Hybrid time management: how to never waste a second ever again
Hybrid time management has now become more important than ever.
Because planning your days effectively and not wasting time in a hybrid work setup is 10x more difficult than in a non-hybrid workplace.
Flip it the other way around: if you don’t know how to manage your time (and the one of your team) well… you risk wasting it much more than before.
It’s a lot to take in, and that’s why in this article I’m going to run you through the most impactful time management strategies for hybrid work – strategies that will drastically improve your performance and effectiveness, as well as the one of your team.
This is what you will find:
- What “hybrid work” are we talking about?
- Basic time management skills
- Hybrid time management strategies for your team (90% of the job)
- Hybrid time management strategies for managers
- Final hybrid time management tips
What hybrid work are we talking about?
Time management in in-person setups is relatively easy, but it gets messier as soon as you throw in a “hybrid”.
So let’s talk about it briefly because things change depending on what type of “hybrid work” you are talking about.
When you say “hybrid” do you mean:
- A team in which some people always work in the office and some others work remotely?
- A team with fixed days for being in the office or being at home?
- A team that is fully flexible and can self-organize their workplace independently?
These are three different types of hybrid workplaces. The time management skills that you need to have to handle each one are different.
So, just to make it simpler, we only focus on the third one – a fully flexible setup.
Why you ask?
Because that is the most difficult one to deal with in a time management perspective, so once you know how to deal with that, the others will come automatically.
Basic time management skills you must have
Better time management, hybrid or not, is based on two key premises
- Knowing what your professional priority is
- Knowing where you’ve been investing your time
It might sound simplistic, but I assure you it’s far from that.
Whenever I run this workshop in organisations and get to these points I see people faced with a sudden realisation:
“I don’t know what I did the past two weeks, I have lost focus of my most important task and I have no idea how much time I invested in that”.
To that follows panic, in varying degrees.
And if that’s where you are right now, worry not, we’ll take a look at both points in the next two paragraphs.
What is your priority?
The first thing you need to identify is your priority. And mind you, this is a lot of work, but so worth it.
Here is how to do it:
- First: make a list of all your important tasks, the ones you absolutely have to do. Aim for no more than 15.
- Second: erase half of them.
- Third: boil it down to three.
- Fourth: ask yourself this question: “of these three activities, which one would I choose to do if all of a sudden I can only work 2 hours a week?”
The one that remains is your priority.
Your priority is the activity you have to do if you only had 2 hours a week to work
And no, there can’t be two or more. Select one and keep that one.
A word of caution
If for some reason you feel this is boring and plainly you don’t want to do it… stop.
And then do it anyways.
This is much, much more than an experiment, it’s a key component of all hybrid time management strategies.
There is no point in starting to plan your week if you have no idea what your key priority is.
Where does your time go?
Do not skip this section
Time is the most valuable resource you have – it’s non-renewable.
If that’s true, then you MUST have a way to track it.
So here is what I want you to do:
- Download this Excel sheet and open it
- Open up your calendar
- Log into the spreadsheet where your time went in 30-minute slots for the past two weeks, making sure you categorise it in the sheet at the end.
- If you have no idea of what you did write “-” or “N/A” or “Nothing”.
Once you are done, you should have a breakdown of where your time went in in the past two weeks. Now it’s time to put it all together.
Hybrid time management: the starting point
At this point you should have:
- A clear indication of your main professional priority
- A breakdown of where your time went
If you are like 95% of the people I work with, one or both of the following will happen:
You are shocked at how much time you waste or cannot account for AND at how little time you have focused on your priority.
You cannot waste that much time – and that is what the rest of the article is about.
Hybrid time management strategies for individuals / members of your team (90% of the job)
Now that you’re done with priorities and logging your time, things are about to get serious.
90% of hybrid time management boils down to individual skills.
So, if you are a manager, your job is first and foremost to share these skills with your team and support them in their application, that’s how you enable them to better plan their time.
If instead you are a member of a hybrid team, your job is to know all of this and put it into practice.
And if you are in HR and are struggling with poor time management skills across the organization, your job is to first gather and then disseminate these skills across the organization, and help people apply it – or talk to me if you need an expert eye.
Individual calendar planning – what to schedule first
As you start planning your activities for the coming week, chances are you have a mostly blank calendar in front of you.
So – what do you enter first?
Some say you should schedule the activity you want to do the least – they call it the big ugly toad – so once that’s out of the way quickly you can focus on the rest. I call BS on that: time management skills for hybrid work or not are based on being able to carry out tasks effectively. If you can’t do that, take a step back and try again.
Some say you should instead place your personal time first as that is priority over everything. That’s something I can get behind – I often do it myself – but I do understand if people don’t want to mix personal and professional.
Some say you should place two-three 30-minute slots in which you answer emails – and that I believe is the most effective time management strategy you could ever possible implement!
The first thing you do in hybrid time management is block two 30-minute slots to focus on emails.
Why is this so important?
Because you can’t focus effectively on two things at once, and if you are trying to focus on a priority task and are bombarded by notifications and sounds, you will not be able to focus and work efficiently.
To avoid it, mute all notifications throughout the day and only take care of emails in your designated slots, I assure you this technique is going to blow your mind.
At this point you might be wondering: what if it’s urgent? Won’t I mess up if I don’t answer immediately?
No, and do you want to know why?
If something is urgent, people will call you, and if they don’t, then it can wait a couple of hours.
Try it, you’d be surprised.
Scheduling your activities with a hybrid perspective in mind
At this point you still have most of your week unplanned, except for two email slots every day.
Before you go on, block another 30-minute slot on Friday late afternoon. That’s the time in which you will be planning your coming week.
Now for the hard part… this is where the “hybrid” in hybrid time management comes in.
In a non-hybrid setup, what you would do at this stage is place a few 2-hour blocks in your calendar over the week to make sure you have enough time to dedicate to your priority.
In hybrid, though, things are different.
In hybrid, you can’t only plan according to what is priority, but you need to factor how difficult each activity is to plan according to where it needs to be done and who is involved.
In other words, to carry out your priority you need to perform specific tasks.
Depending who is involved and where they need to be done, they are more or less difficult to plan.
The trick, then, is to plan your activities in this order:
- First: Team activities you have to do in the office
- Second: Alone activities you have to do in the office
- Third: Team activities you can to do from anywhere
- Fourth: Alone activities you can to do from anywhere
1 – Team activities you have to do in the office
There are some things that need to be done together in a physical space (most likely the office) and in a hybrid workplace that means everyone needs to agree on what time and day to meet.
For example, brainstorming, one-to-one meetings and team meetings might be better managed when everyone is physically present – teambuilding games are also better in person if you think about it.
Obviously it’s difficult to have everyone agree, but it can be made easier if everyone plans these things first, without anything else occupying their calendar – so start by agreeing on a few slots with other team member on when you need to be in the office together, and only then move on.
2 – Alone activities you have to do in the office
At this point you know that you will need to meet others in the office on a couple of days – Tuesday and Thursday you know you’ll be in the office in our example.
Since you already know you will need to go to the office then, is there any way you can make your trip worthwhile and cluster other activities for which your presence in the office is fundamental? Maybe you need to access some documents or need to work with a specific system that you only have in the office.
3 – Team activities you can do from anywhere
At this point you have optimised your presence in the office, and can start planning other activities that are not location-dependent.
As usual, start with the ones that are more difficult to plan – i.e. the ones that you need to coordinate with others – remote meetings like a weekly check-in with the team, for example.
Now, you might be surprised to see that I’ve added location-independent activities on the days you are in the office as well… thing is, if you’ve already taken care of all your location-dependent ones and have a free slot on Tuesday at 14:00 for a remote interview, you can also take it from the office.
4 – Alone activities you can do from anywhere
Last, plan all the activities you need to carry out by yourself and that you can work on from anywhere – by far these are the easiest ones to plan so it makes sense to place them on your calendar last.
Final hybrid time management tips
At this point you should be settled:
You have not only planned according to your priority, but have also optimised your presence in the office
This, frankly, is the most important thing. Have this strategy on repeat and every week, come hell or high water, plan accordingly.
Only thing you should be mindful of: remember to leave yourself some free time between slots – you need to always account for unforeseen events or for people wanting to contact you.
The only aspect that we still need to look at is what to do as a manager with respect to enabling your team to plan their week as efficiently as possible and the importance of time management in hybrid teams is so high that a manager needs to keep an eye on that.
And that’s what we’ll look at in the next section.
Hybrid time management strategies for managers
Part of your job as a manager of a hybrid team is to help them manage their time better. You can only do that if:
- You have looked into time management strategies for hybrid work and you use them on a regular basis;
- You have either passed on those skills and strategies to your team, or hired people that already possess them.
With that covered, your role as a manager becomes to implement a few actions to facilitate each team member’s planning:
- Working via milestones and goals
- Setting up anchor points
- Passing a culture of respect for everyone else’s time.
Working via milestones and goals
This goes beyond hybrid time management, this is a key aspect of being a modern leader for your team.
I’ve mentioned it before – the role of managers is changing. As such, you don’t set up tasks and processes for each team member, you enable them to grow and develop. You see it in how you treat feedback, in how you gain trust at work, and in how you set goals.
How does that relate to time management? Well, if you set up a deadline and a process in full, you take away a chance to learn. If instead you set up a final deadline and leave the rest to the person, he or she has the chance to self-organize and learn how to handle priorities effectively in practice.
An anchor point is a fixed event that people know will take place at a specific date and time.
- A weekly team meeting
- No-meeting days.
Three different examples that however work in exactly the same way.
Think about it: how much easier would it be for a person if for example he’d know that on Wednesdays there are no meetings allowed and that on Thursday he has his 1:1 with you?
That would mean that Thursdays he needs to be in the office, and that already simplifies planning.
Here’an extra step you could take: why not planning all your 1:1s in a single day? That way everyone needs to be in the office and in-person meetings can take place during that day. It makes it easier for everyone to plan.
Passing a culture of respect for everyone else’s time
Have you ever worked in a place where you just had back-to-back meetings that constantly went on for too long and always started late?
If so, you probably know how much of a waste of valuable time they can be.
Part of your job is to make that type of behaviour taboo.
Teach your team how to have effective meetings, stress that time is the most valuable resource everyone has, teach them that wasting it is disrespectful and do not allow them to do it.
Once people understand how valuable time is (for everyone) you can automatically expect more awareness – and from there, better hybrid time management skills are a much smaller step.
Final hybrid time management tips
Last but not least, whenever you deal with a hybrid workplace there are some aspects to watch out for:
- Daily cycle and effectiveness: everyone is more or less effective in different moments of the day (think after lunch). If you are working with a hybrid team in different time zones, that’s something you need to keep into account and that is not often mentioned.
- Scheduling across time zones: connecting to the above, how about deciding a few hours during the day when everyone across time zones needs to be connected? I know Atlassian does it, would that work in your organization?
- Failure: all of the above is fundamental, but like anything you are new to, know that it will fail – in full or in part. Iterate, adapt and keep it up, you’ll find what works for your team.
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