Time Management Principles

Get better at managing your time with these principles & practical tips. Practical habits you can implement today to get more out of your day.

Everyone has the same amount of time. The question “How do I get more time” is silly. The only rational question you can ask is: “How do you distribute your time?” or “What should I work on?”

It’s important to know that your wish list of accomplishments will always be longer than the time available. Managing time therefore is managing priorities. And it means mostly managing yourself.

In this time-management guide you’ll learn how to schedule your calendar, how to set up focussed, deep work blocks and how to manage your time better.

Time management is mostly priority management, check out my guide on priority management as well.

What do you spend your time on?

How do you know what to spend your time on as a marketer? How do you know what you should say ‘no’ to? First, you need to identify where your time is going. Is it mindless copy-pasting ad copy, manual dashboard entry and other admin tasks?

Only if you know that you’re wasting time, can you start to optimise your time.

The reality is that only a small percentage of tasks create 80% of the results. If content marketing is driving traffic and leads, you should spend as much time on it as possible (until you get diminishing returns).

The marketeer in this example is only spending 10% of her time on important work. With a bit of flexibility we could say half of the emails and meetings are part of the important work.

But looking at this time distribution, we both know that those meetings could’ve been emails. I’m not bashing this marketer in this example. The marketeers I’ve helped over the years want to get stuff done. They’re ambitious and want to make an impact. Yet they’re lost in the daily tasks. That’s why I’ve created the guide you are reading.

I want to get the admin of work out of the way, so you can spend more time doing marketing: building campaigns, being creative and learning new skills.

The ultimate goal is to spend 50% of your time on the most important work.

Let’s be realistic. There will always be things you have to do, that technically are not ‘the job’. That’s OK. And we’ll plan for that as well.

Take a second to think about this: how MUCH would you be able to accomplish with 20 hours a week (based on a 40-hour workweek)?

  • If you’re an SEO specialist, spend 50% of your time doing SEO.
  • If you’re a paid-performance specialist, spend 50% of your time building and optimising paid campaigns.
  • If you’re a copywriter, spend 50% on actually writing content or doing research.

You get the point. No more nights working late!

If you’re already doing this, amazing. If you’re not, don’t worry. You’re like most marketers I’ve worked with. I’m going to help you to get time balanced in a better way.

Time Management Habits

  • Keep track of your time - either on paper or using any of the time-tracking apps available 
  • Deep Work - start with the most important task of the day. Don’t go online or check email before you’ve finished the task (‘ate the frog’)
  • Time-blocking -  block the most important (recurring) tasks in your calendar to make sure you get them done
  • Block distraction -  Read the guide to reduce distractions
  • Say ‘no’ more often - This is the hardest part of time management. Managing your time, really means managing your priorities. Saying ‘no’ to unimportant projects means more time for important projects. It’s also a great exercise in protecting your boundaries. Read the guide on Priority Management
  • Take a meeting-free day - Pick a day of the week when you won’t have any meetings
  • Use the Pomodoro technique - Work for 25 mins and have a short break, creating deadlines to get things done
  • Use a focus mate - tell an accountability partner what you’re working on to guilt-trip yourself into doing it. On https://www.focusmate.com/ you can do this with a random stranger which makes it even more effective

Time tracking

To really understand where your time is going, you should track your time. Read my article on How to track your time with Toggl.

Tracking your time gives you insights in your most productive times and where the time-leaks are. I realise tracking time is not for everyone, so I’ve left it as an optional challenge. It has helped me greatly to understand where I was spending my time.

Tracking time to counter planning fallacy bias 

Another reason to track time is to check for the ‘planning fallacy bias’. People are incredibly bad at estimating how much time they spend on a task. In a study of this bias, Kahneman asked people to estimate the time for a task. 

Even when it was explicitly stated that they would probably schedule too little time, the task took longer than the subjects estimated. Chances are you do this too. (I was guilty of this anyway!)

You can counteract this Planning Fallacy Bias by simply keeping track of your time. This way you can see what your time is really spent on. And what you think it's about. That 30 minute brainstorm? Turns out 1 hour 26 minutes. 

Are you up for the challenge? Track your time for a week and share the insights with me - I’m curious.

Set a time limit

If you don’t set a deadline, you’ll work on a task as long as you have time. When you have a deadline, you know how to fit everything in and get it done right in time. Use this principle to set deadlines for yourself, so you have to finish a task in time. One way to do this is the Pomodoro technique.

Set an alarm for 25 minutes to work uninterrupted. Once the alarm goes off, take a 5 minute break. Do this for 4 cycles and take a longer break. The principle behind this is that you can postpone the urge to check email or chat. It means you can work without interruptions for longer periods of time.

Deep Work

Most people have better focus and attention at the beginning of the day. Use this to your advantage, by scheduling work that requires a lot of thinking capacity in the mornings. Minimise distractions and set up a big block of time, so you can work uninterrupted on the ONE thing first thing in the morning.

Schedule a block of uninterrupted time in the morning to focus on the Most Important Task from the short list you’ve made in the Eisenhower Matrix. This is called a Deep Work block. Deep work is an uninterrupted block of time with full focus and no distraction where you get your best work done.

Deep work is the deliberate act of closing off all distractions and working on one thing at a time.

Gary Keller says in this excellent book The ONE Thing, that having focus time (which is deep work) is the most important productivity hack available. And I agree.

Every day I start with 90 minutes (or more) of uninterrupted, focussed work. My phone is turned off, my email is blocked with Freedom and I have time to work on the task I’ve set the previous day. When I sit down behind my computer I know exactly what to work on. It’s a great feeling to get a big task off your plate and make massive progress before 11AM.

In fact, I love this so much that I keep waking up earlier and earlier to extend the focus time. Many days I’ve been in ‘Maker’ mode, creating things and writing content before 9AM and I still have an entire day ahead of me. It’s a great feeling of control and personal autonomy.

When I’m in Deep Work I prefer not to read any emails. It’s distracting me, because if there is something I have to fix I still think about it. I block out everything to keep my mind completely immersed in the Deep Work. Instead of playing the Inbox Zero game, I play Zero Inbox until 11AM when I’m in Deep Work mode.

If you want to read more on the topic, I recommend the book Deep Work by Cal Newport.

To protect my time and have the most interrupted time as possible, I usetime blocking to create deep work blocks. It’s simply blocking out time in my calendar so people can’t schedule any meetings.

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Time blocking

Time-blocking is a way to proactively schedule your calendar so you get the most important things done without rushing and going from task to task.

Time-blocking is a way to say ‘no’ categorically to projects you didn’t plan for. On the other hand, it means saying ‘yes’ to the identified most important tasks. The basis for this principle is priority management. Once you know what is important to achieve your goals, you know what to say ‘no’. to.

You’ll get more done and your calendar will look more like the calendar on the right side of the image.

Ideal Weekly Calendar

Create your ideal and add it to Google Calendar. Read the step-by-step guide to time-blocking.

Batching Tasks

A good way to manage your time is to batch work together. Examples are:

  • Answer / Process email once a day
  • Create multiple LinkedIn posts at the same time
  • Review Ads once a week instead of one-by-one
  • Batch reporting - don’t look at Google Analytics every day
  • Close off the week with a Weekly Review to make sure you don’t have any loose ends

Plan Ahead

It’s better to look ahead and to create a moment when you can do that.

  • Add travel time to your calendar (driving for 60 mins before a meeting for example)
  • Add 10 minutes before meeting someone new to research them on LinkedIn and check out their company website
  • Add 30 minutes after a meeting to write out the meeting notes and share the action points with the attendees

Every week I close off my week with a weekly review & planning. When I plan my week on Friday I look ahead to see if any meetings need to be rescheduled or if any of my priorities need to be changed.

Create room for error

A related concept is to leave room for error. If you add meetings to each hour of the week, there is no room for anything to go wrong. And we both know stuff will go wrong. It’s better to leave room for

Schedule 60-80% of your time and leave the rest open for unexpected tasks. If you’re a really good planner you can lean towards 80%, but I recommend starting with 60% of your time scheduled. This is one of the reasons why you should have clear priorities.

A concept that is very similar is a ‘fire break’. In a forest a few metres of trees are removed so the fire can’t spread to a larger area of the forest.

You can add a fire break to your work week by leaving Friday afternoon empty to wrap up the week and use it as a buffer to solve anything you need to solve that week.

Have a proper task management system

An important step towards better time management is to have a proper task management system. I recommend using Notion or Asana. Alternatives are: Clickup, Todoist or Airtable.

Weekly Review & Planning

Every week I close off my week with a weekly review & planning. When I plan my week on Friday I look ahead to see if any meetings need to be rescheduled or if any of my priorities need to be changed.

Read all the steps I take to ensure I close this week and schedule next week to prevent any fires in the step-by-step guide to Weekly Review.

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About Ewoud

Ewoud Uphof

Ewoud Uphof is an experienced Growth Hacker, certified funnel optimiser and investor.

In the past decade he has co-founded multiple companies. As Head of Growth he has helped grow 50+ companies ranging from start-ups to multinationals. He has worked for Camptoo, NU.nl, Sophia Mae, Koffievoordeel and many more.

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