Managing To-Do's

Corporate Time Management Strategies

January 30, 2023

I’m Kelly Nolan.
I'm an attorney who'd been decently organized through law school but got quickly overwhelmed as a actual attorney. After nothing else worked for me, I created this system – and kept on practicing law. Years later, I found out others were interested in learning it, so that's what I do now! Let's get this realistic system in your hands so you can start living a life that feels more calm, doable, and that lights you up.
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When it comes to time and task management in Corporate America, the pain points seem to be:

  • Meetings that take up all of your work hours so you struggle to get any other work done;

  • Constant email; and

  • Hold-ups with other team members and/or clients that lead to last-minute scrambles on your end to hit deadlines.

I work with a lot of women who work in corporate on each of these pain points at length in my eight-week time management program and think lasting remedies do require my full time management method. That said, here are some strategies you can try out to get you going.

Kelly Nolan Corporate Time Management Computer desk scene with glasses

Corporate Time Management Tip #1: Stop accommodating everyone else (in a practical way)

Let’s take a quick step back for a second to address a broader issue.

When we enter the workforce, we’re told to be responsive, accommodating, and basically just make everyone else’s life easier.

And this is great advice! When you’re new to an industry, often your greatest value is in being responsive and accommodating. As a result, when someone asks for a meeting, we bend over backward to accommodate them. “I’m free any time Monday through Wednesday. What works best for you?” And if you’re in a junior role, this is appropriate and valuable.

But as we gain experience in our industry, our true value has less to do with being responsive or accommodating and more to do with bringing smart, creative strategy to the table.

To do that, you need windows of time without meetings or email interruptions where you can dive deep into your real work.

The problem is: no one tells us when we’ve reached that stage in our careers or how to do it, so we continue plugging along in responsive mode. We continue to send those “when works best for you?” emails. But having so many meetings that work for someone else’s schedule often spliters your day into fragments, which prevents you from getting those windows of strategy time that you need to bring your true value to the table.

In short, staying in responsive/accommodating mode is undermining your ability to deliver the results you need and want to deliver. That responsive approach that served you well in a junior role is now actually undermining your ability to show up as you want to in your more senior role.

So, let’s shift gears. Here’s how.

Kelly Nolan Corporate Time Management Woman working with ipad and computer

Corporate Time Management Tip #2: Protect focus time from meetings

As we’ve discussed, you need focus time to bring your work A-game, which requires 1-2 hour windows of time multiple times a week. I work with clients to figure out when these windows should be in terms of your energy levels, personal life, and industry.

For now, think about how you can protect 1-2 hours at a time in your schedule twice a week. Block that time in your calendar, calling it “Hold,” “No Meetings,” or just make it private so no one can see the details. Repeat these blocks each week.

Please know that these are just default blocks to remind you to protect the time and that can be flexible with where they ultimately fall. If a meeting pops up that you need to attend during a focus time block, that’s fine! Just find a new home for the focus time block so that you can both attend the meeting and still get that focus time in.

Some people are curious if they need to run this by their boss or teammates.

My advice: to start, don’t. It’s not like you’re playing hooky. You’re actually trying to serve your company better by carving out time to get real work done. Just experiment with it without making any formal announcement about this new approach, and see how it goes. If after two weeks, you’re finding it’s causing problems, that’s when you can have conversations if you need to. But for now, you’re an adult woman who’s just trying to get intentional with her work hours to show up in her best way, so rock on! Plus, looping more people into your plans makes it harder for you to maintain a flexible approach with this. Flexibility is the name of the game, so let’s do everything we can to retain your flexibility when it comes to these focused time blocks.

A word on managers v. makers

Farnam Street has an excellent article on the different schedules required for managers and makers. It’s worth thinking through what category you fall into and what that means for how you may want to spend your time.

Managers often serve their highest value in meetings (e.g., collaborating, bringing their judgment to the table), so being in meetings is a good use of their time. If you’re a manager with a full meeting schedule, it’s worth thinking about whether you could whittle down meetings to a degree – and also to consider delegating the non-meeting work that you keep not being able to do. Perhaps that non-meeting work isn’t where your value is, so you should devote the time to meetings and focus on getting the non-meeting work off your plate.

Makers, however, need more time on their own to make the product, making too many meetings a frustrating and ineffective element of a workday. If you’re a maker, it’s worth getting out of as many meetings as possible and even having a conversation with your boss about that.

In my Bright Method time management program for professional working women, including many women who work in Corporate America, we dig into both of these strategies in far greater detail if that’s something you’d like more support on (e.g., how to have the conversation with your boss in a specific and compelling way).

Kelly Nolan Corporate Time Management Woman working on phone

Corporate Time Management Tip #3: Stop dropping everything to respond to every email

Ah, email. It’s incessant, distracting, and will interrupt our entire day if we let it.

Similar to the above, I’d like to help you protect your focus times in particular from email interruptions. During those focus time windows you’ve set aside, don’t let yourself go into your email inbox to start responding to emails.

Candidly, responding to email is easier and weirdly more comfortable for many of us compared to getting real work done. Processing email equals quick wins, and clearing out our inbox is such a visible way to feel like we’re being productive, right? Not so much if it’s preventing you from getting to the critical stuff that moves your projects forward.

While I teach a broader email management approach, know this for purposes of today: during those focus windows, go dark.

If you struggle to ignore your email for an hour or two, two tips:

  • Think of the times you’ve gone dark during the workday at other times – for example, when you were on an hour call with a client just yesterday or when you were on a three-hour flight without internet. You’ve done it before for others or when circumstances required. You can do it to get real work done, too.

  • If you’re really struggling to go dark for a full two-hour block of time, consider setting a 45-minute timer to help you baby-step this. Going dark for 45 minutes seems doable for most of us, so it’s a good starting spot. Many clients have remarked that when that 45-minute alarm goes off, they’re so in the zone and in such a flow that they just reset it and keep going!

If you want more help on email management (including more on when to manage email, how to process it efficiently, and even how to deal with a huge backlog), I have a whole mini-course on managing your email. You can check it out here!

Kelly Nolan Corporate Time Management  Desk

Corporate Time Management Tip #4: How to handle it when others are the bottleneck

Projects in the corporate world often require a lot of teamwork between multiple players and even departments. Often, others create a bottleneck in your work, making it challenging for you to hit deadlines without the last-minute scramble.

Here are some suggestions.

Ramp up how much you use workflows

A solid workflow for a project can help people see the bigger picture and how their delay may affect the whole train from running on time.

I’m a big fan of breaking down projects into bite-sized steps (which make up a “workflow”) and sprinkling the steps over time. In fact, during my eight-week time management course, we spend a whole week on my six-step process for breaking down projects to avoid the last-minute scramble and improve your communication with your teammates.

What I want you to understand for now is the importance of getting clear ahead of time on as many of the bite-sized steps that go into a project or meeting a deadline (including both those you handle and those assigned to others) and assigning those steps to specific times.

And then… to take this up a notch, communicate on the front end with your teammates about their involvement and deadlines. For example, for a boss or client, you can send them an email as soon as you come up with your game plan that reads, “Regarding the XYZ project, I’ll have a draft deck to you by end of day X date. To hit our deadline, I’m going to need your edits and feedback on X date. Does that timing work for you?”

The clearer your communication is about expectations and deadlines on the front end, the more they can factor this turnaround into their plans – and the less excuses they have for missing your deadline.

Reminders, reminders, reminders

While it’s frustrating to serve as someone’s reminder alert, it’s better than having to stay late to deal with last-minute edits.

To that end, I encourage you to set calendar alerts in your own calendar to touch base with teammates – including before deadlines.  For example, a week before you even hand off that draft deck to them, you can forward them the email you initially sent laying out your game plan with a note along the lines of,

“Hey! Just a reminder that I’m going to send you the ABC draft deck next Tuesday. I’ll need your edits by end of day Wednesday to ensure we can incorporate all edits into the final presentation. Please let me know immediately if this timeline no longer works for you. Thanks.”

Then, when you send the deck to the person, remind them again of when you need their edits.

If it’s someone who continually blows deadlines, feel free to also reach out on that Wednesday to remind them you need the edits by end of day.

I recommend setting calendar alerts to remind yourself to send all of these emails so you know you don’t have to constantly worry about it.

Look, I completely get that you shouldn’t have to do this. But I’d rather you go through that annoying hassle and get the project done on time than stay late scrambling to bring it all together because someone else screwed up. You know what I mean?

If you’re going bonkers, get help

If you do all of the above and others still blow through your established deadlines and leave you scrambling, it’s time to get help. The alternative is to keep living in this totally-unnecessary last-minute scramble land, and that’s candidly just not sustainable, enjoyable, or acceptable.

Go to your boss (even if your boss is the one choking you up) and explain the situation.

If the chokepoint is someone other than your boss, explain that this is a consistent issue, the efforts you made during your last project to hit deadlines on time (e.g., laying out and communicating a game plan, sending reminders), and the track record of last-minute scrambles. Explain that you cannot keep working late into the night because others aren’t hitting their deadlines. Ask whether she or he has suggestions of how to improve your process and/or can help establish expectations with your problem teammate. If you’ve followed the above tips, you have specifics you can present to your boss about this history, giving you credibility and her/him more information to work with.

Now, if the chokepoint is your boss, I recommend a similar approach with more of a focus on asking how you can make the process and your communication better. Ask whether your boss wants even more advanced notice of deadlines or more time to review documents. Stay open, and know that by raising the issue, you’re already doing enough to call out the issue and make her/him pay attention to it going forward. Again, if you’ve done the above processes, you’ll have more concrete examples to give, which will make your meeting more productive and you more confident and convincing.

The Wrap Up

So, what do you think? Will one or more of these strategies help you manage your time and tasks at work and get projects done with less last-minute scramble and stress? Do you have any questions about these strategies? If so, comment below or send me a message (su*****@ke********.com).

And if you have strategies I didn’t mention that have served you well, feel free to share below in the comments.

Finally, if you want more help with how you manage your time and tasks both at work and in your personal life, I’d love to work with you. My eight-week time management course walks professional working women through:

  • How to manage your personal and family to-do’s to lighten that mental load and make life run more smoothly,

  • How to get more intentional with your work hours so you can free up more time for the fun stuff;

  • How to break down projects using my six-step process to manage all your projects with less stress, improve team communication, and get a better objective sense of your workload so you feel confident drawing and protecting boundaries; and

  • How to plan effectively using step-by-step agendas so you can go into your weekends knowing you’re on top of it all.

If you’re interested in learning more and reading what past participants have said about the program, click here. And don’t hesitate to reach out to me at su*****@ke********.com with any questions!

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