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Managing Your Time Effectively

Productivity

10 November, 2020

Yan Collendavelloo
Yan Collendavelloo

Senior Engineering Manager at Improbable

Yan Collendavelloo, Senior Engineering Manager at Improbable, shares some of his favorite tools and methods for effective time management and optimal prioritization.

Problem

When I became a manager, I became responsible for a small team and was able to stay hands-on. My responsibilities were quite diverse, but anytime I would reflect back on a week or month, things would look like a blur. Endless email correspondence, back-to-back meetings, and recurring problems made it look all that blurry. I felt like doing a lot and achieving so little. I wanted to dedicate more of my time to improving the team’s performance and at the same time free up some time for my personal growth. To do so, I had to learn how to better manage my time and prioritize on things that are important.

Actions taken

I registered to attend a time management training that turned out to be a game-changer. I learned about new tools and methods that helped me organize, plan, and prioritize better.

For starters, I turned off email notifications. I was always tempted to rush and check on my notifications and that had a highly disruptive effect on my workflow. I also canceled my Slack and Microsoft Teams notifications. Without notifications to interrupt me, I would become immersed in the work and get in the zone (the most productive, mental state of being fully involved and enjoying the work).

Another thing that I had learned that had a profound impact on me was a prioritization method by Stephen Covey, an author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He widely promoted an Urgent/Important matrix that taught me to prioritize any task using the Eisenhower matrix and taking appropriate actions. Any task should be placed in one of these four quadrants:

  • Quadrant I. Urgent and important (Do) – important deadlines and crises
  • Quadrant II. Not urgent but important (Plan) – long-term development
  • Quadrant III. Urgent but not important (Delegate) – distractions with deadlines
  • Quadrant IV. Not urgent and not important (Eliminate) – frivolous distractions

Also, I learned to embed self-reflection into my planning activities. At the end of every day, week and month I would spend some time looking back on a time passed and assess what I have done, how relevant and impactful that was, and how that related to my long-term goals. That enabled me to understand what really mattered and to streamline my focus on those things. However, when I would try to block time in my calendar I would end up with numerous fragments of time scattered around meetings. Those short fragments of time wouldn’t allow me to direct focus on more productive work. To block time in the continuum, I would use Clockwise, an app that lumps up tasks and frees up your time and is well integrated with Google Calendar.  

Finally, I had to learn to say no. I have a certain set of questions I ask myself every time someone approaches me with any new task. (Why are you asking me, Who else did you ask, Wand When is your deadline).

On a company-wide level, we introduced some activities that enhanced our productivity as a team. Every day we would do Slack standups where we would share our daily plans. On the psychological level, committing ourselves before a group of people helps us with personal accountability and motivates us to follow on that commitment.

Also, as an engineering team, we were often in a reactive mode and doing things on the fly. That would often involve doing multiple things and our focus would be divided between multiple things. I read that human brains can efficiently be focused on two things, three at maximum, but everything beyond that is something that we as humans are not wired to process simultaneously. Instead of constantly multitasking and doing a couple of things at the same time, I decided to ruthlessly prioritize on things and have my team never work on more than two to three things at once.

Lessons learned

Time management is one of, if not the most important skill, that any professional would have to acquire. This is particularly true for the fast-paced world of software engineering. There are many techniques and tools that can help you manage your time more efficiently and be open to trying and choosing those that work best for you.

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