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Level-up your time management skills

This week I discuss time management as a software developer, it’s (obvious) importance, and ways you can start improving your time management skills today.

Fri Jun 26 2020

Dear fellow Stack Yacker,

Time management is a critical skill every developer must have. From meeting work deadlines to finding time to learn a new skill or work on that side project – it can often feel like there’s never enough hours in the day.

A bit of some backstory – For most of my life I’ve always been a yes man. I never turned down a project or the opportunity to do more. The last year alone, outside of my day job, I averaged about 2-3 freelance gigs per month, learned to fly airplanes, took a 5,000 mile road trip , planned/had a wedding, read 16 books, and took on several consulting projects – and I still felt like I had time to do more.

Today, I don’t take on side projects (other than Stack Yack) given the rocket ship I’m strapped into at Hopin (we’re hiring btw), but rather use my time to learn new tech, do home improvement projects (trust me I need as much time as I can get here b/c I have no clue what I’m doing 😂), and to think about time.

But seriously, I’m obsessed with time and spend a lot of it thinking about time and ways I can improve my productivity and maximise my output. I attribute the amount of time I’ve invested in learning and practicing time management as to why I think I’m able to optimise my day the way I do. It’s something I continually refactor, but as it stands today, my learnings can be boiled down to three things:

Changing your mindset about time

Block your time

Set daily minimums

Let’s dive in.

Changing your mindset about time

I used to find myself thinking about time in 2-3 blocks: morning, afternoon, and night. Morning was for going to work, afternoon was for still being at work, and night was when the day is over and I guess I just eat dinner and go to bed. This is a terrible fucking mindset, and I know so many folks who think this way. You basically just block yourself from completely considering all the other things in your life you want to have time for, because you only give yourself 2-3 time slots in which anything you want to do can happen in! Well how do we get more chunks of time? Sure we can break it down into hour slots, but I like breaking my daily schedule and routine down to the minute. There are always 24 hours in a day, but thinking about time in smaller chunks gives you more time to play with.

Block your time

Okay, so now that we understand the benefit of thinking about time in really small, granular units (minutes), now we need to discuss what to do with those minutes. Two words - block and protect.

Let’s say you’ve got a list of 7 total things you need to do on a given day. This includes work, goals, anything you either have to or want to spend your time on.

Kick ass at your day job

Work on side project

Work on freelance gig

Workout

Read

Grocery store

Cook dinner for family

Writing down a list is common way to stay organised as to what you have to do. The only thing I dislike about “to do” lists is there too loosy-goosy – there isn’t enough structure. When will you read? When are you going to work out? When are you going to sit and read? To do lists are a great first step at managing and owning your time, but they don’t do enough. They assume you super disciplined and know exactly when you’ll do everything. Maybe this is you, if so great, teach me your ways. If it’s not you, then like me, you need something more structured and not left so open-ended. This is where time blocking comes into play.

Time blocking is planning ahead the chunks of time throughout the day that you are going to spend on something. There are plenty of tools out there, but I just use the Calendar app on my Mac. Here’s an example of what my time block looks like for today:

This serves as a to-do list, but also helps me manage when it is I’m going to actually do the things on my list. I like to colour code the activity types to help me get a quick at-a-glance snapshot of what my day is going to look like. I keep those pretty simple: “personal”, “meetings”, “planned work”.

“Okay.. so Christian.. what if something unexpected comes up in the middle of my 30 minute reading time I had planned?”

Glad you asked! On to my favourite time-tactic: daily minimums.

Setting daily minimums

Life gets in the way, not sometimes, but all the time! Which can def make that the 30 minute time block for reading, or 90 minute time block for that side project not so ideal. Say hello to “Daily Minimums”.

Consider daily minimums your backup plan to your obligations. A daily minimum is still an obligation, just not so ambitious. Say you do have a 30 minute reading goal each day, then you might make your daily minimum 5. No joke, I have daily minimum reading goal of 1 page per day. I often far surpass this minimum, but there are some days I don’t! And the best part? I don’t feel down that I didn’t reach or work toward a goal of mine. Daily minimums are your out for when time seems to creep up on you, but also removes any excuses. I mean, come on - do I really not have time to read a single page in 24 hours? No way.

Time management doesn’t have to be a scary thing, or something you just let slip away. A lot can be done in a single day, it just matters how you look at and manage the time given to you.

I’d love to hear some of your own tactics at time management. Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @stackyacker

Thanks for reading,

CB

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