If you’re like a lot of people, you probably relate to this moment from (one of my favorite movies) Office Space.
I want to help all of you who feel this way (and I know there are a lot of you), because maximizing your time will be the key to accelerating your career and your company.
I used to have days where I looked back and had whole blocks of time that I couldn’t account for. I felt busy, but I also felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything. 2 years ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution to stop trying to manage my time and start “maximizing” the number of hours I have in a given day, and I’m going to share here how I do that.
Often, we don’t realize how much time we have in a day. Assuming you sleep for 8 hours and work for 8 hours, you still have a large chunk of time after that. So let’s talk about time maximization as opposed to time management. How do you get the most out of your time instead of wondering where it went?
There is a quote from John Maxwell, one of the foremost thought leaders on leadership in business, that I love.
I swap out time for money here and find the same is true.
Budgeting your time is telling your time where to go instead of wondering where it went.
What we’re really talking about is intentionality: intention is how we gain dominion over our day. What I’ll talk about here is how I block out my calendar to realistically make the most of my time.
You don’t have to implement all of the strategies that I cover, but if you do any of them, you’ll be more intentional about your time. That way you can tell your time where to go and stop wondering where your day went.
So let’s walk through the steps to do this.
Step 1: Architect Your Ideal Week
Think ahead of time: how do I want my week to go—before the rest of the world enters into it? We want to try and impose our will on our own schedules. You have agency and control over what your week looks like, but you have to decide ahead of time that you have that control. If you wait until additional obligations creep in, you’re not in control anymore.
Step 1 is 90% of the work. It’s setting your default schedule.
Decide for yourself: what’s your ideal week? Remember, ideal is the key word here. What you architect here will never *actually* happen. That’s reality. But getting closer to that ideal and being intentional with your time helps maximize it.
There are some best practices I like to consider when I start this:
I created a calendar of my workweek in Excel, and I use it to create my default schedule. I suggest printing it out and blocking out your time by hand.
It’s important that your entire schedule be on only one calendar. It’s not just an ideal plan for your work life alone. I’ve included weekends because you are one person. Don’t have an ideal week for work and one for your personal life. This should be your ideal overall week.
1. Theme Each Day:
Think about the regular things (meetings, writing, other critical tasks) you need to do each week and batch those things together. The themes I use are:
- Critical Tasks
- Meeting Days
- Recording Days
- Strategy Days
For instance, Sundays are my free days with family. Mondays and Tuesdays are my “critical task days.” I set aside Wednesdays for meetings. I have to be on camera a lot, so Thursdays are recording days—that’s when I do the bulk of recording. Fridays I set aside to catch up on things.
Remember: we don’t want to manage every single second of every day. It’s important to build reality into my schedule and recognize that not everything will get done by Friday. Saturday is another free day.
These are just general themes. We don’t have to be rigid with it—it doesn’t mean I never have a meeting on a “critical task” day. These aren’t intended to be shackles, but guides.
Yours will look different. But the point is to think about the critical aspects of your work and what you do and decide to divvy them out.
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2. Block Out Personal Time
This may be surprising, but the first thing I block out is my free time, because it’s important to have down time. My guess is that you have priorities in your life, and I’ll venture a further guess that the work you do is not the absolute top of that list. I hope it isn’t! Whether it’s family, friends, faith, there’s got to be something that you prioritize.
If that’s the case (assuming it’s something personal), give it first dibs. Ask yourself: When do you get to work on the things that you want to do? When do you get to work on the things that are important but not urgent?
Here’s what mine looks like:
Budget 80% of your capacity. But leave a 20% buffer that you can spend however you want.
After my personal time is blocked out, this leaves a lot of time for other stuff. We have plenty of time here to accomplish work tasks, so we don’t let work bleed over into a Saturday. Why? Because that time is claimed. Remember, work tends to expand to fill the space that you’ve given it.
3. Block Start and Stop Times
Next, I block out the start and stop times for my activities, allowing for buffer time.
When does your day generally start and when does it end? I block 30 minutes in the morning to get to the office. Does it actually take 30 minutes? No. Can it sometimes? Absolutely.
I also block out my startup routine. This means reviewing my planner and looking over my tasks and the overall day. I review “to dos” for alignment with my quarterly goals. I review my goals for the quarter and then make sure that my “to dos” align with those. I also set aside weekly “Big 3” goals that I need to get done by the end of the week.
Next, review your calendar for the day. You’d be shocked how often I look at my calendar and realize I completely forgot about something on it.
Next look at your inbox. Did anything come in overnight to that will completely upend what you’ve set on your schedule for today? A lot of productivity people will say not to check your email first thing in the morning, but practically speaking, sometimes there can be a landmine waiting for you in your email and you need to look at it. But I look at email only after I’ve anchored the day. Only then do I ask, “Is there anything here that’s come in that’s worth re-prioritizing my day?”
Once that’s done, the next step is key: I reward myself with a cup of coffee. Once I sit down with my coffee, I already know the first thing I’m going to start working on, because I’ve taken the time to go over my day.
So that’s my startup routine.
It’s worth thinking about: how do you want to start the day?
I also have a shutdown routine for the end of the day. This way, I don’t physically or mentally take my work home with me. It’s a reverse of my startup routine. I take a look at my tasks for the next day, ask what I got done for the day, and take another look at my inbox.
And instead of rewarding myself with a cup of coffee, I might reward myself with a bourbon or just a walk around the office to catch up with colleagues. Just some way to mark it: okay, this is the close of the day.
Notice we’re spending a lot of time here thinking through our day and we haven’t gotten to the actual workday yet. But remember the key word is intentional.
4. Block Recurring Meetings and Commitments
Next, think about any weekly standing meetings that you have, ones where other people are counting on you to be there. Block those in.
5. Block Focus and Critical Task Time
If you don’t block out time in your calendar to do things that really matter, the whirlwind will take over. The “whirlwind” is all the little things that can crop up; it’s the regular course of life. The whirlwind is, “Hey, you got 15 minutes?” “This thing is broken, can you fix it?”
The whirlwind is the regular course of life—especially in business. Whether you’re a company of 1 or a company of 1000, things are going to happen that are outside of your control. What we can control is WHEN we deal with it.
So I create blocks of time to focus on specific tasks, like my “big 3” goals for that day. I block my focus time in the morning, because I know that’s when I’m at my best. You might be different. Block your time according to when you’re at your best.
I try to get at least one hour a day to focus. Things will come up, but if I budgeted my time for a 2-hour focus block, I know I’ll get at least 1 of those hours to get something done.
6. Block “Open Times” for Meetings and Other Activities
Next, block times for meetings that may crop up. If someone asks me to grab lunch, I know Mondays are generally open. I leave 11am to noon open for internal meetings—this is when anyone in the company can schedule time to meet with me.
Step 2: Transfer it to an Online Calendar
The paper calendar is for working out my default schedule, but I need a digital copy so that it can be flexible, because things are inevitably going to change.
I color code mine. Use whatever colors work for you, but this is how mine looks:
- Dark blue is booked time
- Light blue is open and available
- Orange is personal time
There’s no open—or blank—spot on my calendar. Everything is accounted for from a default perspective. If someone asks me to grab lunch, I know from my default settings, that’s always going to be either a Thursday or a Monday because that’s when I blocked my time to be available for lunch.
Once you’ve decided your default schedule, it’s time to…
Step 3: Plan Your Week
So you’ve got your defaults, you’ve got some time blocked out, now you can plan your week.
Here’s some best practices to keep in mind:
Every week, I use Sunday nights to plan that particular week. Some people do it the end of the day Friday, but it’s really personal preference. Monday morning is too late—by then, you’ll be attempting to manage your time (instead of maximizing) because the whirlwind has already started.
This is when I review my goals and connect with them:
- What are my goals for this week?
- Review my calendar and note major commitments and “must-do’s.”
- Review recurring meetings and commitments. Am I still meeting with
I also evaluate my themes on a weekly basis and ask if they’re still working.
Then I look at what I’ve already committed to and review my themes and goals again, just to make sure I’m not letting things that aren’t priorities creep in.
Last, I determine my weekly “Big 3.” These are the things that need to get done to move closer to my larger goals. I also choose realistic weekly goals: I have to be able to accomplish them within the focus blocks I’ve already built in.
The last portion in the step is limiting the gaps. It’s where I look at my schedule and see if I can make the bulk of the light blue go away.
If there’s still light blue on my schedule, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have something scheduled, it just means that I’m committing to make a meeting with myself. And I block that out in dark blue.
Step 4: Determine Daily “Big 3” and Other Tasks
Remember, we have weekly “Big 3” goals, but at the end of each day I ask myself, “What must I accomplish tomorrow to move toward accomplishing those weekly “Big 3”?
If each day, I can spend just 1 hour on one of my weekly big 3, it’s rare that I can’t get them done by the end of the week. That’s my rule for myself. That 1 hour can often turn into 2 or 3. But if you never schedule it, it never happens.
Then I review the other things I need to get done the next day and rank them by priority. If I scheduled a meeting, it also goes on that list.
Step 5: Document Your Days
For me, it’s also important to review and reflect on what I did during my day so I can evaluate if I’m making progress on my goals.
Let’s do an exercise: Take a minute and think about all the things you did last week at work.
If you can’t remember, it’s because you didn’t do anything significant. Or it means that you did some big things and you can’t remember them, because you’ve lost the ability to celebrate.
That’s why I recommend keeping a work journal. I don’t use mine to document what I NEED to do—that’s my digital calendar. I use my work journal to document what I DID do.
This way, I have a written record of what I did so I can see where my time went (that’s time maximization, folks). What’s scheduled for the future is going to change, so it needs to be flexible. That’s why a digital calendar makes more sense for planning the coming week rather than reflecting on the past one.
You need a physical planner to accomplish this. Make sure to pick one that works for your style. Here’s a few that have been recommended by employees here at DigitalMarketer:
I use the Full Focus planner, but again, it’s personal preference and whatever works best for you. You don’t need a fancy planner, of course. You could just do it in a regular notebook and document your “Big 3,” your to dos, and how you spent that day.
Step 6: Review Weekly
The last step is to review your week once it is done so that you can help plan out your next one. I usually do this on Sunday nights when I plan the coming week. Again, if you wait until Monday morning, it is too late.
Ask yourself these questions and use the answers to help you frame your next week. This way you are constantly improving and maximizing your time.
Finding the right path for maximizing your time (instead of managing your time) will, of course, take a little experimentation. But with each adjustment, you’ll have greater intentionality and will have maximized that much of your time. In essence, you’ll have more control over your life, so your life doesn’t control you. This way, you won’t look back anymore and wonder where that week of your life went.