This week I experienced somewhat of an epiphany (which, contrary to expectations is not the name of the singer who sang “I think we’re alone now” in 1987). This morning, I looked over my “to do” list and realised I’d managed to accomplish… *drum roll* next to nothing on there. Aaaargh!!!
Now, just before you assume I’ve simply spent the week lounging in bed, watching “Murder She Wrote” re-runs or playing Candy Crush, I haven’t. I’ve been working like a little Trojan. So what’s happened?
A quick reflection of the past few days appear to hold the answer. My time management approach has gone out the window. And, unfortunately for me, it didn’t fling itself out, breaking glass on the way. So I hadn’t noticed!
So today, let’s learn together! What can we do to ensure we make the most efficient and effective use of our time ?
Top Ten Time Management Tips
Try saying that after a few glasses of wine!
1. Get Tidy
My friend Shaps is a massive proponent of a tidy work space. Actually when it comes to anything Time Management, Shaps is like some sort of magical guru, so I’ll probably mention him quite a lot over the course of this post. My apologies in advance.
I’m currently in between offices. And by that, I mean I’m working from my kitchen table. This week I realised just how much time I’m losing going from room-to-room to collect paperwork, or even trying to find the paperwork (I mean, who keeps their company chequebook in between copies of True Crime monthly? Who indeed even owns a chequebook these days?).
But my point is that an untidy or disorganised work space will simply serve to steal time from you each day. Even if it’s only 2 minutes here and there to find the stapler or root out that contract, it adds up over the course of the day and week. Added to that, there’s the benefit of having less distractions – an effective workspace helps facilitate your focus.
If you want to learn more about the Lean approach to an effective workspace, then you can read more here: 5S
2. Get Organised
I used to work in such a way that my head was absolutely jam-packed with everything I needed to do. The problem with this was that I was always thinking about all those things… and my head was so full, I had very little brainpower left to be awesome. That’s when someone introduced me to the power of organising all those things. Breaking them down so that I had:
- Plans for what I need to do
- Tangible & actionable activities
- A schedule for completion
The fantastic thing about this approach is that not only does it free up your mind resource to focus on the task at hand, it allows you to capture everything you need to do and then provides a platform through which you can effectively plan & prioritise. As Shaps would say, epic!
Right now, you’re probably thinking “that’s all well & good Liz, but it didn’t work out too well for you this week did it?“. Well yes, you’re right. But the important thing to know is that I failed the system – the system didn’t fail me. On reflection, I used a ridiculously optimistic time frame for accomplishing most activities (bungalow built from scratch? Yes, I could probably get that done by 3pm this afternoon – does that work for you?); which brings me to…
3. Time, Time, Time!
Believe it or not, the worst thing you can do with time management is not use time! Bear with me here…
Like I said above, I’d allocated each task a timescale for completion. Unfortunately, that timescale was waaaaaay off piste and essentially, I’d set myself up to fail. But that’s fine. Now, I’ll simply revisit all my outstanding activities and reconsider what would actually be a reasonable timescale to complete them.
I’ll probably maintain an activity diary next week, recording the forecast time of completion for each task and then update it with the actual time taken, once I’ve completed the task. This time next week, I’ll be in an even better position again to refine my timescales and tighten them up for the following week. Eventually, I should attain the Shaps platinum award for Time Management.
But the important thing here is that I had a timescale to begin with. One of the worst things you can do (behind having a shoddily unreliable time allocation like I did… grin) is not have any timescales at all. So once you’ve organised yourself and written all your tasks down, make sure you allocate times for completing each task. It’ll help you schedule your day as well as helping you…
If you’ve got a your goals written down, a list of actionable activities and associated times, you’re in an awesome place to prioritise your workload.
Hands up here, I’m an absolute swine for dropping anything that I find slightly tedious for any piece of work that I find vaguely interesting. Book-keeping? That can wait until the day before my tax return is due; today I’m investigating how to develop an app which I might want for my website in 2017. And as fun as that is, it’s not a great use of my time. Actually, it’s time-wasting at its worst!
Having a list of actionable tasks means you can prioritise them according to your overall goals. Okay, so that boring task is still boring, but it does mean that now it has a purpose… you can see it’s meaning when it comes to achieving your big picture. It also means you can more effectively shift your focus onto the stuff that needs to be done and needs to be done now.
5. Use the Day
I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly useless in the mornings! I come into my own as the day progresses, reaching my peak performance somewhere around early evening. Meanwhile, Shaps is one of those annoying “chirpy in the morning” types. By the time I’ve barely opened my eyes & made my first coffee, he’s managed to leap out of bed like a happy little elf, spend 2 hours in the gym and complete 3 out of the 10 items on his To Do list. Don’t you just want to poke him in the eye with a spit covered finger?!
When it comes to managing your time effectively, using the day to work for you rather than against you, can be a pretty powerful thing.
I tend to front-load my day with “filler” activities and leave the important or challenging stuff for the afternoon. This means that when I’m “tired and on automatic”, I’m undertaking the humdrum stuff and when I’m at the peak of my awesomeness, I’m doing all that important and reputational stuff.
This week I committed a cardinal sin and forgot this simple rule.
As the cumulative result of my poor time allocations, I ended up trying to undertake thoroughly important & taxing things all day, every day. Big mistake! The bleary eyed, pre-coffee Liz wasn’t too effective at making sense of EU Legislation and something which should have taken a few hours to complete, ended up taking the whole day.
Work with your day, rather than against it.
6. Manage Incoming Work
Effectively managing new work coming through the door is critical when it comes to managing your time as a whole. If you’re continually dropping what you’re doing to reply to that new email or pick up that new task, even the most fantastically organised and prioritised work approach is going to fail.
Usually, I make room across my day for new work – whether that’s 5 or 10 minutes per hour, or an hour block at some point in the day. I then use this to catch up on my emails and any other incoming work activities. Alas, this very ball was dropped this week.
Yet again, as the result of over-committing (I think we can all now agree that the root of all this week’s evils comes down to my poor bloody time allocations), I tried to pack too much work into my day and subsequently demolished all structure for accommodating new work intake. The end result was a haphazard claw-back approach, which consisted of me sporadically dipping into my emails… thereby undermining my entire schedule for the day. As the whole thing unravelled, I became increasingly distracted, which led to the loss of over an hour’s productivity looking at Egyptian Winter Sun Deals on t’Interweb. Although, in my defence, who’d have known that the email from “Travel City” offering “Winter Holidays from £249 All Inclusive” wasn’t a significantly important new work activity…
7. Manage Expectations
I suppose this one really flows on from the whole time allocation thing (surprise, surprise!) – managing expectations is key when it comes to managing your time effectively. Whose expectations? Well, everyone’s really… including yourself!
This week, I totally haven’t managed my own expectations! According to my plans, I was all but going to solve the issue of world hunger. In retrospect, I’d over committed myself and was therefore doomed to fail… because by over-committing, I’d also managed to sabotage my time-management approach.
Let me explain… my usual approach of working to a schedule was stretched to breaking point when I messed up my timings. But I persevered and tried to fit it all in. I suppose, in hindsight, it was the time equivalent of trying to jam 3 sumo wrestlers and sea lion into the back seat of a Fiat 500. It was never going to work. But instead of stepping back and resigning myself to hiring a minibus, I simply brought out the goose fat and got to work. Trying to do too much inevitably means one or more of four things:
1. You’re lucky if you manage to complete even one of the things you working on.
2. What you do manage to complete isn’t up to the usual standard.
3. Plus it took waaaay too long.
4. You still feel like you haven’t achieved anything.
That’s why it’s important to manage your own expectations. Had I done that this week, I’d have recognised that I was unable to accomplish it all and consequently rescheduled my activities to isolate what I should concentrate on (and push back what could be put off until next week). And by doing so, I would’ve given myself some mind space to concentrate on those activities without the others hanging around my neck like an annoyingly drunken aunt.
Having a list of things I could accomplish, rather than a list I had no hope in hell of completing, would’ve reduced the risk of me inadvertently distracting myself by popping over to Facebook every five minutes to see how many people had liked that photo I posted of a cat on a motorbike.
Of course, when you work with others, there’s also the whole dynamic of managing their expectations too. Maintain a healthy dialogue with your boss and others who require work from you (or you from them) to ensure you maintain an position where you’re able to manage your time effectively. If you find yourself with competing priorities and only enough time to complete one, speak to your manager to identify which one they’d prefer to be completed effectively – don’t halve your time and do them both badly.
8. Keep an Activity Log
In the same vein as the Activity Diary for assessing the accuracy of your time allocations, Activity Logs can be pretty useful for identifying how you’re using your time and, most importantly, where you’re losing effectiveness.
An activity log would have been pretty useful for me this week – it would’ve allowed me to reflect and analyse:
- How I’d spent my time.
- How effectively I’d spent that time.
- Was there anything I should have spent more or less time on?
- Was there anything I kept that I should have delegated?
- Whether I could have made any changes to have been more effective.
- What changes will I make to be more effective in the future.
Needless to say, had I completed an activity log this week, my analysis would’ve showed “Improve your timings, stop getting distracted by random emails, and posting amusing Facebook statuses are not a good use of your working time”. Shaps would probably have me identify a fourth… “listen to Shaps”.
9. Recognise & Deal with time-wasters
Once you’ve analysed your Activity Log, it should be pretty easy to identify what things are wasting your time… and then deal with them.
Earlier on I mentioned having a set schedule and structure for dealing with my emails. This is a great example of identifying a time waster (e.g. email arrivals) and dealing with it (e.g. allocating it a specific time slot for completion). However, when it comes to other sorts of time-wasters, the answer isn’t always as straightforward.
Earlier today, I received a text from Mr Shaps telling me to get off Facebook and get back to work. How awesome is that? He’s my very own time coach (and I don’t have to pay him 🙂 ). The swine then Face-Timed me! Yes, the man who’s meant to be helping me with my time-discipline, interrupted my very important schedule of… well, Facebooking.
Of course I jest, but in a workplace other people can inadvertently prove to be massive source of time-wasting. It’s fantastic to work in a very friendly office for example, but it can prove extremely challenging when the 40th person of the morning stops by your desk for a work chat. Similarly, meetings can prove to be a significant (and prolonged) source of time-interference. I couldn’t even tell you the amount of meetings that were “so important” that my attendance was vital… only for me to consider gnawing my own arm off, just so I had an excuse to leave the room and get back to work.
The moral here is that the stuff wasting your time in the workplace is often cunningly disguised as “work”!
By recognising those things that have curve-balled your time and work across a week, you can identify both the obvious and covert time-distractions. And once you’ve done that, you can take necessary steps to either limit/control their impact or eliminate them completely.
Yeah, so I haven’t got a number ten. I ran out of time 😉
Cosy Little Summary
In all seriousness though, time is the most precious thing that any of us have in life. If you really think about it, we’re credited with whatever we’re meant to have at the beginning of our life. From there on in, we simply make withdrawals from the bank of time. There’s no opportunity to put a hold on our accounts and no way to credit our balance.
By working smarter, we can make the most of that time.
From a working perspective, we can effectively do what we need to do within the time we have allocated, leaving the rest of our time for the stuff that really matters – our families, our friends and the stuff we really enjoy doing.
If we manage our time effectively, we can achieve a sublime balance in both our working and home lives; increasing our achievements while reducing our stress. I don’t know about you, but I’m very much liking that idea.
*Logs off Facebook*
Have an awesome weekend 🙂