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  • Writer's pictureChris Keim

Mastering Time: A Guide to Time Management for IT Engineers

Updated: May 1, 2023

Time management is difficult, especially if you are like me and constantly have a growing list of tasks that need to be completed. The task list never gets shorter. In addition, throughout the day, new "high priority" or "emergencies" get thrown at you and you are expected to juggle everything. How do you manage all this and not let any of the balls drop?

Below is a system that I have developed using a combination of other existing time management techniques. I have only combined or modified the techniques into something that works for me, I did not create them.

Mastering Time: Leveraging Technology and Analog Tools for Optimal Time Management

I have tried both digital and analog methods for time management over the years. I simply do not have enough screen space (At my home office I have 3 monitors for my work laptop). I have tried Evernote, Notion, and OneNote. All these are great for keeping notes, but I need something that is in my face, something that cannot be covered up by google map directions or the project/ticket management system. I ended up with analog. With all these digital systems, I forget they are there (I don't see them) after some time. My system is simple, I can take it wherever I go, even if I only have my laptop with no extra monitors. Also, writing helps cement everything in my head and keeps me focused. I have bridged the gap and settled on Rocketbook for my analog note taking. I don't have to waste paper, I can convert to digital if I want, and there are multiple sizes and colors to choose from.

Based on the above, I have three notebooks. Yes, I said three. They are small, barely take up any space, and are easily referenced, and always in front of my face (despite me having three monitors). I ended up using Rocketbook for all my analog needs. This allows me to be analog (better for recall when I write things down), scan if I want to (using the Rocketbook app), and not waste paper (I used a lot of notebooks and sticky notes, even for stupid things... lots of stupid things).

  1. Daily calendar and tasks. Here I use a mix of Outlook and the Panda Planner. You can get away with using just Outlook. For me, having to write down my schedule and any tasks (takes less than a minute), cements what needs to happen this day. Plus, I have something on my desk I can glance at throughout the day.

  1. Daily Journal. This is where I combine both professional and personal. I use a modified bullet journal type system. Let's be honest. It is easy to forget personal life when you are an IT engineer. I start by listing personal tasks that I need to accomplish today (wash the bed sheets or pay DMV registration fees). I then write down any personal thoughts (anything, this is a way of me offloading my brain, so I don't become anxious over what needs to be done). I am using the 6" x 8.8" Rocketbook dot grid notebook.

  1. Daily log book. This is where I log what I do and when. For years, I would be at the end of the month and say to myself, I know I was busy on the 13th, but I cannot remember why. This is to help combat this issue, as well as keep you on task and accountable. In one column, I write the start time, the second column I write my stop time, and the third column I write a description. This can be a description on a meeting (who said what), a ticket (I found these reasons why a problem is happening), or a project (I completed XYZ). Then at the end of the month, I can look back and review how I spent my time. I am using another 6" x 8.8" Rocketbook dot grid notebook.

Rise and Shine: Starting Your Day Right as an IT Engineer

Before any calls, before project work or troubleshooting... plan your day. With any project, planning is key. Your day is a project that needs to be planned. So, do not just wing it, purposely attack it.

  1. Review your calendar, remind yourself of any scheduled events that day. I write all my calendar events in my analog calendar.

  2. Go through all your previous emails (either previous day(s) or previous week). Write any tasks based on your emails (like schedule the project meeting, or troubleshoot those darn switches), and write them in the task's column, or schedule them and write them in the calendar section.

  3. Go through all your previous messages (both text and Teams or whatever messaging platform you use). Write any tasks based on these messages (like give the project manager a reason for delay, or research a topic that someone asked you a question on).

  4. Go through all your assigned tickets. Write any tasks that need to be performed today.

  5. Go through all your projects. Write any tasks that need to be performed today.

Empower Your Day: How Journaling with a Bullet System Can Revolutionize Your Personal and Professional Life

Ask my fiancé or any of my friends, I forget things, lots of things. I'm busy among other things, so it makes sense. This step is to help alleviate "forgetting" things and assist in keeping focused. I'll list out things like make a dentist appointment, pay my bills, or find wedding venues (literally on my list now). I have shiny object syndrome; I forget things and get easily distracted (a huge struggle for me). This helps keep my personal tasks ready to be tackled on my sorta lunch breaks.

  1. List any tasks from the previous day that hasn't been completed.

  2. List any new tasks that need to be completed.

  3. Write down any thoughts I want to offload.

Unlocking Your Potential: How Daily Logging Can Transform Your Personal and Professional Life

What did you do on the 16th of this month? Ask me and I'll give you a blank stare, then flip through my logbook and tell you. Did I mention you asked me on the 17th? There are many times when a particular task takes longer than expected, or you get pulled into an emergency. No matter what, if you log your day, you will be able to know how you spent your time, explain to your boss that his emergency took 4 hours instead of him thinking it would take 15 minutes, and help cement what you did that day so when next week's team meeting is happening, it is easier to recall (and if you don't, easily refer to your notes).

  1. Title the page something like "Work Log 04.18.2023".

  2. I have three columns; one column is the start time.

  3. The second column is the end time.

  4. The third column is a brief description of what happened (meeting with team to discuss tickets, or boss called with an emergency, must drop everything and work on the emergency, or orders department sent an email asking about a project over a year ago and you have to deep dive and search through mounds of emails and tickets to answer orders).

End on a High Note: The Ultimate Guide to Wrapping Up Your Day for Optimal Time Management

Now is the time to satisfactorily check off tasks, or the time to realize how unproductive you have been. Either way, go through your tasks, both professional and personal. Find anything that still needs to be done and do it. Write down your thoughts in the bullet journal, good, bad or neither. Do everything you can to calm and offload your brain to spend time with your friends, family, or hobbies. Work life balance can be hard, but remember you live once, so make it count in all aspects.

The above system works extremely well for me, and it took a while to develop and test out various methods. Each system should be customized to what works best for you.

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