Mastering Time Management with Ashley Whillans

May 17, 2024


Ashley Whillans speaking at EA Ignite Spring '24
Ashley Whillans speaking at EAI spring '24

"We all have different constraints, goals, priorities, and values. This is why it's important when you're trying to maximize happiness and this feeling of control over time that you focus on you. You focus on how you ideally want to spend time and what you want your days to look like."

-Ashley Whillans

At EA Ignite Spring '24, Ashley Whillans, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard University and author of "Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life," shared valuable time management strategies for both personal and professional success. 

Despite time management being a widely discussed topic, many administrative professionals still struggle to apply it effectively in their daily routines. To address this, Ashley shared practical, research-backed techniques designed to help admins reclaim valuable time for positive, productive, and healthy activities, even amidst hectic schedules and work/life stressors.

Common Causes of “Time Poverty”

Do you ever experience the feeling of not having enough time to do all the things you want or need to do, especially in the workplace? You're not alone! This phenomenon, otherwise known as "time poverty," can stem from the following:

  • Pressure to conform to the idea of the "ideal" worker, or one who is constantly connected and responsive

  • Positive procrastination, or gravitating towards easier tasks despite having more urgent and important deadlines

  • Overestimating future availability and committing to more than one is capable of achieving 

  • Aversion to idleness and inaction

  • Digital distraction 

Tools for Managing Work Demands and Creating “Time Affluence”

To feel like you have "time affluence," or ample time available on a daily basis, Ashley recommends reflecting "on time on a regular basis... to see where our time might go missing, or where we're getting pulled into urgent things that might not be important." Saying, "We need data to understand how we're spending our time in relation to our goals," Ashley spoke primarily about one strategy that has been proven incredibly effective: tracking, documenting, and allocating time.

To practice, EA Ignite attendees were encouraged to complete an audit activity where they thought about how their actual time use on a regular basis differs from how they would ideally like to spend their time. They were asked: "What activities do you want to spend more time on?" and "What activities do you wish you spent less time on?"

After this exercise, attendees were guided to look at their previous week's calendar and compare their ideal day to a typical one that already passed. Most attendees found a variety of discrepancies while doing so.

EAI attendees participating in a writing activity during the session.
EAI attendees participating in a writing activity during the session.

Prioritizing the Important and Saying "No"

After completing the audit exercise to gather data about themselves and their pre-existing time management habits, attendees were taught how to prioritize what's truly important by using the Eisenhower Matrix. Known for its ability to help prioritize tasks by urgency and importance, the Eisenhower Matrix groups tasks into four quadrants and helps "protect your time so that you're spending it in a way where you are uniquely contributing value."

Should an activity be urgent but not important to you, it needs to be delegated to another team member(s). Should an activity not be urgent or important, removing it from your schedule entirely will boost productivity and feelings of time affluence.

However, while delegating or removing tasks from your schedule may seem doable to some, simply saying "no" is not always easy. In fact, "The single most common way of saying that you can't do something when you feel overwhelmed is saying you don't have enough time to do it," however, "it is also the least effective." Instead, Ashley suggests saying you don't have the energy or resources rather than the time, so your reasoning feels less like a personal choice and more like a real constraint. This will help the conversation seem more like a "negotiation where you're working together to try to solve the problem and shifting the responsibility from you as an individual to the team."

Finding Time, Funding Time, and Reframing Time

To end her session, Ashley provided additional tips and tricks by emphasizing the need to find, fund, and reframe time—all of which boost personal happiness and wellbeing. For instance, by scheduling and adhering to personal focus time; experimenting with and self-advocating for community-based and joyful activities; and reframing free time, like weekends, as mini vacations, administrative professionals can begin to lead more balanced lives, improve their personal relationships, and increase productivity.

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