advertisement
advertisement

5 clever hacks to better defend your time

A busy schedule demands workers approach their days prudently.

5 clever hacks to better defend your time
[Photo: cottonbro/Pexels]

Ever get to the end of a week and ask “Where did all the time go?” Well, turns out you’re not alone.

advertisement
advertisement

My startup, which builds a platform to help busy professionals manage their calendars more efficiently, recently published a trend report surveying over 2,000 professionals to analyze how they prioritize and defend time for focused work. We found that only 12.4% of individual contributors dedicate more than 6 hours a day to their task work, and only about half of that time is actually spent on “productive” work.

Today, managers are struggling to help improve productivity and defend time for their teams: on average, they ranked their ability to minimize distractions and interruptions for their teams as only 5.3 out of 10.

As a founder of a company that’s been feverishly addressing the problem of how we manage and defend our time intelligently for the past three years, I have some strong opinions about what employers should be doing to make this better.

advertisement
advertisement

Here are my top five tips to give your teams superpowers for their workweeks in order to make your people happier, more productive, and more focused.

1. Reduce the noise

One of the most shocking findings in our report was the sheer number of times that knowledge workers reported being interrupted on a daily basis. On average, workers reported being interrupted 31.6 times per day. That means that in an 8-hour workday, your employees are getting interrupted from their core work about four times every hour.

It’s not just about the interruptions themselves. Context switching has a real cost, and it prevents your team from getting into a productive flow state.

advertisement

Two ways to help reduce that notification fatigue:

  • Be smart about status. With tools like Slack, your status is a signal to your coworkers that invites interruption. Being smart about setting Do Not Disturb at strategic points during your day—or better yet, syncing your status automatically to your calendar—is a great way to prevent those pings and dings from ruining your focus.
  • Group distractions: The engineers at Apple made big strides toward reducing notification fatigue by introducing features that let you set time ranges for notifications, and more recently introduced notification summaries that groups notifications into a single burst so they don’t break up your day. This act of grouping together your checks of notification has been shown to be better for your mental well-being.

2. Get real about your available time

Estimation is a controversial topic. Ask any engineering team how they do estimation, and you’ll likely get about 10 different answers—including “We don’t.” There’s good reason for being skeptical of estimation, since our ability to estimate how long tasks take is notoriously terrible.That being said, there are only so many hours in the week, and with meetings consuming over half of the workweek on average, I’m a big believer that teams need to embrace some form of capacity planning or at least recognize their true ability to fit all the things into their schedule in order to be realistic.

This doesn’t mean that every minute of the day is accounted for. But a coarse-grained gut check—ideally by looking at the actual calendars of the team—can go a long way towards sanity. It also helps to ruthlessly prioritize the things that really matter.

advertisement

3. Set core collaboration hours

Every team has too many meetings. Reducing them can feel like whack-a-mole, but it doesn’t have to; an alternate method is to just limit the capacity on the schedule for meetings altogether.

In the new world, this is known as “core collaboration hours“—a window (usually four hours or less per day) where people are expected to be online, and where meetings can happen. Outside of those hours, there’s no expectation that anyone attends or schedules meetings.

There are two big benefits to using core hours: first, it limits the total space where meetings can be scheduled. Second, it enables more flexibility across the team, which gives people the space they need to find balance between work and life.

advertisement

4. Embrace the benefits of automation

There are a lot of policies that we can use to make employees and teams more productive, but there’s also a very real technological barrier: the systems we use to manage our time don’t know what matters to us, meaning those of us without a full-time assistant need to do our own stunts.

Giving your team tools to do things like automate their status messages in Zoom or Slack, block time for their tasks dynamically, or even just sync their personal events to their work calendar so they don’t get overbooked, can make a huge difference. It lets them focus on doing their best work instead of the toil of managing their schedule.

5. Give balance to your schedule

It’s important to recognize that we’re all working in strange times. There’s a new set of modalities that we’ve all had to embrace in working from home, and a new kind of flexibility that’s required to give us balance between work and life. This isn’t just me being touchy-feely; there is evidence that happy employees simply tend to be more productive.

advertisement

Through reducing notification fatigue, being real about the time it’s going to take to get the important things done, establishing core “online” hours, and giving your teams the tools they need to defend and manage their time automatically, you can give them the balance they so badly need. They’ll be happier, more focused, and more productive—which ultimately means better results for everyone.


Henry Shapiro is the cofounder of Reclaim.ai, a smart tool for calendar management. Prior to Reclaim, Henry was the VP of product at New Relic, where he worked on acquiring new customers and developing new products.

advertisement
advertisement