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Editor’s note: This is part two of a series on “Best Practices for Time-management.” You can see part one here.  



In 1955, The Economist published an article titled “Parkinson’s Law.”

Cyril Parkinson was a British naval historian and author of more than 60 books. The most famous of these works was his bestseller Parkinson's Law, a book based on his painstaking research of over 1000 years of British Naval operational data. This work established Parkinson as an important scholar in public administration and management and Parkinson’s Law is still considered ground-breaking, even 60 years later. But what is Parkinson’s Law?

Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fit the time available for its completion.

This certainly lines up with my experience and the experience of clients I work with: we don’t need to find work; work always finds us. I spent 30 years in fast-paced, high-stress jobs and there was always more work than time. So mastering time-management skills was not only a key to my success, but it was a key to my mental health and to having a life outside of work.


With Parkinson’s Law in mind, I want to offer a collection of ideas, tools and techniques to help us all get more from our time, leading to a more fulfilling 2016 in all areas of our lives. These are practices I use in my own work and ones I’ve seen benefit my clients time and again.


  1. Have a solid morning routine
  2. Get out of the email jail (texting and messaging too)
  3. Block time
  4. Create a bullet-proof daily “To Do” system
  5. Learn a prioritization matrix for that “To Do” system
  6. Have the courage to say “no” to meetings, assignments and interruptions
  7. Single-tasking instead of multi-tasking
  8. Don’t get derailed by your Lizard Brain
  9. Take frequent and systematic breaks
  10. Don’t be afraid to delegate

We looked at numbers 1 and 2 in a previous article. Today, I will cover best practices 3 and 4.


Time-Management Practice No. 3. Block time

"I guard my time fiercely and without apology," says Gary Keller, author of The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.  If you do not block time, low priority interruptions will fill the empty blocks. If you share calendars, people will see white space as free time to assign things to you or call you.  Block your time out as far in advance as you can. I can guarantee you will feel a greater sense of accomplishment as you leave work each day and you will have a map already in place when you arrive the next day.


Blocked time does not have to be for a meeting.  Blocking time allows you to fill in upcoming events that you must devote time to. For example, travel to meeting with John Smith, follow up on meeting with John Smith, go to gym, reading time, etc.  Here is an example of how I blocked the first day of February.


Shaffner Feb 1 time



You may say “Jeez, there is no break time there, Joe!”  But, actually, there is. If you look at my block from 10:30-noon, I have POY.  That stands for “Pure Om Yoga!” You might notice I also have a few open slots to return phone calls and handle the usual interruptions. I also put a little padding in there for tasks that will probably not take a full hour.


The point is to guard your time for those things that are important to you.


4. Create a bullet-proof daily “To Do” system

In his last post, Jason Abell talked about a “New Month’s Resolution” by setting more reasonable sets of small goals instead of the big lofty ones. If you don’t have a good daily “to do” management system, that would be a great goal to set.


Many people believe it to be adequate to have your “to do’s” in your head, or on scrap pieces of paper. I would argue that usually when you do this, something always gets forgotten or lost in the piles. Meetings get missed. Colleagues get disappointed. Let alone the fact that not all “to do’s” are created equal. Some fall in different categories and require a completely different set of processes to accomplish.


Rewire Shaffner todo

So, I created a more formalized process for myself and my to-do list. I start each day with a list of as many “to do’s” as I can think of. I go through this list every day and when a “to do” was given to me, or came to mind, I write it down. Each day I review the previous day’s list and start a new one, carrying over any items I did not complete the day before. This has been very effective, and I still do it. Here is a picture of my working “to do” list template.


I have also added some space for “Follow Up reminders”, “Names of People” I have contacted who come to mind as a fill out this list daily. I also jot down words or terms I have heard, if I don’t know them, as a way to keep gaining knowledge and stay sharp.


Since I do not always have my list with me, this year I have decided to go paperless.  There are many great tools out there that you can use on your laptop and devices that will give you constant reminders and ways to organize and prioritize them.  I use the application Todoist on my phone, laptop, and iPad. My “to do’s” pop up no matter what device I am on.


The key is to remember not to confuse quantity with quality.  In my next article we will examine the Best Practice 5, “Learn a prioritization matrix for that “To Do” list.”


busy person's guide to work-life balance