Most people want to be productive and to feel in control of their work and home life. Yet a common experience is to find that the evening comes with few things being crossed off that day’s ‘to do list’ and many more added on. Despite all the good intentions, the unexpected tasks, the relentless emails, and the unending requests from customers and colleagues all conspire to see that presentations stay unwritten, projects are neglected and phone calls unreturned.
Time Management, then, is a vitally important competency to master. Without good skills in this area it is horribly easy to become stressed, fatigued, harassed, overworked and under appreciated. I see this all the time with attendees at our training courses. The good news is that there are things that can be done to be in charge of your life.
Of course, at different career stages different skills need to be acquired. Initially, understanding priorities is the crucial time management skill, while as a more senior leader things like delegation become increasingly important. At all career stages knowing how and when to say “no” is vital to avoiding getting overwhelmed. It is a big subject, but for now, here are 3 top tips to keep in mind:
1. Priorities; Pareto and Productivity
Most people have more things that they want to do than can be fitted in to the day. So some things are just not going to get done. This means
(a) making conscious choices about what to work on
(b) consciously putting to one side the things that are not a top priority
(c) actually taking action on the things that are priorities
The Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, suggests that only 20% of the possible activities bring substantial benefits (so the key is to being really productive is to identify these ‘high value’ tasks.) In the words of Dr. Joseph Juran, the Quality Guru, separate the “vital few and trivial many.”
2. Batching, focusing and avoiding distractions
You can achieve much, much more if you focus on an activity without interruption, for a set period of time. This is what is known as ‘batching’ or ‘chunking’. Take a block of time (say 30 or 40 minutes) and then dedicate yourself to just one activity during that period e.g. write a presentation, analyse some data, etc. While you do that don’t look at emails and switch your phone off. Francesco Cirillo has an interesting take on this idea; he suggests using a kitchen timer (ideally in the shape of a pomodoro tomato) to focus on doing things in 25-minute blocks. http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/ My experience is that people don’t like to do this. They want the distraction of responding immediately to texts and emails, but the ability to ‘batch’ tasks and give your undivided attention to an issue is one of the keys to being truly productive.
3. Use your ‘system’ – not your memory
Systems matter. In a hectic work environment and/or the hurly burly of a busy home life, it is very easy to forget a task or to lose track of priorities. Effective people have simple, robust planning systems that allow them to record, schedule and monitor progress against their ‘vital few’ activities. For example, by scheduling their most important actions as items directly into their calendar, to be done at a specific time, on a specific day.
Want to know more?
Whatever the career stage you are at, our half-day, in-house master class on Practical Time Management can help by giving insights into key time-management strategies, and by acting as a refresher and reminder on core concepts.