Stop wasting time: 4 steps to take back your day

We all have more work to do than we can actually get done. It takes some practice to master the art of spending your time productively on the right things, in a satisfying way.

As a product manager, I learned early on how important it is to purposefully choose how I spend my hours and days. I work closely with engineers and designers who depend on me for prompt feedback. If I’m not responsive, the team slows down or stops asking my advice on decisions. On the other hand, it’s easy to get caught up in reactive work and forget to put aside time for more strategic planning.

Stop wasting time: 4 steps to take back your day

I recently gave a talk to my teammates about the steps they can take to manage their time better, and thought I’d share the highlights here.

Make a pie chart of where you ideally want to spend your time.

What distribution would make you happy? Remember to set aside time for strategic thinking and being available to help. If the allocations add up to more than 100%, accept that you won’t be able to do it all and then adjust until it feels right.

Understand how you’re spending your time today.  

Look at your recurring meetings and spend a week tracking your time more closely. Then compare your ideal and actual pie charts to see where you’re out of sync.

Remember the 4 D’s: Delete, Defer, Delegate, or Diminish.

Get closer to your ideal allocation by taking less valuable work off your plate, deferring work to a time when you’ll be less busy, handing some responsibilities over, and finding ways to spend less time on the responsibilities you keep. Shortening or removing recurring meetings is a great way to diminish work.

Choose work based on your ideal time allocation pie chart.

Stick to the principle of big rocks first: tackle the important tasks before moving on to the small stuff. Do this by proactively blocking off time on your calendar, and setting due dates for important tasks that aren’t urgent.

For more actionable advice on how to better allocate your time, head over to the Guide, where I’ve expanded on these points with ideas and examples of ways Asana can help. Give this process a try, and see how much your time management improves.

I’d love to hear how you’ve become better at managing your time. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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  • Todd Cavanaugh
    I think a key concept i learned was batching similar tasks together. Even something as simple as changing my email program to fetch emails every 30 minutes instead of every minute and turning off the “ding” sound improved productivity by helping me check a bunch of emails at once instead of getting distracted to check emails nonstop.

    Thanks for the reminders, Jackie!

  • Ann Marie Giuliano
    Using Asana helped me by changing my “launching platform”.

    BA (before Asana), I would return to Outlook after each task completion or interruption, which I thought made sense as that was where my email, calendar and task list lived.

    Now that I’ve implemented Asana for my team, I find I live in Asana, and I don’t allow outside disruptions to determine where my time gets spent, I have all the data in front of me, grouped by project, to help me make informed decisions about what’s next.

    Thanks for your insight Jackie.

  • Albert van Niekerk
    A very useful brief overview of a few principles if, when used, makes work life easier. Have a few main priority goals (2 or 3) on the front burner, be specific and clear about what you wish to achieve, and do not allow yourself to be interrupted. Asana if used consistently can keep you on track.
  • Ted Gideonse
    This is great advice. I’m using Asana by myself, and it’s allowing me to structure my tasks. But as someone with ADHD, I also need to use the Pomodoro method, which is great time management even without attention deficit. It would be so wonderful if someone could create an app to integrate a Pomodoro-like timer into each task detail box. I’d start paying monthly — which I don’t need to do as a solo user — if that was available!
    • TJ Wilson
      I added this same thought to ASANA’s feedback. I would love to see a timer, especially a pomodoro timer put in place. I am also a solo user but find the task feature extremely useful. I would be able to live in ASANA if it had a timer.
  • Herman
    I agree. I would love to have a Pomodoro diary in there. You select one or more tasks to do in a pomodoro, then start the timer. After the 25min you add comments to how it went. Then after a day I would like to see an overview of the pomodoros of that day, with all tasks I worked on, either finished or unfinished.
    • Nicholas John Martin
      I use Pomodairo for my Mac and would absolutely LOVE to see something like that integrated into each task in Asana. We usually use [brackets] to time estimate tasks in Asana, but it would be awesome to estimate in Pomodoro’s haha :)
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