regardless of how many leadership books one consumes, how many successful business leaders they follow on LinkedIn, or how many courses they enroll in, the most pivotal learning for leaders will happen on the job. They will happen in the middle of an average day when a historically high performing employee falls short on a key project; or when a team that generally collaborates well, experiences a conflict that threatens to irreparably tear them apart. These are challenging experiences that will not always be flawlessly handled by leaders.

But that is not the point, nor should it be the expectation. As anyone who has ever held a position of leadership can recall, it is the experiences or situations where they fell short that they look back on most thoughtfully. Only now with experience, time, and reflection under their belt can they look back, identify their mistake, and explain what they “should” have done. These experiences are defining moments in a leader’s journey and are a crucial step in the right direction towards greatness.

Therefore, if leaders need time to become great, then it is the job of their organization to support them along their journey. Here’s how:
1. Communicate expectations

If expectations have never been communicated directly to your leaders, then you can almost bet there are a few in the crowd making some assumptions. These assumptions may be leading them to believe they need to be exceptional leaders from their very first day leading people or that they can never fail. While these are unrealistic expectations for any company to have of their leaders, these are very real thoughts leaders at all levels may have.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Therefore, if you truly want to see your leaders succeed and be great, communicate your expectations. This eliminates the need for assumptions or guesswork and tells leaders exactly what they need to do to be great in the eyes of their company. For example, some may set the expectation that leaders should be approachable, focused on empowerment, committed to their own development, and open-minded to change. By intentionally defining these behaviors or skills, leaders can move forward with clarity and understanding about how their performance is being measured.
2. Create a culture of continuous learning

It is not uncommon to hear that the realities of business such as deadlines, crisis’, and shifting priorities, are impeding a leader’s ability to make their development a priority. With so much to do and so little time, learning and development can quickly turn into a “check the box activity.” In order to overcome this objection, creating a company culture of continuous learning will be important. In this culture, opportunities for improvement and one’s development through various learning activities are encouraged and seen as just as crucial to one’s success as their ability to complete a project. It is a culture where time spent learning now is seen as a positive future investment.

Related: 50 Rules for Being a Great Leader
3. Invest in practical, relevant, experiential training

When it comes to leadership training, there are hundreds, if not thousands of options available at your fingertips. Though for those who want to see their leaders become great by equipping them with the competencies, skills, and tools they need to succeed on the job and “in the heat of battle,” it will not be enough for training to transfer knowledge via a video, lecturer, or online course. Rather, an investment should be made in leadership training that is experiential in nature, where leaders are engaged in their own learning through interactive and hands-on activities or discussions. Through these experiences, leaders learn by doing, which builds confidence to apply the learning back on the job immediately.
4. Set up a mentoring initiative and ensure access to coaching

Effective mentoring has been shown to result in higher organizational commitment, higher job satisfaction, and more positive feelings towards senior leadership and the company as a place to work – all of which are things you want from your leaders. In order to make this happen, you must ensure leaders have regular access to their mentors and can receive timely coaching. Those who do will be able to turn to their mentors in pivotal moments of learning to discuss their problem, examine solutions, and plan a course forward.

Related: 7 Ways to Go From a Boss to a Leader
Take time today for tomorrow’s leaders

Leaders at all levels have immense potential within them to be great, no matter how greatness is defined by your organization. While their job is to meet your organization’s defined expectations of great leadership, it is your job to support and equip them along the way. Whether you choose to do so through your company culture, leadership training, mentorship programs, or a combination of all three, these actions directly support a more successful future for your leaders, your employees, and your company.