How I Manage My Time

On the flight home yesterday I was thinking about how I manage my time, and relaxing in a Cafe after a long walk I thought I would jot down some notes.  First a little about me and my job:

  1. I am currently in a vision and strategy role, but really I still love to get my hands dirty with architecture, engineering and particularly user experience and productivity issues.  Hands on experience is very important to me.
  2. I work for 4 main groups,  within my company.  The End user experience group that develops most of our desktop service offering, the server based computing and the collaborative services development groups.  I also work with our leading edge forum that does research into new and emerging business and technology trends.  In my spare time I often consult on bids and proposals.
  3. I consider an important part of my job the coaching and development of the people I work with, no one works for me
  4. I work from home
  5. I work in a global role which in practice means working mainly with Northern Europe, North America and Australia
  6. I have a wife, 4 kids and a cat and they take up a lot of my time
  7. I have an auto-immune disease which I can control pretty well, but its does mean my health is pretty unstable on a day to day basis, limits my international travel and the intensity with which I can work.

So these are the principles I try and follow:

  1. I leave a lot of unscheduled time in my diary.  This means I get a lot of flexibility in my day.  Many people I know seem to fill their diaries with busy work – often conference calls – which I rapidly stopped doing when I realised that on a lot of these calls I was adding perhaps 10 minutes of value and hour.
  2. I work a very long, low intensity day.  I tend to start work at about 7:30 and finish around 10:00PM.  But within that day I spend time with my family, walking, swimming, meditating, business and pleasure reading, lunching with friends and even watching an hour and a half’s TV (generally 1 hour drama and 30 minutes comedy – which we always do as a family at 8:00PM).
  3. I also typically do quite a lot of integrated work/life activity, listening to podcasts while walking/driving, watching downloaded or DVD copies of technical conferences while I have lunch, scanning my feeds while I watch TV, reading by the health clubs swimming pool while the kids play, working on my Tablet in cafes while gazing at the views and chatting over breakfast.  I fill odd bits of dead-times with email processing and phone calls
  4. I don’t use a to-do list really.  I just decide what my top 5 or 6 objectives are for the week and my top 2-3 objectives are for each day.  I tend to leave “to do” items in my inbox (I email to myself) but otherwise keep my inbox empty
  5. I find forgetting about all the things I don’t have time to do.  All those things that seemed important when I thought of them but really weren’t very important after a few weeks.  When I used to keep a to-do list the backlog of stuff I never got around to doing was very depressing.
  6. Although I have way too much to do,  I still buy extra holidays off my company, so right now I get about 35 days a year and I have no trouble taking them all!
  7. I invest a lot of time, money and innovation in my work environment and relationships. Long ago realised that my idea of a good working environment was not the same as any of my employers.  If I was going to work for thousands of hours a year,  then I should try and create an environment that maximised my chance of enjoying myself

The benefits of this way of working are considerable:

  1. I get to work on the important but not urgent – most days
  2. I get to take advantage of good weather
  3. If something urgent and important crops up I normally have time to cope with it without creating too much stress for my already stressed body to cope with
  4. Most of the value I add comes from ideas and I have my best ideas when I’m not “working” so I do a lot of recording of voice notes or emails to myself while out and about, often after I jump out of the swimming pool!
  5. I get to spend time with people when they need it,  rather than asking them to “find a slot in my diary” days later
  6. I get to see a lot of my family, even when I’m really busy
  7. When I’m in a flare, I don’t disrupt too many peoples schedules
  8. I have time to dive deep into issues that capture my attention and explore them

There are a few downsides:

  1. I have to make decisions about what to do most days,  which is not as easy as just jumping from one meeting to the next, or one document review to the next.  Making decisions can be hard work, especially when I’m not feeling well
  2. I tend to do things that are difficult,  often requiring new ideas, challenging existing ways of doing things, stopping activities that don’t work strategically, convincing people to do difficult and often disruptive things that they don’t have time to do.  Difficult things are hard to do on bad days when I can’t concentrate for more than a few minutes or I’m dosed up on pain killers or sitting feeling sorry for myself with a Migraine.

I refined this way of working using the books Peopleware and Slack,  but to be honest I would probably have always worked this way regardless of the books I’ve read or the type of job I have done.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

3 Responses

  1. Steve Richards says:

    Just thought I’d point out that I have done a few jobs where constant document reviews and conference calls were absolutely necessary. But in my current job about 18 months ago I also found myself falling into the “busy work” trap of a gradually increasing level of this type of work and when I looked hard at it I realised I was making the mistake of assuming that being really busy was the same as adding maximum value.

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