‘Time Management’ is really a misnomer – the challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves. The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. (Stephen Covey)
Time is time – there will only ever be 24 hours in a day – and nothing will stop it or change it. The notion that we should somehow ‘manage time’ is often what prevents us from making lasting change in how we get things done – because we’re looking at the problem in the wrong way. Once we start to think about the problem of ‘time management’ as managing ourselves and identifying our priorities, we can start to make lasting changes in our habits and behaviours and the door opens to real progress.
Six tips to help you get things done (be warned: they require discipline!):
1. Identify what is at the root of your ‘time management’ problem.
Find out how you spend your time on a daily basis – and where you’re wasting it – through keeping a Time Log for a week. Log everything you do in your working day, all the distractions and interruptions that throw you off course, and everything on your to-do list that you didn’t get done. What are your pitfalls? Be honest about how you chose to spend your time. Do you spend lots of time online shopping or checking non urgent emails? Do you regularly put off actions that you find difficult or not particularly enjoyable and replace with other easier or more pleasant tasks?
2. Set behaviour changing goals.
Based on your personal pitfalls, set yourself some goals that will actually start to change your behaviours. They may well be very simple changes. For example, you might decide to ban checking your personal emails during work time or, if working from home, only to deal with house-hold chores at ‘lunch-time’. Try them for a week and see what happens. More significantly, if boredom or dislike of an aspect of your work feature regularly in your time log as a source of procrastination, you may want to think more fundamentally about the nature of your work. What could you change in the longer term to make it more interesting and motivating? Is it actually the right line of work for you?
3. Prioritise ruthlessly.
To help you to identify and prioritise the tasks on which you really need to focus, try grouping them under the following headings in the following order of priority:
- urgent & important… (eg projects with a tight deadline, things that have gone wrong and need fixing)
- not urgent but important…. (eg planning, relationship building, improving your skills)
- urgent but not important ….(eg everyday customer queries)
- neither urgent nor important …….(eg browsing the internet, unnecessary admin)
– IMMEDIATELY STRIKE OFF THE LIST ANYTHING THAT FALLS UNDER NUMBER 4! Stop doing them!
– Prioritise anything under number 1 to reduce stress and fire-fighting and avoid crises.
– Ensure that you schedule in significant time each week for tasks under number 2 – these are the actions, tasks and projects that will make the biggest positive difference in you achieving your long term work goals. The more time you spend on these, the less tasks you will have going forward in number 1.
– See if you can reduce tasks under number 3 through delegating to a direct report. If this isn’t an option, make sure you set aside sufficient time each week to keep on top of them.
Put your prioritised tasks into a plan that works for you (it might be a daily to-do list or a weekly plan). Experiment to see what kind of plan really helps you to get the important and urgent tasks done.
4. Set Parameters.
Set time limits for tasks, so you don’t take up a whole day in dealing with one thing when you haven’t planned for this, and agree realistic deadlines with clients and stakeholders. Don’t be afraid to push back if you know a deadline is unrealistic. It will save you late nights, stress and possibly the embarrassment of missed deadlines later on. Be honest about how much work you can take on and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’.
5. Actively manage your inbox.
Mountains of emails and dealing with them inefficiently means many of us experience ‘email stress‘. Try using the ‘4 Ds’ approach as soon as you open an email: Delete, Do, Delegate, Defer.
6. Find time for you.
Build time into your day and week to look after yourself. Regular exercise undoubtedly energises and refreshes, leaving you better able to focus on your work. Switching off properly at the end of the day (a good book does it for me!) will lead to a much better night’s sleep and greater productivity the next day….