Data scientists, students, oceanographers, retail shop owners, professional soccer goalies — we had an eclectic bunch of people to profile this year in our recurring Geek of the Week column. And on the road to success, all had an opinion about how to best manage their time.
As we round out 2019 and look forward to a geeky 2020, we’ve collected the answers to our standard question: Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life?
Some of the 49 geeks rely on lists or apps for help. Others turn off notifications on their phones to better focus on family time. Some turn to exercise or a mentor, others prioritize and plan diligently. Whatever it takes for you to get through your work day, and your time away from work, perhaps you’ll find an inspiring nugget in one of these answers.
Click the names of each to go back to the full Geek of the Week profile for that individual. And don’t forget to fill out our questionnaire in the new year if you want to be considered.
“I sit down with my family every night for dinner so we can reconnect with each other and disconnect from work, school, or whatever we were working on. And we have a strict rule: no screens at the table!”
“I am not sure I am the best at ‘work-life balance,’ but I have used Basecamp to help work with students and collaborators. It helps me maintain a track record of academic papers and serves to help with version control. Basecamp also makes it easy to do my work from anywhere. I am sure I could use it even more wisely, but it has been an essential tool for my productivity.”
“Whatever you need to do for your sanity (exercise, a building project, work on your car, etc.), plan when you’re going to do it ahead of time. For me, it’s making it to the climbing gym about three times a week. On gym days, I plan ahead and commit to having a hard ending time at work so I can get there. Otherwise I’ll end up staying late and being too tired and out of brain power for climbing, but that revitalization is key.”
“I have running to-do lists in Asana that, if lost, would devastate my life. Asana is the second half of my brain that frees me up to never have to think about what to do. That said, my never-ending list (literally with recurring activities it never ends) doesn’t control what I do. I’ve learned to ignore it when something more important comes up and to not judge the success of a day based on what I can check off. It’s easy to become a servant to organizational tools, so I try to keep in mind that I’m the boss — not Asana.”
“Time is your most valuable possession and the great equalizer. Be diligent and fastidious about planning your day and managing your day-to-day activities. TeamSnap and Google Calendar are my best friends. The power of time and organization shouldn’t be underestimated. My home life is managed using TeamSnap. It allows me to share my schedule and the kids’ schedules with the nanny (Emily Chambard — I must give her a shoutout! She is amazing with kids.) and the grandparents. TeamSnap’s easy integration with Google Calendar allows me to have my work schedule and personal schedule in one place.”
“Have hobbies that allow you to put down a screen and interact with the world in a different way. For me, it’s competing in triathlons and knitting. There’s nothing better than going down to Alki and running with the sound of the waves and the seagulls. And I have knitting projects that coincide with particular moments in my life: a scarf for my Ph.D. qualifying exam, a shawl for my Ph.D. general exam, and a sweater from my fellowship in D.C. It’s quite rewarding to have a physical manifestation of my stress relief!”
“Keep a clean email inbox. It is how I stay on top of things.”
“Clean out your email Inbox every week. My full thoughts are here.”
“Eliminate your commute! I am lucky to live within walking distance of Outsider. We are still in our early years when I need to be here often, so I am happy to have cut out commute times and my sleep schedule thanks me.”
“Plan ahead, prioritize the critical items and be intentional. Don’t let the calendar take over your day. Set priorities and drive progress towards completion every day. And my gosh, have FUN. We drive innovation in fun and engaging ways at Alaska. Two great examples are through Shark Tank events with ITS employees to identify new ideas, and hackathons with universities and industry partners.”
“I have a few hobbies, and it’s actually pretty hard to dedicate enough time to all of them. My best strategy so far has been making an old-fashioned to-do list and explicitly deciding what to tackle in my blocks of free time. Whenever I just try to wing it, I end up wasting a bunch of time on unimportant chores, so having a list helps me focus. I’ve tried all kinds of software for this over the years, but I always return to pen-and-paper lists for their simplicity, flexibility, and always-in-your-face nature.”
“Find someone who inspires you and is more emotionally intelligent than you (or who shores up whatever you need help shoring up) and marry that person. You can’t check this one off in a weekend but it’s worth the investment. Also, try to use your phone less and avoid the daily news cycle – it’s not important to know about and read reactions (and reactions to the reactions) to every tweet. Note: I typically spectacularly fail at these last two pieces of advice but my success in following the first makes up for it.”
“Get a puppy. I waited years for the ‘right time’ and it doesn’t exist. Having a dog provides you a daily dose of love, encourages movement and fresh air, and makes it so that you can’t stay too late at the office.”
“Sometimes balance is about blocking out your time even for personal stuff. I love cooking for my family and eating with them. A couple of hours in the evening is my sacred time when I don’t reply to emails and I spend quality time with my kids. We get really silly — draw, chase each other around the house and make faces. It completely de-stresses me. For the evenings when I am unable to do that if I am at events or meetings, my kids get chocolate chip pancakes the morning after. It’s our deal.”
“I’m not going to claim I’m good at this, but life is all about priorities. Always take care of things that are urgent and important, then prioritize according to relative urgency and importance. Be critical when making this evaluation — you’ll often find that something that appears important really isn’t. And don’t forget that making time for yourself or your social life is important!”
“Avoid dumb meetings. Most of us spend half our day sitting in meetings that don’t matter.”
“Put your phone and laptop on do not disturb / turn off notifications. It’s a life changer, really.”
“For any given thing ask yourself, in the context of your eventual death, how much does this matter? It sounds dramatic but stick with me. We tend to think questions of this gravity don’t have a place in the everyday, but our lives are comprised of the hours and minutes we spend doing everyday things. We do many things precisely because they accumulate over time and do matter in the grand scheme. And there are plenty of things we get sucked into or put up with that we don’t always have the energy to rethink if there’s a better way. I find that considering my mortality more often actually gives me energy to assess these things that I might otherwise permit to waste my time.”
“Be selective and prioritize relentlessly. There is never enough time in the day to do everything you want to do. You have to know what is critical and what is optional — it’s not always obvious. I am careful in how I schedule my days. By doing so, I am able to leave my work at the office and keep most of my evenings free to spend with my family. With that said, there are occasionally days when I continue to work at home. Sometimes an emergency comes up, or a deadline approaches, and I just need to put in the extra time to make sure my team and I are on the right track. By maintaining a flexible mindset, I have the freedom to adapt how I work based on changing situations at work and at home. For example, when my kids were still babies, I set a rule for myself to never be gone on work trips for more than three consecutive days. Now that they’re older (6 and 4 this year, it’s such a fun age!), I am comfortable with taking week-long trips without stressing about it.”
“This is the first year I had to let go of trying to manage every email that comes into my inbox. With the heavy flow of inbound emails that hits my account every day, I simply can’t tackle it all.”
“I try to calendar block my week and set times to work on development and school homework for which I use a self-developed app which gives me notifications and helps me stay on track. I plan to release the same to the App Store soon, so look out for that! I try and do this every week and check back on it daily to see when I need to do something such as a deadline for my project.”
“Don’t take yourself too seriously and set realistic expectations for what you will commit to. Don’t set standards for yourself that we wouldn’t hold each other to. Be your own biggest fan and give yourself grace and flexibility in what you need to get done every day.”
“One thing I try to do is never eat and work at the same time. This makes me more conscious of what I’m eating so I tend to eat healthier. Also, since I know I’m never going to eat lunch at my computer, I can plan to meet up with friends or go walk around for a bit. It’s nice to actually take a break, and I often find that I am more productive when I come back.”
“I like keeping a simple list and striking out what’s been done. It makes me feel productive. During the week, I like my routine — I walk to work, pick up my Starbucks Americano on the way, and then have dinner at home. Weekends are all about relaxing.”
“Make sure when you’re with your family, you’re there with them fully. Dedicate that time to them and don’t get distracted. You’ll be grateful for this time when you’re back at work.”
“We’re constantly looking at videos. After this [July 4] show is shot, we watch it and watch it and watch it and “what can we do better next year?” So it’s something that is certainly a passion that we spend a lot of time on, at a definite geek level.”
“Managing work life balance is so tricky, especially for us working moms! For me, I’ve discovered I love working from home and it gives me a real sense of balance. Also, leaving my ‘9-5’ university job to focus on research, online teaching, and writing works for me. It allows me flexibility to work on projects that are important while not sacrificing time away from my son during his precious early childhood years. I can get so much done during my son’s naps, on weekends when he’s spending one-on-one time with my husband, and at night after he goes to bed.
“But I think work-from-home parents need to know it’s OK to ask for help. I REFUSED to get a babysitter until my son was almost 1, despite working nearly full time AND writing my book. (I took a 2-week maternity leave that I rationalized by saying I was “just” working from home). That was INSANE and I basically had to stop sleeping to make it work. My son now has an amazing babysitter who watches him when I have conference calls or just need to get uninterrupted work done and she is a godsend for my sanity and work-life balance.”
“Have a checklist/to-do list, whether it be your email, a notepad, or other product. Write down your action items and accomplish them! Personally, my email inbox is my to-do list and I delete emails out of my inbox if they do not require direct actions.”
“Delegate tasks. Hire people for tasks that can be delegated, so you have time to focus on tasks that only you can perform — like coordinating, managing and running a business in my case.”
“Everyone in the startup world is perpetually overcommitted. So protecting your calendar can be a superpower. Largely, this amounts to figuring out how to say ‘no’ respectfully, helpfully, and more often.”
“1. Time for myself (schedule it and protect it!) 2. Setting boundaries between work time and family time. When I am working, I’m full on working and focused. When I’m at home and everyone is awake, I’m with family. 3. Turn off all work notifications. You don’t need them. If you follow setting focused work and family time then you’ll naturally see what you need for email and chat while you are working and when you want to check in versus the constant distraction of every notification.”
“It’s all about prioritization and balance. It’s OK to admit to yourself that you can only get so much done in one day, it doesn’t make you a lesser person. If you have a partner or significant other, talk to them, tell them how your day was, what went well, and what sucked. It helps to debrief (and make sure you ask them about their day, too). Try and strike a good work-life balance. It’s OK to work 60-70 hour weeks here and there when it’s crunch time, but you need to take time off to spend with your family or friends as well, or you will burn out.”
“In the order of things:
- Sleep hygiene — every body has different needs in this arena, so listen to your own body.
- Enjoy getting your heart rate up through exercise — be it a walk, yoga, boxing, or a nice aggressive hike.
- Remind yourself that you’re only gonna get done what you’re gonna get done. As a founder, your to-do list never ends, so accepting that you’re ‘done’ for the day is quintessential.”
“Start (and/or end) every day with a list. Systematically work through it — but try to save at least one of the really fun items for later in the day to give you motivation. If I’m actively working on a coding project, I like to save a fun little something to figure out or debug. It can be relaxing sometimes.”
“I think balance is so important. Art has helped me tremendously to deal with the stress I feel on the soccer pitch. But it’s also a balance of precision on the field and creativity off it. So whatever you deal with at work, I’d recommend doing something that stimulates the other side of the brain when you have a moment to yourself.”
“Prioritize your work by importance, and do not let the seemingly urgent day-to-day tasks get in the way of your long-term goals. If you leave low priority work to the last minute, you will typically find that last minute was all that was needed to complete the task.”
“We all have massive to-do lists that seem to perpetually grow. The sheer volume of tasks we need to do can leave one feeling confused about what to prioritize, often resulting in inaction. I write every task that comes to mind on a Post-It to create a physical manifestation of the task. This frees up space in my mind from the burden of remembering that task. Then I order all the Post-Its from the most time-sensitive priority on top to the least important task on the bottom. When free time arises, I start working on the top Post-It and work my way down the stack one-by-one. From time to time I re-evaluate my stack of Post-Its to make sure that my priorities are current. This organization technique has been a tremendous enabler for accomplishing high-value goals.”
“Don’t take work home with you if you can help it. Separate work email from personal email, and don’t read work email once you leave the office. If your boss calls after hours, pretend that you were in a tunnel! It can probably wait anyway. ;)”
“Two years ago I turned off all email and Slack push notifications to my phone. If I have time to check them, then I do; otherwise, I don’t let them distract me from what I’m focused on in the moment.”
“Physics. Specifically, the pendulum effect. Perfect balance isn’t real or achievable. It will drive you crazy trying to keep it all going in perfect alignment! The work-life concept can be described as ‘integrated.’ Work-life integration is a pendulum that sometimes swings far to one side or the other. When your values and your work-life life are integrated, you learn to accept when the pendulum is oscillating more toward work or the rest of your life. For example, there are times when you have a big work goal — you’re gunning for a promotion or taking on an important project. At that point, your pendulum might swing toward work. It’s exhausting and probably unsustainable. But is it the right form of work-life integration at a given time to achieve your goal? Absolutely. When your goal is met, the pendulum can swing back the other way. The pendulum effect tells us that, when displaced sideways from its equilibrium position, a pendulum experiences a restoring gravitational force that will accelerate it back toward the center.”
“Take the time to be grateful for the small things, the big things, and everything in between. No matter if it’s a great day or a rough one, there’s always more positive than negative in the world if we take the time to see it.”
“Keep busy! Boredom is the actual mind killer (‘Dune’ reference!).”
“Just take the first step. Often we procrastinate on our work and end up rushing last minute to bust it out in a few hours. If we just took the first step toward completing a task, you’d be surprised at how much you can get done. Once you get the ball rolling it usually becomes much easier to complete an assignment or project. I like to create a plan or list and knock things off one by one. Usually I’ll start with something small and simple to get started and then once I’m in the zone the bigger tasks are easier to tackle.”
“I try to be productive every day. I check emails often, and make sure I don’t miss anything. If anything comes up, I add it to the to-do list. When I am resting, I often think about something that I can make, and put a note for it. Most importantly, I try staying away from being lazy.”
“Setting and managing production expectations. Lead the conversation with your clients based upon their spoken need and you’ll never go wrong.”
“Ironically, I have found that the best way to manage my work is by doing less or, better put, finding a balance. If I were to focus all the time on my work, I would produce lower quality results and lose passion. By introducing other activities into my life, like tennis, I have been able to achieve the opposite; higher quality results and a newfound passion for my work.”
“I’d be lying if I said I know how to manage it because I’m also still trying. I used to have a hard time separating my life and work. It did not serve me well. I was always moping, grumpy and stressed. I now have specific ‘me’ time and make plans to do things for myself and my son without electronics. I’m learning how to ride a bike (yes, I do not know how to ride a bike!), learning to play saxophone and just joined a kickboxing class. I also follow Dr. John Halamka’s blog called Geekdoctor and one of his blog posts called OHIO (Only Handle It Once) is very useful.”
“List, lots of lists, including lists of lists. A good Todo app, I love Todoist. Super diligent calendar management. But most importantly, just do everything you can to get the best people around you. Hire people better than you.”
“Take a breath! I have an alarm on my phone set for once every two hours that prompts me to take a breath and check in with myself. This break could last 10 seconds, or 10 minutes, but I have found that amidst all the crazy, small cues like this make all the difference — your body will tell you a lot if you just listen!”