If you stumbled upon this by Google search, you likely know who Ali Abdaal is. But if you reached here while going down some rabbit hole on our website or someone shared this piece with you, let us tell you who Ali Abdaal is and why we are studying his principles, tactics, and approach to time management.
Dr. Ali Abdaal (born May 1994) is a YouTuber (3M+ subscribers), podcaster, a former practicing doctor, and soon-to-be author of a book on productivity. He is best known for his YouTube channel, where he talks about productivity, personal development, and tech to simplify your life.
How does Ali fit all of these into his schedule, does a fantastic job in each field & even get 8 hours of sleep every day?
In his own words — "Put simply, if we want to learn more, achieve more, and enjoy a more balanced lifestyle, we need to be smart about our schedules."
If you search 'Ali Abdaal's routine' or 'time management tips by Ali' on YouTube, you will find yourself scrolling a lot to get to the bottom of the list. It's easy to get lost there.
We wanted to get the best of his time management philosophy, tactics, book suggestions, tips into one place. So we created this blog post!
Ali's Approach To Time Management
He doesn't use the phrase 'I don't have time' as it strips us of responsibilities and serves as a convenient justification. It makes us feel that time is out of our control. However, if we rephrase it as 'I'm choosing not to make the time,' it serves as a reminder that we have a choice over how we spend our time.
The next insight he offers is that productivity isn't about the apps, tools, waking up at 5 am, or taking your phone with you and replying to emails on dinner table. Glorifying hustle and grind is like taking a hit of dopamine but coming back to a slump a few days later because it's not sustainable for most people.
It's best to aim for work-life balance. You have to make the journey to reach your goals fun and fulfilling, and productivity will take care of itself. That way, online distractions & excuses would go away because you don't need to escape from work.
Time Management Frameworks That Ali Uses
Here are the top 3 time management frameworks that Ali uses in his life and have helped him feel fulfilled with his life:
Pomodoro time management technique asks you to schedule work in bursts of 25-min (called pomodoros) followed by a 5-min break and then a longer 15-20min break after every 4-5 pomodoros.
If you find yourself…
- Getting distracted easily
- Working even when you are no more productive
- Not being able to decide how much time a particular task will take and end up allocating more than the required time
- Enjoying gamified goal-setting
…then you must try Pomodoro.
There's a sense of urgency built into the method as it forces you to make progress on your tasks in a limited amount of time. And helps you avoid distractions because you know that you have set aside some breaks to do whatever you want apart from work.
How to use Pomodoro with Sunsama
- In Sunsama, you can create a task with subtasks under it. For each subtask, you can set a “planned time” of 25 minutes.
- Hit F to enter focus mode. This will immediately focus you on the next task on your list for today.
- Hit SPACE to start and stop the timer.
- Once the task is done, click on the checkbox to mark it 'completed.'
Do you want Sunsama to have a custom Pomodoro timer with sounds and notifications? The good news is that we’re working on it. If you want us to prioritize it, let us know after starting a free trial, and we’ll notify you when it comes out!
Time blocking is a technique where you divide your day into chunks of time. Each block is dedicated to doing a specific task or types of tasks.
Time blocking is best used after you've figured out your priorities for the day. It won't be a good idea to block time for replying to emails in the first half of the day if you have to prepare for an important presentation that's happening later in the day.
Ali uses it to ensure that the most important thing for the day gets done for sure.
He also points out that there's an ancient saying that goes like this — the time you spend organizing and setting priorities for your work is time you don't spend actually doing it. And time blocking might seem a contradictory approach.
But to overcome this maxim, you need to use tools that make it easy to time block. If you work with a team that uses project management tools to keep track of tasks and a calendar to book meetings, and there is always some message on Slack disguised as a task, it's a good idea to use an app like Sunsama.
Sunsama integrates with tools like Asana, Notion, and Trello, and you can seamlessly drag cards from there to the day you want to work on them. Pull meetings from your calendar into your task list. Integrate with Slack to create tasks out of messages and add them to your to-do list.
When you are done prioritizing tasks, drag them onto your calendar alongside your other events. Any updates you make to your calendar in Google or Outlook will be synced in Sunsama and vice-versa.
If there's any work that —
a) you don't enjoy
b) or someone can do that better than you or at least 70% as good as you would do,
It's a good idea to delegate it. It can be skill-specific work related to your projects, or it can even be daily chores like laundry, cleaning, cooking food, looking at your travel arrangements, or scheduling meetings.
He currently has 7 people on his team — editor, writers, personal assistant, & research assistants. This helps him work on his YouTube videos, website, and book. He has a personal assistant that takes care of his travel arrangement and personal tasks such as sending gifts for someone or booking at restaurants.
Most people's reaction to this advice is, "oh, I don't have enough money to delegate. I would rather do it myself and save money."
Here's a solution that Ali proposes — Determine the worth of your time. Let's say it's $50/hour. If you can get someone to do the same work as you for less, delegating is a good idea. It can also help you unlock other growth opportunities even if you don't have any pending tasks after delegating.
That may seem like an oversimplification and will have nuances, but we hope you get the gist. Ali suggests checking out the book 'Your World-Class Assistant' by Michael Hyatt to find out more about this.
Ali's Recommended Books Related To Time Management
The two books that Ali suggested reading if you want a better understanding of the whole idea of time management as well as manage it better are:
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
Contrary to what most productivity books would tell you, this says that you can't get everything done in life, whether it's achieving your ambition, goals, or obligations. Our time on earth is limited. But most of us find this hard to accept, and we try to optimize time by cramming everything in our calendars, probably at some point in the future.
This book suggests embracing the fact that we simply can't get everything we want to do in our lifetime, so we should really focus on things that matter the most and think about how to get those done.
Make Time by John Zeratsky and Jake Knapp
The book is based on a straightforward strategy: choose one specific task you want to get done during the day. It then talks about how you can do it, how you can improve your life to achieve your Highlight, and how you can focus on having a better life by getting rid of the 'busyness.'
Instead of giving a set tactic, it gives you a framework you can use to create your own tactic, personalized to your preferences and type of work.
Tools That Ali Uses To Manage Time And Stay Organized
When Ali wants to create a 'might-to-do' list, he prefers paper and pen. Because he appreciates minimalistic, elegantly designed things, he uses a product called Ugmonk. It is a set that comes with a stack of lined cards to write your tasks and a card caddy made of walnut, with a space at the back for storing either blank or used cards.
Like any beautiful product, it makes you want to do your tasks. There's a certain satisfaction from checking off the tasks at the end of the day. However, it might not be practical every time or for everyone.
To collaborate with his team or schedule upcoming content, he uses Notion.
Fun fact, Sunsama has a Notion integration. You can browse all your Notion databases and pull in just the tasks you need to work on that day into your plan in Sunsama. Sunsama acts as your personal productivity assistant who helps you prioritize tasks, timebox your days, and end work on time.
You are not alone if you've ever wondered whether you should use a digital or a physical planner. Still, the constant dilemma between physical and digital planners can block you from getting organized and managing time. We've tried to give some perspective & help you decide in our post comparing the two methods here.
Can You Be As Focused And Organized As Ali?
To figure out a system that works best for you, find apps that will help you enter events, tasks, and notes exactly how you need them and will keep you accountable. Figure out the kind of reminders you will need and how you need to collaborate with others. It's great to take inspiration from people like Ali for organizing your time, avoiding burnout and getting the maximum out of your day but blatantly copying might not be the best as your work, preferences might differ from him.
If you are looking for an app that works on desktop and mobile, integrates with project management tools and calendars, shows you how you spent time at the end of the day, and lets you collaborate with a team, we would like to suggest Sunsama. It can help you become as effective at time management than Ali Abdaal (maybe even more!)
You can get a 14-day free trial of Sunsama to access all the features. We trust you will love it, so we don't ask for your credit card upfront. Upgrade for a paid plan only when you are sure it works for you. Check it out here.