I don’t know about you, but there have been days when I find that hours drift by and I’ve not been as productive as I like. If I don’t focus my time on a particular task, then it’s likely that the day will evaporate into thin air. As if by magic, it’s 19:00, time for socialising and a glass of wine, and I have little work to speak of. As a Digital Nomad, especially if you work freelance, wasting time is not just frustrating but it can be a catastrophe. But, with some hard work and research, I’ve found techniques that work for me to stop this happening. If you want to manage your time better as a Digital Nomad or remote worker, then read on.
There are many ways to effectively manage your time. I will provide you with an overview of nine different techniques for you to consider adopting. Not all of these will work for you. The one that works for you sometimes, may not work on other occasions too. A little annoying I know. But keep persevering and you’ll find your productivity superpower in the end!
- Would you like to read more and find out how to activate your productivity superpower?
- Pomodoro Technique
- Focused v Cruising Time
- Pareto Analysis
- Eisenhower Matrix
- Time Blocking Technique
- Eating the Frog Technique
- Rapid Planning Method
- Bucket of Rocks Theory
- Parkinson’s Law
- Digital Nomad Blog Posts
Would you like to read more and find out how to activate your productivity superpower?
This article is an abridged version of our new book, “Remote Working: How To Find Your Productivity Superpower.” The book contains lots of new information that could help you become more productive.
The book also includes detail on how you can identify which time management technique is best for your personally and how you can tailor them to your needs!
You can order your copy now on Kindle or Paperback on Amazon here. Introductory price currently available.
If you want to find out more about how we came to write this book, check this blog post out here.
Created by an Italian entrepreneur, the Pomodoro technique has gained a lot of momentum and is popular the world over. This method calls for us to split our time into 25 minute chunks, 20 minutes of this time will be spent working and 5 minutes taking a break. You should set a goal for the 25-minute chunk of time before you begin, and once complete, put a “tick” or a “tally” on a piece of paper (or your phone.)
You might have seen the famous tomato shaped timer associated with the Pomodoro technique before. For context, Pomodoro means tomato in Italian. The inventor of this technique used the tomato shape timer he found in his kitchen, and it’s recommended that you also use a timer to monitor your 25-minute slots. You can of course use your mobile phone timer to achieve the same thing. Actual tomato not required.
After four 25-minute cycles, you can then take a longer break of 20-30 minutes.
The theory behind this technique is that humans cannot concentrate for longer than 20 minutes. Hence if we focus for 20 minutes, we need a break afterwards. This can then help us to manage our time better.
Focused v Cruising Time
This is the technique that I like to use frequently, but particularly if I know I have a lot to achieve and I have a full workday ahead of me (at least 8 hours). It is something that I created for myself, but it has similarities with other methods. This technique breaks tasks down into two categories – difficult and easy.
The idea is that you identify points throughout the day when you know that you struggle to do challenging tasks. For example, times when you feel sleepy, distracted, or frazzled. This is your “cruising” time.
You should also identify times throughout the day when you know that you are in “flow”. This means that you have good levels of concentration, you are not distracted and you feel energised. This is your “focused” time.
Next, you assign your difficult tasks to your focused time, and your easy tasks to your cruising time. You need to do this on a daily basis, as there may be days when your energy dips at different points of the day.
As an example – I most commonly feel sleepy first thing in the morning, after lunch, and in the last 30 minutes of my work day. I know during these times that I will make mistakes with difficult work and that I will also do it slower. Therefore, on a daily basis, I will choose to use these times of the day to do easy tasks. For me, this is things like emails, calendar administration, expenses etc.
However, I know that I am at my peak level of concentration between 10:00 and 13:00, and then again most commonly at around 16:00 to 18:00. Therefore, I use these time slots to achieve any work that requires focus. For me, this might be writing, researching, or preparing for client sessions.
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You might have already heard of Pareto analysis, but by another name. It’s the 80/20 rule. This was invented an economist Vilfredo Pareto (another Italian) and it’s a technique that is most commonly considered in the context of decision making in financial investments.
The 80/20 rule, simply means that 80% of outcomes are influenced by 20% of actions. As an example, 80% of traffic being routed to a particular website, may be attributed to only 20% of the content on the site. Or, something I like to think about – if you consider a team or 10 people, chances are 2 of them are generating 80% of the team’s output. If you think about a large team you’ve worked in, this may hold true.
This technique enables companies, teams or individuals to look analytically either at “problems” to identify what the root causes are, or to look at “outputs” to identify what actions are creating them.
From a time management perspective, you could look at the key things you need to achieve, then identify the actions you need to take to achieve them. But, remembering to avoid anything superfluous that won’t actually achieve your outcome.
The Eisenhower Matrix is attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower who supposedly invented this method when he was in a military role and before becoming President of the USA. This methodology is a way to manage time, but also to make decisions as to how to manage each task. You may have heard it referred to as the “Urgent and Important Matrix.” This method became particularly popular after it was referenced in Stephen Covey’s book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
It requires you to divide your tasks into either “urgent” or “important” buckets. If they are neither urgent or important, then they are “not urgent” or “not important.” This matrix is first and foremost a prioritisation method, but prioritizing tasks can help with time management.
The definition of urgent can be fluid, depending on your needs. But I tend to think of it as “If I don’t do this thing, something very bad will happen.” Urgent tasks are the things we need to do immediately. This should be fairly obvious. Important is more commonly defined as “the things that contribute to your short term or long-term goals.”
An example or “urgent and important” may be that the website you run has been hacked. An example of “urgent, but not important” may be that you get an urgent phone call, but the consequence of which does not matter to you. Whereas an example of “important and not urgent” may be that your website requires some new upgrades, but they don’t need to be done now. Conversely, “not urgent and not important” is the overwhelming urge to check your personal Instagram.
Once your tasks are assigned into one of the four quadrants, you’ll have an appropriate strategy for each one. Here’s how this might look:
The Eisenhower Matrix
You’ll notice the suggested actions are listed in each quadrant. Few of us may be in the luxurious position to “delegate” or “delete” tasks. Therefore, as an alternative, you can think about how you might either “postpone” or “de-prioritise” such tasks. Adopting this ruthless prioritisation can help us to manage our time better.
Time Blocking Technique
With Time Blocking, it really does what it says on the tin. First, you need to identify the tasks you need to complete. Next, you need to estimate how long each one will take you. Then, you simply set aside a chunk of time for this.
Most people will use a calendar to block time out. Many people use colour coding to denote particular types of tasks. Others will make their calendar visible to bosses or colleagues. This achieves two aims i) It is transparent and shows how you are spending your time (which can be helpful for remote workers seeking to develop trust with bosses) ii) It can prevent other people from disturbing you and/or putting meetings in your diary.
Time Blocking is one of the most straightforward time management techniques to implement, but not necessarily to execute and maintain.
Eating the Frog Technique
The idea is that we achieve our hardest, most challenging, most dastardly tasks first thing in the morning (or at the start of our working day.)
There’s method in this madness. Psychologically, if we put off an onerous task, it is going to be on our mind all day. This creates a distraction but could also lower our self esteem in the long term. Conversely, if we kick off each day by tackling the things that scare us, we will feel like we have achieved something, and we can sail through the rest of our day. The theory is, that everything after our hardest task, will feel easy.
Your “frog” will be entirely personal. For some people, it may be a phone call they’ve been dreading. Or it may be a large piece of work that they know they find difficult. Perhaps, it’s asking your boss for a pay rise. Whatever it is, this method tells us to tackle it head on and early in the day.
Rapid Planning Method
The Rapid Planning Method, is an outcome driven time management technique invented by a life coach/ motivational speaker/ entrepreneur (Tony Robbins).
This method is useful for any entrepreneurs, or indeed anyone with a portfolio career, or starting out in a new field. It supposes that everything we do should tie back to a goal. RPM has three components:
- Results Oriented
- Purpose Driven
- (Massive) Action Plan
To do this effectively, you need to ask three questions “What do I want?”, “Why does it matter to me (why is it important)?” and “How will I achieve it?” Putting this all together may help you to manage your time better, especially as a remote worker.
Bucket of Rocks Theory
This theory is also known as The Pickle Jar Theory or Jar of Life Theory, but whatever name it is called, it all relates to the same concept. The basic premise is that we have a jar, representing a work day, and it has finite space. Within this jar, each day we add three things:
Rocks are clearly the largest item going into the jar. Metaphorically representing the big and important tasks that we must achieve in our day. The pebbles are smaller, they are either “important but not urgent” or “urgent but not important”, if we consider Eisenhower’s Matrix. We still need to do them, or delegate them, but they are not as vital as the rocks. Finally, we have the sand. The sand is all the other stuff – it’s superfluous, not important and not urgent.
You could ask a friend or colleague to become your accountability buddy, share with each other at the end of the day to monitor how much “Sand” you have in your jar. Using an accountability buddy could help you to manage your time better.
Cyril Northcote Parkinson came up with Parkinson’s Law in 1955. The central principle of this law is that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Essentially, our work will take as long as we allow it to.
Have you ever noticed how quickly you can produce work when you’re on a deadline? Or, even better, when you have to leave the office at 16:00 to catch a flight to go on vacation? It’s amazing how quickly we can work if we must. Parkinson’s law acknowledges this. It’s a similar principle to the idea that if we want something done quickly, we should ask a busy person to do it.
How can we apply Parkinson’s Law as a time management technique? With an extreme amount of discipline. The way this would work, is that we robustly challenge ourselves to complete tasks as quickly as possible, whilst maintaining appropriate quality standards. But we must consistently ask ourselves, what is the minimum time I require to complete this task?
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