Great time management is an essential skill we all need in our working lives. With increasing pressure to maximise productivity and meet conflicting deadlines, we need to manage our time well to achieve focus at work and a healthy work-life balance. Effective time managers experience less stress because they focus on what’s important, this means they aren’t constantly firefighting; making it more likely they’ll avoid burnout. Here we share two tools that can help boost your time management skills: the Productivity Code and the Time Matrix.

1/ The productivity code – a simple way to improve your time management

Crafting goals may seem relatively straightforward, but the true challenge lies in consistently taking small yet significant steps toward goal completion, week in and week out.

MMU’s Productivity Code – 60:30:10 – provides a straightforward approach to dedicating time for planning:

  • 60 minutes a quarter to identify those three to five quarterly goals, along with one or two clear measures of success.
  • 30 minutes a week to decide the Weekly Big Three, usually related to your quarterly goals, focusing on three achievable tasks within the next seven days to progress toward your quarterly goals.
  • 10 minutes a day to schedule your Daily Big Three – three key tasks, mostly aligned with your Weekly Big Three, prioritised for the day to help fulfil your weekly commitments.

These simple yet powerful steps shift the emphasis from mere goal setting to goal execution because they create a regular, weekly habit of connecting back to our quarterly goals. Too often goals are set (with great intentions) but rarely returned to until the quarter or worse, the year, is over, at which point many people are surprised/disappointed by the lack of progress.

Out of sight, out of mind is the problem with these goals, which is why the 30 minutes a week is so crucial to the process. It’s the glue that connects well-written goals with regular, actionable steps towards achieving them.

These steps don’t have to be long or especially hard, they just need to be connected to the overall achievement of the goal; taking it a step (however small) towards landing the goal. The 10 minutes a day of planning then gets into the detail of the steps themselves – what needs to be done, at what time, by whom? This allows us to be specific enough that we can schedule these actions during the day.

Author and former VP of Operations at Walt Disney World, Lee Cockerell, advises in his book, Time Management Magic, to do “the hard things first”. Great advice from Lee as always!  Even if you can’t physically do the tasks at the start of your day (perhaps because it involves someone who’s not available later), make sure the task and the time needed to achieve it, are scheduled. While it’s never a guarantee, I do think what gets scheduled, is more likely to be done than if we just say to ourselves, “Oh, I must try to find time to do X or Y at some point today!”

How to stay focused

Being realistic about what can be achieved, and how much time you can (or want to) dedicate to the task is critical too. We advise not to block out hours for one task, and certainly not without some mini breaks to help keep us attentive.

Occasionally, everyone experiences a lapse in attention, such as losing concentration momentarily during routine tasks. While some may dismiss these moments as mere “senior moments”, they could be linked to a crucial cognitive process known as executive function, which plays a pivotal role in the brain’s functioning.

Dr Joel Salinas, a neurologist affiliated with Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital, explains that executive function is integral for planning, decision-making, and, significantly, maintaining attention. He likens it to the role of a captain steering a ship; guiding and orchestrating various cognitive activities.

Our brains are wired and programmed uniquely, leading to variations in attention spans. Numerous studies propose that breaking work into smaller time chunks, interspersed with rest periods enhances focus. This approach is grounded in the understanding that attention naturally diminishes after a certain duration.

The optimal length of these work intervals is subjective and varies from person to person. Research examining work and classroom performance suggests a range of anywhere from 10 to 52 minutes. Dr Salinas recommends experimenting with different time frames to identify when your attention is at its peak. By doing so, you can discover a personalised range that aligns with your cognitive rhythms and maximises your ability to concentrate.

Further reading from Harvard Health Publishing.

2/ Unlock peak productivity with the Time Matrix

Unlocking peak productivity is a journey. When we run our Full Focus Productivity workshops, we delve into the transformative concept of the Time Matrix. Originating from the influential ideas of Stephen Covey, this model finds its roots in the Eisenhower Box, a decision-making matrix associated with former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Understanding the Time Matrix

Quadrant I: The Urgent and Important – these tasks demand immediate attention and are crucial to short- and long-term goals. Isolating urgent and important tasks allows us to prioritise effectively to prevent crisis mode and ensure proactive problem-solving.

Quadrant II: The Not Urgent but Important – the sweet spot for long-term success, identifying tasks that fit into this quadrant means we can invest more time in activities like planning, relationship-building, and personal development. This contributes significantly to future achievements.

Quadrant III: The Urgent but Not Important – recognising and minimising time spent in this quadrant is key. Doing this involves learning to delegate, automate, or eliminate tasks that may seem urgent but don’t align with your overall objectives.

Quadrant IV: The Not Urgent and Not Important – these are the timewaster activities that we undertake in the moment. Context, as ever, is king! The aim here is to reduce or eliminate non-essential tasks, freeing up valuable time for more meaningful pursuits.

Four steps to implementing the Time Matrix

1. Self-assessment – start by identifying your current time allocation patterns. It helps if you understand which quadrants dominate your schedule and evaluate their impact on your productivity and well-being.

2. Goal alignment – align your goals with the corresponding quadrants. This ensures that your daily activities contribute directly to your short- and long-term objectives.

3. Time blocking – implement time blocking techniques to allocate dedicated periods for specific tasks. This helps create a structured routine that minimises distractions and enhances focus.

4. Flexibility and adaptability – recognise that priorities may shift. Stay flexible and adjust your time allocation as needed to accommodate unexpected events or changing circumstances.

Mastering the Time Matrix is a key step toward achieving full focus and peak productivity. By understanding the nuances of each quadrant and implementing strategic approaches, you can unlock your true potential and navigate the complexities of daily life with purpose and efficiency. It’s a great way to transform how you manage your time and achieve your goals.

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you improve your focus and boost your time management skills, visit our Time Management and Productivity page, or download our guide to the Full Focus Productivity programme, which includes a three-minute time management assessment tool.