Following on from my 15 Secrets about Time Management from last week, here is a framework I follow to build in some of the ‘secrets’ and get more of the right things done. I won’t say it will guarantee that you will be successful – you will require work on philosophy, values, mindset if you don’t already have these in place – but this framework will help you achieve 80% of the goals you aren’t already achieving.
The framework is made up of key pieces at a monthly, weekly and daily level to help you ‘eat the elephant’ I mentioned in an earlier post titled 5 steps to overcome overwhelm.
The Time Management Framework
The foundation of the framework is the concept of a ‘time block.’ At the top level we can start with 3- and 5-year goals – though these can be hard to establish if you are not used to planning your time effectively. You may be ready to set 1-year goals or even 3-month goals at this stage (as many of the planning systems advocate). 3 months is close enough to be tangible, yet long enough to allow flexibility.
What is a Time Block?
A time block is a segment of time blocked out on your calendar.
Some people like to block time for every sing activity they have to do during the day, down to 15-minute blocks. People like Bill Gates are known for working this way, but my style is more fluid so I opt for a larger time block to accommodate a group of tasks which are similar in nature.
The benefit of using a themed time block is that you can set-aside a window of, for example, 3 hours to do one type of activity. It could be “content production” in a broad sense or “writing” or “messages” or whatever works for you and your activity themes.
For example, a “writing” time block may include:
- Write a blog post on X
- Write the next scene in my fiction story (or write 1,000 words)
- Add a note about the journaling playbook to posts A, B and C
Or my “messages” block might be:
- Respond to Messenger contacts/leads
- Respond to key emails X, Y and Z
- Call the accountant to go through the tax return
- Check newsletters and see if anything is worth reading later
- Check-in with online networks and DMs
By grouping tasks together in themes, we keep the same focus in the brain and don’t need to lose momentum by switching between different themes of activities. Jumping from email to a Zoom call to a blog post to a design task to some accounting then back to email and another Zoom call then … Well, you get the idea. The constant theme switching downgrades performance, so it is better to group activities by theme. You will achieve more in less time, plus you will feel less drained by the end of the day.
If you are blocking time longer than an hour for a theme, remember to take mini-breaks during the time (for example every hour) as the brain is also not suited to marathons of work, but prefers sprints. If I am having a fiction writing session I find my limit is about 2 hours before I need a break. It’s easy to think we can power through, but the later work is of lower quality.
Your to-do lists doesn’t feature in your daily work. It may exist simply as a long list of things you may need to do, but you don’t use it day-to-day. More on this later. For now, back to the framework.
The first (virtual) block would be 3 months. You wouldn’t necessarily write this in, but you decide which 3 month block it will be. It doesn’t matter which month it starts on, just that it’s a tangible window of time.
Into this block, you would put 3-5 areas of your life and business you want to make progress on, and define the progress you want to achieve by the end of the three months. You can work on other things in this period, but these are your ‘non-negotiable’ things you need to work on to move your life in the direction you want. These are ‘big’ things and could be things like learning a new language, plan the summer vacation, plan the next investment round, launch the new website, etc.
You then add some qualification to these items as some of them won’t be achievable in three months (for example, learning a language) but you can put sub-goals on what you’d like to achieve in this period.
At the start of the month, decide what your intention for that month will be. Look at one project or one learning area you want to complete that month and set the intention to do so. Define the progress you want to achieve this month in that area. Ideally, these main areas will tie back to your three-month goals but sometimes life has other ideas for you. Allow yourself flexibility – you don’t have to dogmatically stick to your quarterly goals.
I take a page in my paper journal and outline the theme for the month. I am more visual so this template works for me. You could use mind-maps, notebooks, part of your to-do list software, some other project tracking system. Whatever works for you.
Brendon Burchard calls these the Friday Finishers. This means they are your tasks you must absolutely finish by the end of Friday (the end of the working week). On Sunday, sit down and review your week and decide a maximum of 5 things you MUST complete by the end of Friday or you don’t “win” the week. You won’t always do all five, and that’s OK, but your goal is to do as many as you can because this means you are making better progress on your overall life mission than if you just drifted with tasks as they came along.
In the morning (or the night before), look at the big picture you established on Sunday (your Friday Finishers), plus everything else you have on your plate, and identify up to 5 things you MUST do today. You are not trying to fill the day (though you might find 3 things fill the day), but you are looking to be realistic on how you move your vision and goals forward as well as attending to the “work” at the same time.
This is the time my to-do list comes into play. It’s just a long list of all the things I think I need to get finished. In the context of the quarterly, monthly, weekly and now daily plan I can determine which of the tasks on that list fit into the day. Some will drop into the themed time blocks I have (as outlined earlier) or I could add an “admin” block in to clear off a few things that need to be done.
In my previous 15 Secrets of Time Management post, point 12 talked about recurring themes and can be used with the idea of time blocking on a day-to-day basis. You may have one day allocated for ‘focus’ tasks – the things that align exclusively with the bigger goals. There is no room on this day for any other type of work. Then you have a ‘buffer’ day for more mundane (i.e. less creative) tasks like the admin, phone calls, emails, etc. Then there are ‘free’ days which you don’t do work. You may allocate time blocks here for the family, personal study, etc, but these are your time.
How you batch your themes is entirely up to you. Some entrepreneurs use the first 4 hours for the big goals, then the rest of the day for other activities. The key here is that the themed time blocks are distinct and under your control, and not you under the control of the things.
Rinse & Repeat
In the beginning you will miss more of the goals you set, and miss more of the tasks you choose. But, as you repeat this process day-by-day, week-by-week and month-by-month you will learn what you can achieve and get better at planning and doing. You also become clearer with others when accepting their tasks which leads to a smoother ride on the journey of life.
Now go and win the day!