10 time management tips to up your productivity game

🚀 Productivity

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10 time management tips to up your productivity game

Over the past ten years, I’ve read all the books out there about productivity and time management. From all that material, there are ten tips I’ve picked up that I still genuinely use. In this article, I’ll be telling you a little bit about them and how I apply them in my life.

1) You own all of your time

This’s a big one for me. We absolutely own all of our time. When I first had this realisation, my life pretty much changed. I used to think I don’t have the time to do all the stuff I want to.

I don’t know where I read it – probably in a fortune cookie somewhere, to be honest – but I came across a saying that went something like: at any given moment, you’re doing what you most want to be doing. That was an incredibly empowering realisation for me.

It helped me realise that my time is entirely within my control. Like right now, I’m writing this article because I want to. Earlier today, I spent six hours playing World of Warcraft — because I wanted to.

If I don’t go to the gym today, I can’t claim that I didn’t have the time to work out. It’s more a case of me choosing not to make the time to work out today.

So when it comes to time management, step one is to recognize that we are always in control of our time. Yes, you might have a boss or even your parents telling you what to do. But fundamentally you’re in control of your own time. You choose what to do with it.

If you don’t have the time to do something, that something is just not a priority. Which’s fine. But don’t pretend like the reason you’re not doing it is that you genuinely don’t have the time.

2) Hell yeah, or no

This tip comes from Derek Sivers’ book Hell Yeah or No: What’s Worth Doing. That title basically tells you what the vibe is here.

When we’re young, we might not have very many opportunities in our lives. So we should probably say yes to the majority of things that are coming our way.  As we progress in our career, we get to a point where we’ve more opportunities coming our way. Then we can start operating with a “hell yeah, or no” maxim.

The idea is that something’s either a hell yes, or it’s a no. Let’s say I get an email from someone asking me if I want to collaborate on a project. If my response is anything less than enthusiastic, then my default position is going to be a no. If my response to the thing is “hell yeah”, then I’m going to do the thing.

I’m trying to get better at using this principle in my life. Even now my calendar is full of things I’m on the fence about. Being okay with saying no is a really important principle of time management.

3) Pick your daily highlight

I picked up this tip from Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky’s book Make Time. This’s deviously simple. The idea is to decide on one activity or task that’s going to be the highlight of your day. This’ll be the only thing you absolutely have to get done that day.

I try to do this every day. On the days when I set a daily highlight, I always get the task done. At the end of the day, I’m always happy with my time management.

When I don’t set my daily highlight, I pretty much drown in my to-do list. All the things I want to get done just swirl around in my head. I spend so much time trying to decide what to do, I end up being much less productive.

My daily highlight is usually the most urgent, the most satisfying, or even the most fun thing I have to do that day. When I’ve got that one task to focus on it just really helps with my time management.

4) Use a to-do list

Our brains are for having ideas, not for holding them. A big reason why we let stuff slip through the cracks is that we haven’t written it down. Like I said, having all my tasks swirling around in my head hampers my productivity.

Sometimes I use a physical to-do list. I especially enjoy using Ugmonk’s Analog. It’s a wooden box that comes with notecards. I write the day’s list on a notecard. Then I stick it in the stand built into the box. I put it on your desk and keep glancing over. That way I know exactly where I’m with the day’s tasks.

Every morning, I first figure out my daily highlight. Then I make a list of the other tasks I’ve to get done. As I got through the day, I just cross them off with my pen.

Sometimes, when I know I’ve to do something, I make a note of it in an app like Roam Research. While making my daily to-do list, I look through my notes to figure out what needs to be done.

It doesn’t really matter what system you use for a to-do list, the idea is to just write it out. There’s something incredibly satisfying about crossing tasks off physically. I feel like I’ve accomplished something.

5) Block time on your calendar

Anytime you need to get something done, block out time for it on your calendar. Personally, I don’t like doing this for absolutely everything. I’m a bit of a wasteman. The more time I spend managing my productivity system, the less time I spend getting stuff done.

The one thing that I always schedule in my calendar is my daily highlight. Let’s say I’ve decided my daily highlight is to film a video for my YouTube channel. I’ll schedule it in my calendar. I’ll just block out the time for it.

If my daily highlight is to call my grandma, I will schedule it into my calendar. If my highlight is to make changes to my website, I will block time for it.

It’s reassuring. I’m always going to do that one task I’ve decided is important because it’s always on the schedule. Sometimes, other things might come up. I might need to move my daily highlight around. Then I’ll just move it around. But at least it’s there on the schedule by default.

Obviously, most of us have to get more than one thing done every day. But imagine if you did one high-priority task every day for the next 365 days. You’d make loads of progress over the year. It’d potentially be game-changing.

6) Set artificial deadlines

You may’ve heard of Pakinson’s Law. It says that work expands to fill the time that we allocate to it. Let’s say I’ve to film a YouTube video and I give myself the whole day to film it. Inevitably it’s going to take all day to film that video.

Let’s say I only give myself an hour to film the video and I fill my schedule up with other things. Well, then I’ll inevitably get the video done in an hour. The actionable advice here is to leverage artificial deadlines for the tasks you need to complete.

Let’s say I’m working on a course about starting a YouTube channel. I’d have to film it. It wouldn’t really have a deadline. I’m making it for my own business so I could pretty much do it whenever I want.

What I’d do is set a goal for myself to finish filming over the weekend. Then I’d block that time out in my calendar. That’s an artificial deadline that I’ve set for myself. Now the course is definitely going to get done.

If I just had this in my mind or on my to-do list without a deadline, it’d inevitably never get done.

7) Schedule protected time

When you’re working for yourself, you can basically set whatever schedule you want. Personally, I enjoy making connections with people all over the world through the Internet. So my schedule got to a point where my day was filled with lots and lots of Zoom calls.

Eventually, I realised that I need to keep my mornings completely free of any obligations or calls. This has been an absolute game-changer.

I can wake up whenever I want. For the first few hours of my day, I’ve got uninterrupted time to do whatever I want. When I was working on my book, the mornings would be my protected time for writing.

Even when I’m not working on the book, it’s just genuinely so nice to have that time slot for myself. I can think about the business, plan videos, and just generally do things that help me move forward in my career.

Sometimes, I’m not feeling up to doing anything. I’ll use my protected time to just play World of Warcraft or read a book.

If you’re interested in better ways of managing your time, I’d recommend figuring out what your protected time will be. It’s a great idea to have time that’s just for you and you alone — and some World of Warcraft if you’re anything like me.

8) Delegate

Normally when someone recommends that we delegate work to others, our first response is that we can’t afford to. Hiring someone to delegate to might not be an expense we think we can budget for.

Even before I had unlocked any sort of financial success, I used to think about delegation in terms of the dollar value of my time. I asked myself how much my time is worth when it comes to running my business.

I decided every hour of my time was worth $25. If I can outsource work I don’t enjoy for less than $25 an hour, I should absolutely do it. This principle of delegation has encouraged me to get a cleaner. Now someone regularly comes in and cleans my house. This frees up the time I’d spend cleaning.

When I was building my businesses from the ground up, there were lots of tasks that needed to be done like data entry for example. I was able to delegate them to freelancers that I connected with through websites like Fiverr and Upwork.

If someone charged me anything less than $25 an hour, I’d go ahead and hire them. I’d delegate to them the things I didn’t particularly enjoy doing myself. This was fantastic for me. It freed up my time to do things that’re adding more value to the business and my life.

Whatever your circumstances are, I’d encourage you to think about what the dollar value of your time is. Then you can potentially delegate stuff that other people are willing to do for cheaper than that.

9) Automate your scheduling

Now that we’re in the world of Zoom calls, I found I was wasting a lot of time scheduling calls. It’d be days of back and forth over emails, trying to figure out what time works for all parties

Then I discovered an app called Calendly. With Calendly you can just send someone a link that shows them what your availability is like. They can just book a slot in your calendar.

This feels a little bit weird to do initially. It feels like a bit of a power move. But anytime I get a Calendly link from someone, I feel ridiculously grateful. It saves me all that time of back-and-forth scheduling that I’d never get back.

Even when I’ve to catch up with my friends, I’ll just send them a Calendly link. Otherwise, we’d just go back and forth. We’d probably never end up talking because our schedules just wouldn’t align.

Whereas if they book a time on Calendly, we actually end up having that call. I’ve caught up with more friends in the last few months through using Calendly links than I did in the last three years of having to schedule back and forth with WhatsApp messages.

10) Choose to be satisfied

This’s a concept that I’ve only recently started to appreciate. It’s very easy to just feel chronically dissatisfied at the end of the day about what you’ve accomplished. If you managed to film one video, you think about how you could’ve actually filmed five. You beat yourself up about it.

Now I’ve started reminding myself that I can choose to be satisfied. At the end of the day, I’ll have filmed that video. I may have been planning on filming five more, but I didn’t get around to it. That’s fine, it’s totally okay.

Beating myself up doesn’t increase my productivity. It just makes me feel bad. Choosing to feel good about how I’ve managed my time is a much better option.

If you’re interested in more time management strategies, I have a bunch of online courses themed around productivity that are hosted on Skillshare.

My courses cover various topics, including the fundamentals of productivity, my personal productivity equation, and productivity for creators. If you use this link to register for Skillshare’s premium membership, you’ll get 30% off and be able to access all my courses as part of the package.

And if you want more tips about time management and productivity, you should check out my book review and summary of Make Time. This is one of my favourite productivity books of all time.

Ali Abdaal

About The Author

I'm an ex-doctor turned YouTuber, Podcaster, entrepreneur and author. I've been creating YouTube videos for over 7 years and have a following of over 4 million over on my main channel.

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4 months ago

You are always a doctor. There is no such word as ex- doctor.