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Tips to have more meaningful make time

One of the most interesting sessions last week during Google Cloud Next was the time management session about having more make time. It contained some interesting insights and tips, important for everyone.

On what topics do you spend your time?

The average knowledge workers spends his/her time on the following activities:

  • 28% reading and answering mail
  • 19% searching and gathering information
  • 14% collaborating internally – meetings
  • 39% role specific tasks

This means that you’re only spending 39% of your time on “real work”

Why do we spend time on the wrong things?

Why we have bad e-mail practices?

  • Interruption
    People get interrupted in their real-work when they get a e-mail notification on their phone or desktop. They start checking the mail, which happens to be a mail of the boss. Of course you need to answer this one, and do the necessary tasks related to that e-mail. In turn you start checking some other e-mails and go on until you realise you need to proceed with the tasks you were doing. Each e-mail interruption soaks up 25 minutes (!) of your time.
  • Procrastination
    People have the tendency to do small, easy tasks, because each time they finish a tasks they get a good feeling. That is why people love answering mail, because each e-mail they answer, they get a feeling they did something useful. They postpone the important tasks and finish small tasks that actually have no business value.
  • Eishenhower matrix
    People always think e-mail is important, which is absolutely not most of the time. People are very bad at prioritizing their tasks.
    Therefore they need to build (longer) e-mail blocks in their schedule and don’t check e-mail outside of these blocks. It results in a
    more productive day and more importantly less stress!
    Check out this video if you don’t know the Eisenhower matrix.
  • Inability to say no
    Your colleagues and your boss will build your schedule if you can’t say no if they send an invite at a time where you actually need to do work.

Why we have bad calendar practices?

  • Parkinson’s law
    The amount of time you give a tasks is the equivalent of the amount of time the tasks will take. That means that if you give a meeting one hour to finish, the meeting will always take one hour, which is a waste of time.
    Therefore you need to start by defaulting your calendar appointment to 30 minutes instead of 1 hour.
  • The planning fallacy
    People have the tendency to underestimate the amount of time a project will take, because they never think of all the unforeseen conditions that always come up.
  • Overestimating availability
    If someone asks you to have a 4-hour meeting in a week, chances are that’s not going to be possible. Therefore you schedule this in a month or so because you see you have a open slots in a month, not taking into account that you’re going to be very busy in a month as well.
  • Productive time
    People misuse their most productive time. In the morning they start by answering a couple of mails, postpone the most important activities to the afternoon, when they actually are the least productive during the “after-lunch-dip”.
    Instead they should start the day with the most important activities and answer some mails during the least productive time of the day.

You need to change your environment to change these bad practices

What can you do already?

  • Use priority inbox in Gmail
  • Use the snooze function to get the clutter out of the way
  • Default to shorter meetings in Google Calendar
  • Use goals in your calendar to spend time on added value activities

How will Google help you in the future

  • Helping you to handle the most important e-mails first by placing them at the top of the mailbox
  • Give you fewer interruption by only sending e-mail and calendarnotifications during times you didn’t schedule Make time or meetings.
  • Automatically reminding you when you forgetting to answer certain e-mails
  • Allowing you to set soft limits of hours of meetings you want to have per week. So if want a maximum of 10h of meetings per week, people will automatically get notified when they’re trying to schedule a meeting during a week where you already have 10h+ meetings.

In conclusion I want to stress that handling e-mail and calendar is not a good use of time. Therefore you need to change your environment and automate as much as possible. Google does that already, and will make some huge steps in the future.

Written by Jeremy Bonnevalle

This post belongs to a series of blogs in response to Google’s yearly conference in San Francisco, March 8-10th. Stay tuned for more.