Productivity is inextricably linked to time, so it’s always annoying to read platitudes like “You have the same number of hours in the day as Beyoncé”, who, as we all know, is an award-winning singer-songwriter, mother of three, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist and something of a feminist icon. Amantha Imber, author of Time Wise, acknowledges that such overachievers—and she counts herself as one, being a businesswoman, organisational psychologist, mother, and host of the podcast How I Work—can be supremely irritating but says she draws on the habits of others who use time wisely to manage her own.
The premise of the book is not terribly original—about 90 leading founders, CEOs and behavioural experts share the one time-management tip they swear by—but Imber’s easy style and candid humour, often taking digs at her own high productivity, make this a good read. The book’s structure, too, helps: The strategies are categorised into seven sections and you can choose to read the book depending on what you are aiming for, whether improving efficiency or focus, or learning to network better or set priorities. Reading a book like this cover to cover would, ironically, be a bit of a waste of time. The categorisation, therefore, is practical, with each strategy leading to a different kind of outcome.
Most advice about time management and productivity tells you to make lists, delegate, prioritise and create no-phone hours in your day. And most of this advice is quite meaningless or impossible to follow. Instead, Imber picks strategies that have worked over and over for behavioural experts like Cal Newport, Adam Grant, Emily Oster and Marissa King. These are ideas you could actually try, such as creating a might-do list of boring, non-urgent administrative tasks instead of piling them all into an anxiety-inducing, two-page to-do list. These are jobs that distract you from the work you really need to do and can be batched together to tackle at one shot on a day you are not feeling particularly creative or productive. When you clear that might-do list, as I found, even a day you have written off as being one where you will not get anything done turns around dramatically.
Imber also lists founders’ advice to avoid small talk, to network at a party when you know nobody, and to write funnier, warmer emails at work. This last bit of advice is much needed for management types who load emails with jargon. Some of these strategies might already be available in other books—after all, everyone and their aunt has written about time-saving techniques—but this serves as a good compendium.
There’s a suggestion to create a “Joy” folder on your desktop or physical box on your desk with photographs, objects, printouts of emails of praise and more to remind yourself, on a bad day, that you are doing a good job and things aren’t so bad after all. I especially liked Cal Newport’s advice to start the day by scheduling your lunch break, which isn’t a tip just to make sure you eat on time but also to carve out 30 minutes of time for yourself right in the middle of the working day. Breaks are no longer an afterthought. He also suggests scheduling five-minute breaks for yourself every hour just to stretch.
It’s the little tips that remind you to have fun that really make this book worth reading.
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