Levelling Up in Time Management

I want to tell you about Take Control of Your Time, a new online seminar I’m offering on time management. To explain the seminar and who I think should take it, though, I first want to talk a little bit about getting better at time management.

People are sometimes surprised to learn that I am constantly experimenting with time management techniques. I tell them that I’m not perfect at managing my time, and as long as there is room for improvement, I will try to improve.

A preview of the awesome pictures I use in my seminar slides. (Image from wikipedia user Wikkie, used under Creative Commons license.)

For the most part, I tinker around the edges. I try a new scheduling method. I add a new calendar. Or I schedule a specific time to read research relevant to my interests. These are all good things to try. If they aren’t useful, I drop them. The process is low key enough that it can be continuous.

There is another type of skill improvement I do, though. This is a much more intense and disruptive process, but it generally yields big improvements in how I use my time. I call it the “levelling up” experience, because it is similar to how you often need to master some fundamental new skill to go to the next level in a computer game.

Levelling up is usually prompted by a change in my life. Having kids and figuring out how to fit parenting in with all the other things I wanted to do was one such change. The move from managing one or two projects at a time to being in charge of a half dozen or so interdependent projects was another. My move to independent contracting and consulting was yet another.

Each change highlighted a problem, or set of problems, in how I was using my time. My old time management methods weren’t up to the task, so I had to learn some new ones. Sometimes these were entirely new methods:  I first learned about Kanban when I was in the midst of levelling up to deal with running a bunch of interdependent projects. Sometimes, I just took methods I was already using to a new level: I was always a list-maker, but my current system was developed and refined in the sleep-deprived crucible of early motherhood.

I’ll admit that the first time I had to do a serious levelling up, I felt a bit of panic. What if I was struggling because I was out of my depth? Having now gone through a few of these levelling up experiences, I no longer feel panic. As soon as I recognize the signs that I need to level up (which, for me, include constantly feeling behind and like I’m probably forgetting something important), I know it is time to take a hard look at my work habits, figure out what isn’t working, and then decide what to do to fix the problem.

I’ll often do a week or two of time-tracking so that I can gather the data I’ll need to figure out where my current methods are failing. However, I’m continually tracking my work hours right now (since I charge clients for some of those hours), so the last levelling up was achieved just by looking at what my time logs told me. I decided I needed something between the long term projects and tasks list that I keep in Trello and the daily to do list that I keep in a notebook on my desk. I settled on adding a calendar so that I could sketch out what I should be working on over a month or two, and that has been a tremendous help.  There are no doubt more improvements I can make, but I’ll pick those up over time, via my standard continous improvement/tweaking things process.

If I could go back and give my younger self some advice on time use, I think I’d tell myself to work on improving on the fundamentals of time use earlier. I would certainly have done some time-tracking earlier.  Those early levelling up experiences would have been a heck of a lot easier if I had a more solid base from which to grow.

In fact, this is the advice I tend to give young women who ask me about balancing kids and career: Get good at time management, because it will pay off in spades later. I give similar advice to people looking ahead towards needing to manage people or projects. A lot of the skills required to be a good project manager are very similar to the skills required to improve your own time use.

Not coincidentally, these are the skills I discuss in my seminar. You’ll learn how to use the data you gather by time-tracking to diagnose your time use weaknesses, and you’ll learn about time use fundamentals and specific techniques you can use to address your weaknesses.

You’ll benefit from Take Control of Your Time if:

  • You’re in need of a levelling up in your time management skills,
  • You are looking ahead to a big change in your work or life responsibilities and the levelling up that will probably bring,
  • Or you would like to get more value from tinkering around the edges of your own time use.

I created the seminar from a workshop on time management that I gave to a group of postdocs at UCSD. The content is the same, but the hands on exercises in the workshop are now gathered into a “next steps” list that you can do on your own. I’ll be happy to answer your questions via email as you work through them. Like all my seminars, there is a money-back guarantee. And, if you use the promo code BLOG to register before February 9, you’ll save $2.

Want to know more? Go to the page with the details about the class.  Ready to sign up? Go to the page where you enter you can register. Have more questions that aren’t answered here? Drop a comment below or email me.


  1. […] topic of the post, except perhaps for the fact that someone setting up a new lab may also need to level up their time management skills, but: I’m enrolling for the live session of my Take Control of Your Time seminar, which will […]

    February 19, 2016

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