Time Management for Managers: The Ultimate Guide

written by Dan Silvestre
Time Management

time management for managers

Let’s talk about time management for managers:

Imagine you’re the captain of a ship, sailing across a wide, blue ocean. Your ship is your team, and the vast sea represents the time you have every day.

As the captain, your job is to guide your ship safely to the treasure island, which is your goal for the day.

This story is a lot like the job of a manager, who has to lead their team to achieve their goals by managing time wisely.

What is Time Management?

Time management is like playing a video game where you have to complete tasks before time runs out.

But in real life, the game doesn’t end at bedtime; it starts again the next day.

Good time management helps you do your work without feeling rushed or stressed. It’s about planning your day so you can play, rest, and work without missing out on fun.

Why Is Time Management Important for Managers?

Managers have a special job. They need to make sure their team is happy, the work is done well, and everything is on time.

It’s like being a coach of a sports team. The coach needs to make sure every player knows what to do and that the team wins the game.

If the coach manages the team’s time well, they can practice, play, and rest without feeling too tired.

7 Tips for Managers to Manage Time Well

1. Know What Needs to be Done

The first step is like making a shopping list before going to the store. You need to know what you need to buy so you don’t forget anything.

For managers, making a list of what tasks need to be done helps them not forget anything important.

We like to think our to-do lists are efficient, but at the end of the day, we still feel unproductive.

The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that “20% of your activities account for 80% of your results”:

In other words, if you have a to-do list with 10 items, 2 of them will be worth more than the other eight.

Work isn’t distributed equally, so you need to focus more on the things that matter most.

Your to-do list should reflect your priorities and take into account the effort needed.

Here’s how to 80/20 your to-do list:

  1. Assign a Number to Effort. Pick a task and think of the amount of effort involved. Number it from 1 to 10, with 1 requiring the least amount of effort. Repeat for all the items
  2. Assign a Number to Impact. Now, consider the potential positive results from each task. Label these in the same way, with 10 being the biggest impact
  3. Rank Your Tasks. Divide the amount of effort by the potential results. This is your new priority ranking to more effectively manage time and increase results.

Those that deliver the greatest results with the least effort are completed first.

Others that require more effort with little results can be postponed or removed from your to-do list.

2. Make a Plan for the Day

Planning your day is like setting up a treasure map. You decide where to go first, what to do next, and how to reach the treasure, which is finishing your work.

Every morning, managers should make a plan for what they want to do that day.

Use a technique called Time Blocking.

Ever heard of Elon Musk, Bill Gates, or Cal Newport?

Yep – all time-blockers. And they’re not doing it because they like coloring in their bullet journals. They’re squeezing every drop of productivity from their days.

Making lists of things to do, and trying desperately to finish them isn’t enough. It doesn’t give your days structure or routine. To-do lists don’t help you focus.

You need to bring in an important element: time.

Tasks need to be associated with time. You have to figure out when a task will get done, and how long it’s going to take.

Time blocking is a method of combining task management and your calendar. You create ‘blocks’ of time in your days and give them tasks to focus on. Every task fits into its time block, without interrupting anything else.

Here’s how to lock down time blocks:

  1. Make your time blocks bold. Use vibrant colors or titles. Your blocked times should scream out at you when you look at your planner so your eyes don’t miss them
  2. Share these times with your team. Having the people who are close to you be familiar with these times ensures that they won’t bother you during them. This way you can stay focused on your tasks without the added distraction
  3. Stick with it. Make it a habit. To do this, stick with these blocked times for at least 30 instances It will become the flow of your week.

3. Break Big Tasks into Smaller Ones

Big tasks can be daunting, like a huge mountain of treasure. Breaking them into smaller pieces makes it easier to handle, like dividing the treasure into manageable chests.

Break down tasks as much as you can. I prefer tasks that I can complete in less than 90 minutes.

Use the Pomodoro Technique when working on your tasks. Remember my preference for tasks that take less than 90 minutes? Well, that’s 3 Pomodoro cycles.

Dividing large tasks into smaller tasks helps you stay on track and gives you a sense of accomplishment as you check off each item. It also makes it easier to maintain focus and make steady progress toward project goals.

4. Set Time for Email and Meetings

time management for managers set time for email and meetings

Emails and meetings are like stop signs on the road. They make you pause your work. Managers should decide when to check emails and have meetings so they don’t stop their work too much. Maybe they can check emails in the morning, have meetings in the middle of the day, and then work quietly in the afternoon.

For example:

Processing email is just another task (a recurring one). Email “windows” are chunks of time to process email.

I have three email “windows” to ​batch-process​ email:

  • After I complete my biggest task of the day. This is normally around 11 am
  • After lunch. My ​​energy levels​ are a bit lower​ so it’s a prime time to do some shallow work
  • Before ending my workday. This ensures nothing falls through the cracks before shutting down

During these windows, I’m focused on taking 1 of 6 possible actions on each message:

  1. Reply. If an email requires immediate action and I can answer quickly, I handle it right away
  2. Archive. If I don’t need to do anything else about it
  3. Add it to my Calendar. For meetings and any time-specific events
  4. Add it to my task manager. When the email contains a task, I add it as a to-do
  5. Send it to my notes app. For anything I want to save for future reference
  6. Send it to my Read Later app. For information I want to process later

I get to inbox zero​ every day. If there’s a task in the email, I add it to my to-do list.

If it’s something important, I add it directly to my calendar, with a link to the email.

More on how I use Gmail effectively on my ​GTD Email course.

5. Learn to Say No

Saying no is a skill. We start with limited experience but can get better at it over time. In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown offers seven effective ways to say no:

  1. The awkward pause. When a request comes to you in person, pause and count to three before delivering your decision. Or simply wait for the other person to fill the void
  2. The soft “no” (or the “no but”). Explain that you are focused on other things right now but would love to get together once you’re done with them
  3. “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” This will give you time to pause and assess your priorities. Take back control of your own decisions rather than be rushed into a “yes”
  4. Use e-mail bouncebacks. Why limit email auto-responses to holidays? Train other people to respect your productivity, work, and time by using an automatic response
  5. Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritize?” Remind your superiors what you would be neglecting if you said yes and force them to deal with the trade-off
  6. State what you are willing to do: for example: “You are welcome to borrow my car. I am willing to make sure the keys are here for you.” By doing this you are also saying that you won’t be able to drive the person but instead, you frame it in terms of what you willing to do
  7. “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.” It is tempting to think that our help is uniquely invaluable, but often people requesting something don’t care if we’re the ones who help them — as long as they get the help

6. Take Breaks

taking breaks

Taking breaks is like pausing a movie to go get some popcorn. It gives you a little rest so you can enjoy the movie more.

Managers should take short breaks during the day to rest their brains. This helps them think better and work faster when they start working again.

We associate breaks with time we could be working. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Your brain is only designed to work at peak performance for a limited amount of time.

After you exceed 90 minutes of high-frequency brain activity, you must rest. Otherwise, you’re pushing your body when you have exceeded its limits.

In other words:

Your brain needs rest between focused work.

I take two types of breaks:

  1. 10-15 minute break, moving around, getting coffee, etc
  2. Longer 20-30 minute break where I switch off work completely

If I’m feeling tired or low on energy, I’ll take a quick nap after lunch. 30 minutes of sleep can do wonders.

Also read: Ultradian Rhythm: How to Avoid Burnout and Boost Productivity

7. Review Your Day

At the end of the day, think about what you did like watching the replay of a game. Did everything go as planned? What can be done better tomorrow?

Managers should ask themselves these questions to improve their time management skills.

For my daily review, I write down 2-3 wins of my day. This can be anything:

  • Completing a major task
  • Feeling strong on a run
  • Getting a new client or having a great session

I then check my calendar for the next day and tweak it if necessary. This entire process takes me no more than 5-10 minutes.

Time Management for Managers

Time management for managers is all about being a good captain of your day. It helps you do your work, guide your team, and still have time for fun.

By following these tips, managers can sail smoothly through their days, making sure their team is happy and successful:

  1. Know What Needs to be Done. Prioritize your to-do list using the Pareto Principle
  2. Make a Plan for the Day. Use time blocking to associate your tasks with time
  3. Break Big Tasks into Smaller Ones. Ideally, you want tasks that you can complete in 90 minutes or less. Use the Pomodoro Technique
  4. Set Time for Email and Meetings. Use email “windows” to batch-process your email
  5. Learn to Say No. Use one of the 7 effective ways to say “no”
  6. Take Breaks. Your brain needs rest between focused work. Schedule them if you need to
  7. Review Your Day. Write down 2-3 wins of your day

Remember, every day is a new adventure, and managing your time well makes sure it’s a good one.

Thanks for reading!

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