Make Days More Valuable – Master Time Management

Picture of Patrice Barber

Patrice Barber

CEO of Career CNX & National Professional Speaker

You’ve probably heard the saying, “You’ll make time for what’s important.” That may be true, but that person didn’t have three emergencies a day to handle – we’re sure of that. So, how do you handle emergencies and unexpected interruptions and still get your planned work done? 

Prioritizing and time management are critical skills for every leader. And if you’re busy lamenting your lack of time, your schedule is probably controlling you rather than you controlling it.  

Take control of your career by managing your days efficiently. Stop talking about the lack of time and shift your outlook to using your time wisely. 

Time is the most valuable thing a person can spend.

Mindset is the key to making time work for you

At a macro level determining north star objectives and related goal tests helps you align the criteria you will use to decide if an upcoming “task” is appropriate for you to spend time on. It suddenly makes time management decisions a lot easier. 

This practice of asking how the “task” fits into your goal tests, also adds time back into your day.  As example, instead of assuming that when someone approaches you in a fluster and insists on a few minutes of your day that their reason is important, allow them to make the case. Have them prove in 60 seconds or less that their issue is worthy of your time. A simple question to define this is: Is this something you can work out with another team member? 

Help your team members prove it should be your priority and not theirs. 

Change your mindset from “I’m the only one that can solve this problem.” to “What is the solution this person is proposing?” and maybe, “Why am I a part of the conversation in the first place?” 

Don’t allow others to determine how you use your time. 

Focus requires streamlining and elimination

Have you begun to wonder if your job is finding a new opportunity or handling the many different chores at home? 

For career searches, one of the biggest time sinks is the sudden honey-do list that your family thrusts upon you. 

“Since you’re not busy…..” 

But you are busy. 

Busy finding and securing a new opportunity. It’s time for boundaries. 

Talk with your family and help them to understand that you do have plenty to do – even if you’re not formally employed with an organization.  

Assign time during the day to work on your search. Start with at least 4 hours per day.  

Many consultants insist you should work on your search 8 hours every day. And maybe that’s the correct amount for you. 

The more effort you put in, with the right focus, strategies and tactics, the faster you’ll find that new opportunity, board position or co founder role. 

Just sayin. 

Streamline Effort Using Standard Communications

If you’re search is going well, there are a lot of contacts to be made: introduction requests, cold outreach, follow-ups. To free up several hours per week, write a standard communication, or template, for these interactions. 

Create something warm and engaging and then just change the name and do a small bit of personalization.  

You can save these documents in your favorite word processing app – Google Docs, Word, OneNote. Then just cut, paste, and personalize. 

It’s always easier to edit than to author. Creating many different communications from scratch every day is going to take time better spent on making new contacts and setting interviews. 

In the Career Accelerator program, we provide templates for many of the contacts you’ll be making. Check it out if this is a struggle for you. 

Create a Plan and Review

A great way to best utilize your time is to create a 4-week plan. Doing this work up-front saves lots on time when reviewing each week and planning your next week.  

When creating your plan, set a goal to reach each week.  

Just one important goal you focus on above all others.

Review your progress against your plan and make modifications if necessary. 

Trying to write a new plan every week is time-consuming and unnecessary.

Do a 4-week plan and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how easy week reviews can be. 

Select Your Projects Carefully

There are many facets to career management and one constant theme – it takes time. Time to listen and talk with peers and others in your community. Time to play a part in big projects and to learn the latest tools and techniques in your industry.  

Find time by letting go of projects or commitments that don’t move your objectives forward.  

Be very selective when taking on new responsibilities. Carefully vet these opportunities to further your goals. If it doesn’t fit, don’t do it.  

If you have a robust network, you may have a list of folks that might just be a better fit for the job than you, when you have to decline. 

Eliminate activities that are not serving you – committee assignments, club memberships, long-term favors that seem to have lost their meaning.  

Look at all these habits and decide if they are still valid. 


If you’re deeply invested in the success of your local animal rescue, don’t leave them in the lurch because your current goal is to move up the corporate ladder in your industry. A commitment to serving your community shows dedication to the greater good. 

Spend your time on what is serving you in some way. 

Some tools allow you to keep those activities that make you happy and feel fulfilled while still working toward your other career goals. 

Effective time management tools and techniques to save you 10 hours per week

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “The average professional spends  28% of the work day reading and answering email, according to a McKinsey analysis.

For the average full-time worker in America, that amounts to a staggering 2.6 hours spent and 120 messages received per day.”

One of the most effective time management tools is to conquer your email inbox.  Get that 2.6 hours spent down to no more than 30 minutes per day and you’ll have saved 10 hours just by getting your email under control. 

Conquering Email

Set aside 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon to handle your email – and stick to it!  

Be ruthless.  

Look at your mail and use the five D’s to dispatch each mail: do, delegate, defer, delete, and designate.  

No law says you must answer email! 

Create a folder that includes all messages you absolutely must answer or handle – emails from your bank or other financial institutions, doctors, legitimate emergencies. 

Unsubscribe from any email that does not require action. Then delete it. Your inbox will start to contain more important items and fewer advertisements and sales pitches. 

If the action needs to come from someone else, forward the message with a short note. Then delete the message or file it. 

Then, go back and handle the must-do’s.  And turn off the notifications for email on your phone and computer. 

Do your mail at the same time every day – once in the morning and once in the afternoon. People learn that you’re not sitting on your inbox waiting to respond. 

You’ll be amazed at the number of emails that the sender will take care of all on their own if you give them just a little time to reconsider. It might be shocking to discover the lost time you save. 

One Email Inbox – Organizing Your Mail

It’s possible to use one inbox for all your mail. Google Mail allows you to route your mail into one box as does Outlook. You can route mail from accounts such as Yahoo to Google and Outlook as well.  

These programs also allow you to categorize or separate your mail into folders. Use rules to tag and/or colorize the different types of mail you get: personal, business, promotions or ads. Whatever works best for you.  

Go into the Help topics for your email program and learn how to use the software to sort through your mail.

Focus on one topic

When you have something to do, focus on that one thing. Many like to use the Pomodoro method.  

When you’re ready to work on a task, set a time for 25 minutes. Lock the door and turn off the ringer on your phone. Then focus on the task until the time is up.  

Then, take 5 minutes to rest and recharge. 

Set the timer again for 25 minutes and work. When the timer rings, again take 5 minutes to rest and recharge. 

Once you’ve finished 4 cycles, take a longer break of about 20 minutes. 

Be sure to note the progress you’ve made on your task(s) during each session. You’ll be shocked at how much you can accomplish in these short sprints. 

Create Time Blocks

If possible, create time blocks in your day based on when you do your best work. Let folks know what your blocks are and don’t allow interruptions for non-emergencies. 

And you decide if it’s an emergency. 

Some examples 

  • Meetings only on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 9 to 11.  
  • All lunches are from 12 to 1, answer emails from 8:45 to 9:00 a.m.  
  • Daily planning takes place from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. 
  • Thursday afternoons are set aside for weekly reports. 
  • Fridays are great to wrap up the outstanding items, reconfirm or adjust next week and look 4 weeks out.  
  • Contact with your network each day between 3:00 and 3:15 

If it helps, use colors to distinguish between professional and personal blocks. People are not great at multitasking. Do one thing for a while, then do another. Try to stay focused and you’ll get a lot more accomplished. 

For many, managing time is an ongoing battle. So many interruptions, so little recourse. Take charge of your time and don’t let others steal it from you without a fight.  

Want to learn more about time and career management as well as finding your next opportunity? Check out the Career CNX Career Accelerator. 

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