This post was inspired by a Fast Company article authored by Thomas Davies.
Thomas Davies is a director of Google for Work and a smart guy when it comes to time management. In his Fast Company article, in fact, he disdains the idea of time management. “..because “managing” time starts from the premise that your workload is going to be what it’s going to be, and the best you can do is keep it “manageable” he writes. Davies proposes that you take charge of your schedule by transforming the way you think about the work you do.
His designer theory of time takes the tasks you do during a typical work week and sorts them into four quadrants. They can be named and comprise anything you want, but you only get four. He believes that this approach gets you into a strategic mindset, up a notch from your tactical thinking. “Planning helps you think critically about which projects will have the greatest positive impact, instead of just coping with everything that comes your way.”
Davies’ quadrants include:
- People development (managing my teams, coaching, mentoring)
- Business operations (data analysis, running sales meetings)
- Transactional tasks (one-off things like responding to an email or reviewing a budget)
- Representative tasks (serving as a “face” for the business, like having drinks with customers or speaking at conferences)
Following his lead, my four quadrants are:
- Connecting with people (mentoring and training at work, representing my company to the public, staying connected to my network)
- Administrative tasks (reports, purchasing, billing and other tasks that keep my operation running)
- Creative input (reading, learning, skill building and deep thinking)
- Creative output (planning, brainstorming, writing, and producing other kinds of content)
Davies writes that once you take a look at your recent to-do lists and categorize them, you’ll get a high level view of what your work days and weeks really consist of. You’ll automatically assign value to each quadrant, and some will be ranked higher value than others. I get paid for producing content, so Quadrant 4 activities are what pay the bills and are therefore my highest priority. That makes creative input also critical to my success, since it keeps the pipeline full.
You’ll also realize that some tasks energize you and others, no matter how important they are, bring your energy down. For me, that’s the administrative work. It’s important, but it doesn’t stimulate me at all. I try to do these tasks in a weekly block when I’m feeling organized but not very creative. Spending too much time in a day on this quadrant will impair my energy for creative tasks, so I keep this quadrant tightly fenced.
On the other hand, connecting with people energizes me, so I make sure to set several meetings a week in between the difficult (and rewarding) creative work. In my conversations with other people, I try out new ideas, gain insight on what people think, and get closer to the issues that matter to my readers and stakeholders.
Designing your work week allows you to balance your activities and be deliberate about where you invest your time. You will find that you spend more time on things that matter and can say no to lower value activities with a clean conscience.
Try out this system and let me know how it goes. Block out your calendar for performing these tasks and color code your activities for a month. See if the results surprise you. Sometimes, simply bringing attention to what you do can help you make positive changes and prevent burnout.