Part 1 of Productivity Hacks: 8 Ways to Improve Your Time Management and Meetings

Part 1 of Productivity

Our VP of Marketing, Justin Schmidt, recently shared 21 productivity hacks in a webinar hosted by HR.com. Since he only had an hour to go over the tips, we’re going to go into more detail about each hack and how to implement them into your daily lives. In this article, we’ll share 8 tips that focus on time management and optimizing your meetings. However don’t fret, this is only the beginning of a 3-part series that will cover all 21 hacks—so stay tuned!

Improve your time management.

In a survey after the webinar, we found that 15.5% of the people who participated in the survey believe that a lack of time management is what prevents them from having a productive day. If you fall into this category, or you are simply interested in using your day more effectively, this section is for you! 

Tip 1: Set goals. 

When we set clear goals, our to-do list becomes more achievable because we know exactly what we’re shooting for. Setting life goals and daily goals keeps us organized and focused on the important tasks at hand rather than the distractions that pop-up every day. 

Follow SMART framework.

If you want to set achievable goals, it’s helpful to keep the SMART framework in mind before shooting for the stars. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. The SMART framework sets boundaries on your goals and gives you more time to think about what you have to accomplish to reach each goal at hand. 

Everything you do should work towards a goal. 

During the workday, you might complete hundreds of menial tasks that you can check off of your to-do list, but if they aren’t actually helping you achieve your goals, they could be useless. Take a look at the work you’re doing on a daily basis. If the tasks don’t help you achieve a specific goal, you should consider deprioritizing them. 

Remember Parkinson’s Law.

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. If you’ve heard that saying, then you’ve heard of Parkinson’s Law. But if you’re scratching your head, trying to figure out exactly how to apply this proverb in your life, you’re in luck. Basically, it’s important to put realistic time-constraints on tasks or you might spend too much time complicating it and lose hours from your day. 

The next to-do list that you create, try to assign a realistic time to complete each task. When actually completing the task, aim to complete each task in less time than you originally allocated. Not only will this keep you on track, but challenging yourself is a fun way to pass the time and ward off distractions. 

Tip 2: Break down tasks into component parts.

Getting distracted, discouraged, and unmotivated to complete a task is normal for everyone. However, how you decide to deal with these slumps can make or break your day. 

Mind map your ideas.

When you’re brainstorming for a team-wide or individual project, it’s rare that you know every step that you need to do to reach completion. Maybe you’re not sure what you want the outcome to be, or maybe you know the desired outcome, but you’re not sure how to get there. Creating a mind map of your ideas or thoughts is a great way to conceptualize the directions that you can go, and the next steps in the process that you need to take to reach completion. 

Check out a few examples of mind maps to use during your next brainstorming session. 

Create an “equation of success” to understand your variables.

For those with a mathematical way of thinking, you can take the approach of determining the goal (or the desired outcome) and then breaking down all of the different variables that go into achieving that goal. When you consider all of the components that go into reaching an outcome, it’s easier to complete the goal because you can easily see what’s most important and the variables that matter. 

For example, here’s Justin’s equation for success for the marketing team: 

New customers = the leads we get x our ability to convert those leads

The variables that matter in this case are getting more leads and converting them. 

Tip 3: Plan your day with The Eisenhower Matrix

If you’re a WWII buff like Justin, you’re probably aware of this matrix. If you’re not, General Eisenhour created a framework during the war that can be applied to completing (or eliminating) the simple and complex tasks on your to-do list, and ultimately saving you time! Here are the four buckets: 

Break out this template for your next to-do list and give it a try! 

Tip 4: The Pomodoro Technique. 

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management tactic that empowers you to work in short-yet-productive intervals during the day. This is great for people who have a lot of meetings and feel like 30 minutes isn’t enough time to mark a task off your to-do list. By using this method, you separate your work into 25-minute chunks of focus time and then reward yourself for five minutes after you complete it. 

If you have the time, it’s recommended that you complete 4 of those 30-minute chunks and then reward yourself with an even longer break of about 15 minutes. By counting down the minutes of your work, you’re introducing a sense of urgency to your day, which can help you save more time and be more productive. 

Rather than using the tomato-shaped timers that the Pomodoro method started with, you can use any timer app. Justin recommends Be Focused Pro for Mac and Focus To-Do for Windows!

Tip 5: Schedule time for email.

Falling into the habit of checking your email multiple times a day can be a huge time-suck if you don’t put a limit on it. There will always be incoming emails, but they don’t always need your immediate attention. 

Set aside time specifically for it. 

Give yourself a specific time frame to answer emails. Whether that’s first thing in the morning, before lunch, or right before you leave for the day, setting boundaries can help you stop checking your inbox every time you get a notification or just out of boredom. Also, be sure to limit the time that you spend on your email during these time-frames. If you know that you only have 15 minutes to respond to emails, you’ll prioritize the emails that need your response. 

Time management thought leaders to look out for.

If you’re interested in trying out more time management tips, take a look at the content that these industry leaders are known for. 

Optimize your meetings.

In every work environment, it seems that meetings get a bad reputation. Though it is important for team members to gather and share thoughts and promote ideas in one room, meetings take up valuable time in the day and most meetings aren’t run in an effective way. In the same survey that we mentioned earlier, 12.1% of the people who participated believe unproductive meetings prevent them from having a productive day. If you want to improve how you run your meetings or share some tips with your colleagues, tune in!

Tip 6: Stop ending your meetings directly on the hour or half-hour. 

Justin recommends ending meetings 25 minutes after the hour or 55 minutes after the hour. This gives you some wiggle room in between meetings, so you can get your thoughts together after that meeting and avoid being late to the next meeting. If your first meeting of the day runs over, you’re essentially playing catch up the rest of the day, which doesn’t help anyone. If you approach the 25- or 55-minute mark and you still aren’t done, you have the time to book another meeting on the calendar rather than just ending it abruptly in the middle of a thought. 

An added plus to ending meetings five minutes early means that you can reward yourself for a successful meeting, similar to how the Pomodoro Method works!

Tip 7: Always provide a meeting agenda upfront.

Whether you use Gmail, Outlook, or Zoom to book your meetings, there is room to fit the agenda, goals, and links to relevant documents within each invite, so everyone is prepared and ready to begin the conversation. Without sharing a full meeting agenda up-front, you risk getting off-topic, which ultimately wastes time. 

Stick to the agenda. 

We’ve all been in a meeting where the conversation takes a turn. As the person who sets the meeting, it’s important to keep attendees on track,  so all the points in your agenda are covered. An article by HBR Ascend recommends these principles when dealing with interruptions during a meeting. 

Do:

  • Prepare an agenda ahead of time and ask colleagues for their input.
  • Listen to what the interrupter is saying and validate his points.
  • Redirect the conversation by restating the purpose of the meeting.

Don’t:

  • Get upset and emotional about the interruption—stay calm and collected.
  • Be in a hurry to brush off an interruption—sometimes it’s worth probing further to gather more information.
  • Scold your employee after the meeting—instead pose questions and listen.

Tip 8: Send out materials with the meeting invite and ask people to come prepared.

If you’re interested in making your meetings as effective as those at Amazon, Square, and Twitter, you’ll want to curate a multiple-page memo that describes the meeting and the goals that you want to accomplish in complete detail. Sending out the memo before the meeting is helpful, but the real key to getting your point across is setting 10-30 minutes aside at the beginning of the meeting to read the memo aloud or allow the attendees to read it silently. This ensures that everyone is on the same page before discussing the topics at hand. 

Productivity thought leaders.

If you’re interested in trying out more tips to leading productive meetings, take a look at the content from other industry leaders. 

  • Dave Crenshaw is known for building productive leaders at large organizations. He has published five books that can help anyone looking to become a better leader at their organization or increase their overall productivity. 

Looking for more productivity hacks? The remaining 13 of 21 hacks will be included in the next 2 parts of the series. 

In the meantime, check out the full webinar on all of the 21 productivity hacks.

Watch now!

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