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Work Smarter

Part 1: Time Management

by Caroline Atkin

“How did it get so late so soon?”

– Dr. Seuss


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

About this book


n my first role managing a team of project

I realised far too late that this was what she

managers, I learnt the hard way that not

needed and could only help her find a role in a

everyone is born with a natural ability to

less fast-paced environment to recollect

prioritise and manage their time. It’s not even a


course or topic many people study or actively try to improve. Yet it’s one of the most basic requirements for almost every job imaginable.

It is a lesson I carry with me and was one of the pivotal moments in my life - where I realised that I never want to see a brilliant woman come

I watched an incredibly brilliant girl in my team

undone like that again. And I don’t have to –

come completely undone because she had

which is why I wrote this e-book. The more

never mastered or taken the time to create a

women I can teach these skills to, the more

conscious method to manage her time - being

women I can see succeed.

in a fast-paced environment this was absolutely critical and something I had taken for granted when I hired her.

Good time management isn’t difficult - but it’s a skill that absolutely must be learnt before it can be mastered. I hope this guide can help you to

Seeing her fail in the role devastated me for two

start to consciously build yourself a method to

reasons. Firstly because it turned a brilliant

manage and organise your time so that you can

bubbly girl into an exhausted heap. But

increase both your productivity and the balance

secondly because I realised it was my fault - I

between work and life - which is the reason we

hadn’t provided her the guidance and learning

do it, right?!

she needed to create her own time management method.

Caroline Atkin Director One Red Thread


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread




What is time management anyway?


Creating a priority list


The art of time blocking


Fitting in all your rocks


Apps to help you


Take action

Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one”

– Mark Twain


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

What is time management anyway?


ime management is about creating habits to enable you to work

efficiently. Technology can be an amazing enabler for this, but it is not the only answer to time management. No matter how many apps or tools you implement - if you don’t consciously make the effort to change the way you work, then they will always fail you. Even the best apps and tools out there rely on your self-discipline to keep using them. The solution is in understanding how you work best and then building and cultivating habits to support this in yourself.

Before we start here are a few key principles:

• Take the time to learn and understand systems

trust finds effective and then gradually adapt this

and methods from people who are experienced in this area. However - don’t let anyone tell you how

to suit your own style of working. •

Don’t think you’re ever done. At different times in

to manage your time or that your way is the

my life I have changed my method to suit what I

wrong way. It’s important to build a method that is

needed at the time. When overseeing a team of

adapted to your workstyle and works for you.

25 I needed a very different method to the one I

• While there are many systems that can be copied

use today with some of my team living on the

or mimicked - ultimately you should work towards

other side of the globe. It's a constant evolution -

taking the pieces of the methods you learn that

and that's ok. •

appeal to you.

Don’t let anyone tell you how to manage your time or that your way is the wrong way


As a first step: use a system that someone you

Try to grasp the idea that this isn’t about managing time – it’s about training yourself, and developing habits to manage yourself. The more you work on this, the more familiar you will become with how you work and the better your own method will become.

Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit”

– Aristotle


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

Creating a priority list P

riority list, task list, to do list - these are all versions of the same thing. During times of stress, and

while managing multiple priorities at the same time, the first thing many of us do is become overwhelmed in the priorities or tasks we have to do. Many people will jump to 'fire fighting' mode when this happens, jumping from the first fire that hits their inbox to the next. Typically this is not the real fire that needs fighting first, but it's often hard to see that in the moment. We see fire and we jump to action.

By creating and maintaining a priority list of your tasks you can better manage your priorities in moments of stress because you have a complete picture of everything that needs to be achieved and are less likely to forget tasks when you need to make decisions on the fly. There are a few key steps in creating and maintaining a priority list, which I will describe in more detail on the next pages:

Step 1 – Select a tool to create your list in Step 2 – Develop a structure for your priority list Step 3 – Populate the list for the first time Step 4 – Prioritise your list Step 5 – Managing your priority list ongoing Know this – Few people make constructive decisions under pressure. To enable yourself to be most efficient it helps to have a priority list which you have created in a moment of calm and planning. It also gives you the ability to delegate if new priorities arise that are unexpected. So, try to pick the right moment to work on your list, for example at the start or the end of your working day.


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

Step 1

To start with, decide on one tool you will

Select a tool to create your list in

use to track your priority list. The reason this is important is that if you have some tasks in a notepad, some in an email tool and some in an excel file then you do not have a comprehensive list and can not accurately prioritise your work.

First things first: before you can start to use a priority list, you first need to create the

So, choose one tool and decide to stick with it for one week before changing (if you need to).

structure for it. You are probably already using something to track everything you have to do maybe it’s a notepad you write in, flags in your emails or a list app. As I said at the beginning -

A good way to select a tool is to pick one that complements the way you work every day. Select a system you are comfortable with and

you don’t have to follow my method to the letter.

that is a natural fit to you and your workflow. For

If you’re happy with the system you have then

example, if you use Gmail all day, every day

see what you can learn from my method and

then using Google’s task functionality might be

adapt it to suit your own. If you aren’t happy or

perfect for you. If you are constantly on the

don’t have a method then try using my method

move, then a mobile app might be the best thing

for a week and then decide if you want to make

for you, or maybe you just have one dedicated notebook that is only for your priority list – etc.

some changes to it.

Just a note – I’m going to deliberately leave out the apps I use as they are irrelevant to

Ideally use a digital system so that you don't have to rewrite the list constantly. I dislike written lists as I have never seen it work

the methodology.

effectively for anyone - it’s more difficult to reprioritise a written list than a digital one. If you disagree then I challenge you to try the digital version for a week and then decide.

Select a system you are comfortable with and that is a natural fit to you and your workflow


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

Step 2

Develop a structure for your priority list

Low priority: I call these 'Nice to have'. These are tasks I want to do (like watch that amazing TED talk I was sent) but it’s only if I have time left.

Category – What category is this task? Why this Once you have the tool you will be using, you need to establish a template or structure. I’m going to use a spreadsheet example for this next step as it is the most basic example of any list. The example below shows you how I do this and the information I capture at a minimum for each

is important is that it enables you to group tasks with the same category together to be done. We will go over this further along with the topic of time blocking. Some common examples of categories are: emails, project work, research, meetings and don’t forget: personal life - in order to have the work-life balance you want, you have to make

task in this list:

time for your personal life and prioritise it. Priority ranking – The priority ranking is how you organise your list. I would suggest following the below structure (but rename as it suits you): •

you delegate tasks, who needs to do it?

Top priority: I call these 'Must do’ – Time required to do it – How long will it take to

Giving yourself a limit of 3 on a day

complete the task? A good idea is to round this to

enables you to have enough time to really focus on getting these things done. If you have more, then you either need to

the nearest 6 minutes (0.1 hours). If you are using a spreadsheet, you can sum up the total time you need to get through everything for the day. If the

delegate or reprioritise. •

Task – What is the actual task to be done and, if

Medium priority: I call these 'Should do'. This list is usually much longer than

total required hours exceed the available hours, you may want to reprioritise or delegate tasks.

the top priority. It contains everything you should do that day however it isn’t a

Status – The basic options are Done, Not Done, though you can add options, like On Hold, etc.

disaster if it doesn’t happen.

Day of the week (date) Priority Ranking



Time required to do it

1- Must Do Total= X hours


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread


Step 3

Populating your list for the first time

Be fair with the time you give each task don’t underestimate how long things can take you - sometimes it really does take twenty minutes to craft an email response to someone.

space for dilly dallying. Don’t give yourself

Now that you have a structure for your

two hours to write a brief that you could

priority list, you need to start filling it in. The first

really get done in an hour. By setting

time you do this will obviously be the longest.

yourself deadlines you’ll be amazed by

You need to go through every notebook, app or

how productive you can really be - we will

email tool you are currently using and import all

get into this in more detail in the chapter

of your tasks into the list. Here are a few tips for

about time blocking.

doing this: • •

Similarly to the above - don’t give yourself

and add all my tasks for that week into the

Every single task or deliverable you have

list (this is where a digital tool is so much

should be added to this list. For example

easier than a paper version). Just use the

if you receive an email but don't want to

same columns and create each day that

answer it right away you need to get into

you work. it’s a good idea to do this for the

the habit of adding it to your

first time on a Friday and plan your week

list immediately. This means it is tracked


in your overall list that you need to reply to the email. This list should accurately show everything you need to do (except go to the bathroom maybe!)

I normally create a week view of this list

I even typically have the next 2 weeks created so that I can jot in tasks that I already know I want to do in the future. This enables me to translate every action and deliverable I have into the one list - as I don’t have to worry about forgetting something that starts in the next 2 weeks if I immediately add it to my priority list once I know about it.


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

Step 4

Consider what work needs to be done by

Prioritise your priority list

yourself and what work you need to do that enables another person to do something for you. For example if you need to write a brief so that a designer can create something, always try and put this at a high position on your list so that you

You should now have a massive brain

are not a bottle neck.

dump of all the tasks you need to get done. This in itself is awesome as you now have one central place to manage and gain oversight over what you actually need to do. This is great - but it isn’t enough to work efficiently. The list now

Also, consider the order you work in - you might ask yourself: are there any tasks I need to do before I can complete this task? Will completing this task mean I need to do another task? In the example from above it would be to

needs to be prioritised.

write the brief before I brief the designer and then Let’s be clear – priorities are constantly changing and always will. The list you create will

to check the deliverable that the brief is about once it is ready.

always need updating and amending because the projects you work across will always change. Remember that this it is a guide to your priorities but you need to update it as things arise.

As you work through the priorities try to weight that which is most profitable for you higher up in the list. It’s really common human behaviour to prioritise the work you want to do first and then

It’s important to consider all your tasks in the one list before trying to rank them in order of

that which you have to do last, but it is usually not the most efficient way of working.

priority. This is why we created the complete list.


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

Step 4

If you aren’t sure if a task is profitable to

Prioritise your priority list

you or not ask yourself this - is it worth what I am paid an hour for me to do this right now? If it isn’t then this is a nice to have - that should be prioritised lower in the list and scheduled for time you allow yourself to be inspired or research. This is covered in more detail in the chapter about time blocking.

Once you have added all your tasks, prioritised them and added the time required for each you’ll be able to get a sum of the time required to get through everything on your list for the day. As a rule I never allow more than 6 hours in a day to be ‘Must do or should do’ tasks. Not It’s far better to work through tasks that are linked to your project progress, customer acquisition, etc. first and then free yourself up to work on the items that are really ‘nice to have’.

only are we not productive for 8 hours a day but there will always be something that comes up throughout the day needing your time. Try to limit yourself to 6 hours of these tasks a day - anything more should flow into the next day’s list.

Leaving tasks you don’t necessarily want to do to last priority means these tasks often lack the focus they need to get done. They also act as your guilty – niggling in the back of your mind at random intervals to remind you that you haven’t done them yet – they are a distraction. For me this is anything related to bookkeeping or accounting. Because of my reluctance to get this core task done I prioritise this as the most important task for a Monday - it’s amazing how much lighter and focused I am once I’ve ticked this off on a Monday morning.


Priorities are constantly changing and always will.

Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

Step 5

Managing your priority list ongoing

If something occurs during a day that takes immediate priority over everything else (of course this happens) then: o Consult your list. o Add this new task as top priority. o Then reprioritise the tasks you have

As we already discussed – this list and the priorities you have set will constantly change throughout the day and the week. That is perfectly normal. Setting yourself a few habits to manage it will allow you to still maintain your list

displaced. o Look at what is already on your list decide if they now need to be delegated or if people will need to be alerted that deadlines can’t be met that you had planned.

and get the most from it.

o Let those people know and then focus •

You should review and plan your list at a set

on the urgent priority that has come up.

time each day – not while stressed. Ideally do this as your final task of each day or the first. •

In the beginning, actually schedule time in your calendar each day to remind you to update the list – 15 minutes tops.

Try to set the priorities for your week ahead on a Friday the week before so that you start a new week with a plan in place. Again schedule this in your diary to remind yourself

It's a common misconception that having systems and lists to mange your time makes you rigid and inflexible. I've always found the reverse to be true - by having a complete list, prioritised, of what needs to get done and when I'm actually far more agile in my work because I have the ability to make educated decisions on what I work on and what that will impact.

to do it. For the weekly planning you may need slightly more time - maybe 30 minutes. •

As new tasks appear and are received each day - add them to the bottom of your list to be prioritised at the next daily priority management session time slot.


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

Example of a priority list This is an example of a priority list I would create for a day – if you want to try this template then feel free to download it, using the link below.

Download this template at


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

“Your email is not your work; it is simply a tool to help you do your work.”

- Paul Sloane


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

The art of time blocking T

his might sound like a very basic concept but very few people actually do this. Time blocking is how

your priority list gets implemented. Understanding what you need to do and the time required to do it is the first step. The second is to actually block this time out - to schedule for yourself the work you need to do to accomplish each task.

Time blocking requires you to use a calendar – my preference again to use a digital tool for this, to make changes easy to process. I use Google Calendar myself, so this is where my time blocking happens. The idea though is that you take each task in your list and actually block the required period of time for it in your calendar. As an example, if I have a proposal to write that I think shouldn't take more than an hour then I'll block that into my calendar for a specific time on a specific date. Ideally this corresponds to the priority set in your priority list.

What I don't do is block in 2 minutes for every email I need to respond to – but I do block out periods of the day where I give myself time to respond to emails. Outside of those times, unless it's a crisis, I don't read or reply to emails. Emails are an extremely distracting medium for anyone who uses it as a core communication method in their business and time blocking the time you spend reading and responding to them can easily free up to an hour a day.

You can group similar tasks together into time blocks in the same fashion. This is why the categories are so important in your priority list. By grouping them you can assign time in the day to get through a chunk of similar tasks that are small rather than flitting between categories throughout the day.


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

One thing to avoid is breaking a single task into smaller chunks. This can’t always be helped but if, for example, you break an hour-long task into four fifteen-minute intervals you’re likely to find it ending up taking much longer than an hour. This is because the time it takes to switch between the mindsets you need for different tasks will slow you down. You are much more efficient if you tackle one task at a time, from beginning to end.

The point of time blocking is to set yourself the time you need to get things done AND to put a time limit on how long you spend on tasks. Providing your own deadline can be as effective as a customer or client deadline and your productivity will increase just by the fact that you have allocated a specific amount of time to a task.

Below is an example of what my calendar might look like on a given week. Notice that I use colours to visualise my categories – this is just personal preference but it does help me to easily recognise what I need to do. You’ll also notice that I schedule my personal tasks in the same calendar – this is because my life isn’t just work or personal life, It’s a combination and balance of both. Therefore, scheduling these tasks encourages me to make time for both types of tasks.


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”

- Stephen Covey


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

Fitting in all your rocks S

tephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, has developed a fantastic

metaphor for why time blocking is so effective. He calls this “The Rocks” and I've illustrated his theory below to help make it clear for you.

For the purpose of this exercise, imagine that the bowl shown below is all the time you have in a day. You'll see 3 types of tasks with the bowl below:


Sand - these represent all the tiny, small things that you do all day long. The quick email reply you needed to send right away, that document you wanted to print and that 5 minute chat with a colleague. They are small brief tasks that, when combined, create a lot of sand (distraction in your day).


Pebbles - these are the mid-sized tasks you do each day. The things that require you to focus for 10 to 30 minutes to get them completed. There's several of these in a day, but not as much as the sand.


Rocks - These are the big key things that require you to focus for more than half an hour at a time. They are the bulk of your work and, typically the part that makes you money or gets you closer to finishing that project you’re working on.

Step 3 - How to prioritise the priority list


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

The next diagram below shows how, and in which order, most people typically attempt to fit all their tasks into their day (the bowl).


Sand first – The sand is irritating and distracting - it's also easy to tick off. For this reason many people will plough through a bunch of sand tasks first in their day, feeling like they are ticking a lot of small things off their plate. Their bowl quickly gets filled as they move from one sand task to the next and before they know it, a few hours of their day are gone.


Pebbles Next – People will start on the pebble sized tasks once they either run out of sand or receive pressure to get these medium sized tasks finished.


Lastly Rocks – Towards the end of the day they will consider their rocks. They might have space for one or two but the majority will need to be shifted to tomorrow's bowl. The problem is that most people already have a few rocks waiting for tomorrow's bowl, so these additional rocks are just going to keep building up through the week.

You can see from the diagram that obviously all of the rocks aren't fitting into the bowl. By prioritising sand tasks first up in the day, they neglected how much time the rocks needed to get done. For most people this leads to a growing feeling like they have too much on their plate, because day in, day out they have to move big rocks to the following day. Maybe they are trying to fit too much into their day? Let's look at the next diagram.


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

The bowl below contains the exact same number of rocks and sand as previously - but instead of starting the day with sand, this person has prioritised their rocks first. There is now plenty of space in the day to complete all of the rocks and get through most or even all of the pebbles and sand tasks. The only difference was that by putting the rocks in first (and blocking the time for these) and allowed the other tasks to fit in around them as they could.

This is how time blocking can change the effectiveness of your day - by blocking out time for those important rocks, and providing the necessary focus for yourself, the other tasks can fit into the smaller spaces of time surrounding the larger tasks.


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

“You can have it all. Just not all at once.”

– Oprah Winfrey


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

Some Apps I use and like T

hroughout this guide, I have deliberately stayed away from mentioning any apps I use (except

Google Calendar) as I truly believe that it is the method and not the app that will enable you to succeed in time management. However, once you feel you are comfortable trying your method there are some apps I do recommend to try (I am a bit of a software junky so these are just a few of my favourites).

Evernote is an app, program and web platform

I’m constantly amazed that Google is free to use.

that enables you to create notes, save clippings

Gmail is very versatile and has an amazing

you find online, sort them into a notebook and tag

integration with Drive, where I store all of my files.

them to easily find again later. This helps me

Calendar keeps my life in order and integrates

organise the hundreds of notes I take on

with all my key systems. Hangouts is a great way

meetings, conferences, ideas and plans. It’s

to instantly connect to people around the world

amazingly powerful and syncs beautifully between

and it saves its history straight to Gmail. I love that


by using Googles apps I can organise my life and my business from my phone.

A special mention goes to Google Keep, a

Of all the project management, CRM and task

slightly less-known app (for Android) and web

tools Podio is my absolute favourite. Its

program from Google that enables you to take

completely configurable and integrates with 100s

really quick notes and lists.

of programs. I couldn’t run my business without it.


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

If Excel and MS Project got married and had a

The task management app Things, an application

baby then Smartsheet would be it. It’s an

for Apple products, is built around many of the

amazing tool I use to manage projects, gain

priorities and principles that I mentioned. It’s a no

oversight of team capacity and share timelines

frills, practical app to manage tasks, especially if

with clients. It is available as a web program and

you work in a fast-paced environment. You can

also has a mobile companion app.

log all your tasks in your inbox and at the end of the day prioritise and tag them.


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day – they use it up. The real hero is already home, because she figured out a faster way to get things done.


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

Actions to do right now Y

ou’re not quite done yet! Ready to actually start this? Of course you are. Do these 3 things now -

not later.

Go to your calendar and schedule

Schedule time, starting the day

Schedule a 30 minute session

time to create your priority task list

after you complete step 1, to have

each Friday, I recommend the

structure and add all of your tasks.

your daily priority management

morning, to have your week ahead

All of them! You will need about 2

session. Book 10 minutes at either

priority management session.

hours for this.

the start or end of each day.

Hold yourself accountable to actually seeing them through and give yourself at least a week of being fully committed to trying this method. At the end of the week review what worked for you and what didn’t and consciously change the method to suit you. One week later do the same until you feel comfortable with how your method is working for you.

If you ever find yourself slacking or stopping your method then you’ll need to look at why that is - has something in your life changed? Instead of abandoning time management altogether look at your method and refine it - it will never be ‘done and dusted’ and will evolve as you and your needs do over time.


Work smarter - Part 1: Time Management © 2015 One Red Thread

This is the first e-book in the series Work Smarter, published by One Red Thread and aimed at helping women to cultivate habits that help them achieve their best. It’s our vision to enable women to do more of what makes them happier, by educating them on how they can work smarter and achieve a balance in their lives. We’d love to hear your feedback on this book or suggestions on other topics that you think could help you work smarter.

You can get in touch with us at:

[email protected]

0402 699 096

or find us on your favorite social media channel.