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power points

Before you can make improvements to your time balance, venture capitalist Sahil Bloom says you need to understand your starting point. That means understanding the categories in which your work is divided – or, to be more accurate, should be divided, because it’s easy to miss important stuff. On his blog, he offers four buckets that might not initially come to your mind but make sense for knowledge work:

  • Management: This is what most of us spend the majority of our professional lives in, particularly working for large organizations. It involves meetings, emails, calls and presentations.
  • Creation: This is the second most common type of professional time, but arguably what we prize the most if we are makers rather than managers, in the delineation investor Paul Graham has made. It also drives growth yet we scramble to find time for it with all the demands for management time blocks. Creation involves writing, coding, building and preparing.
  • Consumption: This is where new ideas are planted, but we rarely schedule time for it. He highlights reading, listening and studying.
  • Ideation: This also gets neglected, chances for non-linear opportunities to arise. It happens with brainstorming, journaling, walking and self-reflection.

Of the four categories, one naturally occurs in all organizations and can swallow up everything else. A second is heavily desired but usually has to be fought for and never gets sufficient time. In the crush, two other categories are often forgotten. Ideation might arise naturally – in the shower, for example. Consumption – reading, listening and studying – is usually not scheduled for the time its importance demands.

To get a handle on your situation, Mr. Bloom suggests at the end of each day reviewing your calendar of actual events and colour coding them. He likes to use red for management, green for creation, blue for consumption and yellow for consumption, but you can choose your own.

At the end of the week, the over all mix of colours on the calendar will send some messages. He recommends identifying the trends: What colour dominates the calendar? Are there distinct times – windows of opportunity - for creation? Are the colours organized or randomly scattered?

He offers three suggestions to attain better balance:

  • Batch your management time together: Emails, meetings, presentations and calls can leak out and fill every moment of the day. Create discrete blocks of time each day when you will handle major management time activities – or at least those under your control. For example, one-to-three time blocks for email each day. “Your ability to do this will scale with your career progress. If you’re just starting out, tiny, incremental batching improvements will be a win. If you’re further along in your career, you may be able to make more aggressive batching improvements,” he says.
  • Increase creation time: As you batch management time, carve out distinct windows for creation on your calendar. Don’t check your email or messages during them. Focus on creation during your creation time.
  • Create space for consumption and ideation: As a start, schedule one short block per week for consumption and one short block per week for ideation.

To help focus and be more effective in the time block of most importance each day, consultant Connor Swenson in the Time Dorks newsletter recommends using a visual timer. He prefers the Time Timer, a tool for kids with its pleasing graphical expression of the time, but a stopwatch will do, as long as you set the time for the task deliberately and have a way to watch it diminish. “Making time visible helps create a visceral sense of urgency, which helps me drop into laser mode. It reminds me that I don’t have to maintain a high degree of focus forever. That’s literally impossible. Instead, I know I only need to maintain laser concentration for the time left on the clock,” he says.

Quick hits

  • You might also want to schedule breaks into your day. Writer Pim de Morree offers these rules: Something beats nothing. Moving beats stationary. Social beats solo. Outside beats inside. And fully detached beats semi-detached, so stop checking your phone during breaks and don’t even talk about work.
  • Executive recruiter Gerald Walsh suggests if you have a choice of which seat to take during a job interview pick an upright chair, to avoid appearing too casual. Place personal items on the floor beside you, not on the table or your lap.
  • Your apologies will be more effective if you contradict gender stereotypes, according to recent research. Women want to focus on signalling competence and power while men appear, sensitive, warm and benevolent.
  • “It is not worth it to be greedy over a single transaction,” says author James Clear. “Even if you’re not going to work with the person again ... Reputation follows you everywhere.”

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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