Time management: A guide for managers
As a manager, you have a lot on your plate. Between overseeing direct reports and attending meetings, you barely have the time to work on deliverables – let alone address your personal and professional development. With all these competing demands, how can you perform the duties of a good manager while managing your time productively and sustainably for your wellbeing?
Taking an honest look at your workload
First, we encourage you to consider your existing commitments and management responsibilities. Why is this important? Because understanding how you currently allocate your resources can inform how you need to approach your time management strategy.
To assess your workload, break down how much time you commit to meetings, deliverables, direct reports, and other significant manager responsibilities. Similarly, you can also break down how much time you’re giving to others versus spending on yourself.
For example, let’s say you look at all your to-dos, meetings, and obligations and realize that you could work 24/7 and still not get everything done. That’s a clear signal that your boundaries and capacity aren’t being honored and may require a more serious conversation with your team leader.
On the other hand, let’s say you notice that most of your stress comes from having too many meetings on your calendar every day. This means you’re using too much of your time on other people and need time to get through your to-do list. With some of our tips below, you can address this problem directly and find ways to put up healthy boundaries to protect your time.
Time management tips for managers
We don’t want to throw a bunch of recommendations at you and hope that something sticks. Instead, as a starting point, we carefully chose the most valuable tips, why it’s essential to implement them, and how to hold yourself accountable so that you put them into action.
1. Block time off on the calendar
If you’re in and out of meetings all day, or you can’t put aside at least a few hours for yourself, try blocking time off on the calendar for deep work. You can do this by blocking off certain hours every day or blocking off entire days to be “no meeting” days. This type of intensely focused, uninterrupted work time has increased productivity and strengthened feelings of fulfillment on the job.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of saying ‘yes’ to people’s meeting requests and putting your own needs aside. A physical block on your calendar serves as a tangible reminder – for yourself and others – that this time is reserved for you.
- Block off small increments. At first, it may feel a bit awkward to put blocks on your calendar. After all, you don’t want people to think that you don’t have time for them. This is a totally understandable feeling – setting boundaries can be uncomfortable at first. To ease into this change, we recommend blocking off small increments (around 30 minutes to an hour) and then gradually increase the amount of time as you become more comfortable.
- Be transparent. It’ll help to let your team know about this change before you start. That way, nobody will misunderstand your intentions or encroach on that time. You can even encourage your team members to join you if they feel it’ll benefit them!
- Use the time for you. It may be tempting to use your time block to sneak onto Slack to answer unread messages or chat with a direct report who wants to catch up with you. Try to resist that temptation and focus on using this time in a way that will benefit you. This means tackling whatever will make your life easier or better – whether that’s getting deliverables done, investing in your personal development, or using the space to decompress.
2. Identify your most productive working hours
Nobody is productive 24/7. Some people feel more energized early in the morning, while others thrive in the evenings. To maximize your productivity, identify the hours when you get the most done and create a reasonable schedule around that time.
This recommendation isn’t only about increasing your productivity. Trying to force yourself into a schedule that doesn’t work for your lifestyle can lead to unnecessary stress. For example, starting your workday at 8 a.m. while your kids need to get ready for school is a juggling act that cuts into both your personal and professional experiences. Moving your workday an hour in one direction or the other can make your life easier and more productive.
As more of us have adjusted to an increasingly remote work life, many startups and innovative companies are increasingly offering flexible working hours as part of a wellness program.
- Make your schedule easily accessible. Again, be transparent with your team about your new working schedule. Then they’ll know when you’re available and reach out to you when both of your hours overlap - something that is becoming common practice with most people being remote. Don’t forget about the people outside of your team as well. To make your schedule as visible as possible, include your working hours in your calendar or as your status on Slack. That way, if anybody tries to book a meeting with you or wants to send you a message, they’ll know when you’re available.
3. Carve out time and space to decompress
It might seem counterproductive, but it’s important to intentionally build breaks into your busy schedule. Especially since so many of us are remote, it’s necessary to take frequent 30-minute breaks from the computer to do something that helps you decompress – whether by meditating, cooking a healthy meal, or working out.
You might be thinking: “But I need more hours in my working day, not fewer!” While it might seem like working long hours without breaks will give you more time back, the truth is that it’ll actually lead to burnout – making it even harder to complete your manager responsibilities. That’s why proactively and regularly taking time to care for your health will help you better manage your time and get through your workload quicker in the long run.
- Make sure your energy levels are in balance. In other words, check-in with yourself to see if you’re putting in as much energy as you’re putting out. Even if you generally feel balanced, scheduling regular breaks will help maintain your sense of wellbeing. On the other hand, if you’re already burnt out, investing more energy in yourself is critical to mitigating the risks of additional mental and physical health effects.
- Have an accountability mechanism. We’ve all had the experience of hunching over our laptops on a busy day without a break – only to look up and realize that it’s already 5 p.m. To keep this from happening, have an accountability mechanism. This can be an alarm you set, a Slack reminder, or even a colleague who pings to ensure you’re taking time off to decompress each day.
- Learn more about your company’s mental health-focused policies. If you do get to the point where you’re on the verge of burning out or are dealing with intense stress-related issues, we encourage you to tap into your company’s mental health resources and understand what options are available to you. Whether taking leave or an extended vacation, do whatever you need to do to restore your health.
4. Use tools
We’re lucky to live in a time when we have incredible technology at our disposal. Used thoughtfully, tools like Asana, Slack, and Zoom can enhance our work experiences, especially when remote. Not only do these tools have the power to streamline our tasks, communication, and responsibilities - they can also relieve certain mental burdens.
For instance, at Culture Amp, we offer a tool for 1-on-1 meetings that helps managers co-create an agenda with their direct reports, provides coaching questions to guide the conversation, and more. This saves managers time, relieves them of the stress of tracking or researching all of these items on their own, and deepens their relationship with their direct reports.
We also offer a Skills Coach course for productivity. Using the concept of spaced repetition and just-in-time training, you can practice and internalize skills like time management, prioritization, and more - in just a few minutes a day.
- Have a system in place. Of course, tools themselves can become a source of stress. To avoid being overwhelmed by all the pings and dings that come with your tools, put a system in place to manage them. For example, set aside time during the day to check your email or notifications so that you’re not constantly distracted by them, and make sure you’re only receiving notifications in one place.
5. Ask for help
Sometimes, no matter how strong a manager’s time management skills are, there’s too much to do. In cases like this, you should feel empowered to ask for help from the organization – whether that’s having a project taken off your plate, managing fewer direct reports, or requesting additional resources. While it may be difficult to ask for support, keep in mind that this will ultimately serve you and the organization in the long run.
- Have an internal “champion.” It can feel very awkward to ask for help. You don’t want to be perceived as someone who can’t handle the duties required of a good manager or to be passed up for potential promotions. That’s why it’s important to find someone at the organization – whether that’s your boss or your mentor – who knows you and has your best interests in mind. This can be the person you turn to when you need help navigating your next steps.
- Be kind to yourself. Remember, you’re not a superhuman who can do everything alone. There’s no shame in setting clear, healthy boundaries and ensuring that your resources – from your time to your mental health – are protected.
You can make your workload much more manageable with the right time management strategy. Eventually, this will improve well-being and productivity, benefiting yourself and the organization.
We can’t keep managing like this
Empower managers with the tools and resources to make a meaningful impact.