How often does it happen that you go to work you put in a full day working hard, reacting to everything that happens and then drive home and think what did I achieve today?
If these sounds like you then like millions of other people you could probably benefit from time management training or book in to attend a time management training course. The important thing to always remember is ‘we need to manage our time, or our time, will manage us’.
I remember a number of years ago I was working for a Manager and we used to have meetings after meetings, yet nothing seemed to get done, no actions were agreed or even taken. We just seemed to go around in circles achieving nothing. It reminded me of a quote I heard a long time ago on a time management training course and the quote was ‘meetings are often where minutes are taken, and hours are wasted’ Well this quote was definitely true in this case
So do I feel meetings are a waste of time? Absolutely not. I believe well conducted meetings are a vital team communication tool and if ran properly are a must for moving businesses forward.
The funny thing about it was the original manager left and a new manager came and although we still had meetings they were much more productive.
This taught me a phenomenal lesson in life, I suddenly realized that 2 managers had the same resources the same time and yet one managed to achieve great results and the other less results and the difference was one managed their time and the other let time manage them.
It is often stated on time management training courses that in order to be successful we need to understand that we have to remember the 4 key functions of managing:
We have to plan and organize our day and know what we are trying to achieve. Then we have to implement what we are doing and finally we have to control others to stop them getting in our way of achieving what we are trying to get done that day.
Failure to take control of our time can have a detrimental impact on our workday our future promotion hopes and even our own health as pressure and stress can be partly attributed to poor time management.
So what can we do to improve our own time management? To be honest it is quite simple it is all about effective decision making. You need to know each task you do during the day and why and how important it is. So where do we start? I was recently talking to someone about time management training and we came up with a few ideas to get you started.
The 6 key areas listed below are extremely important and if you ensure you start doing these things listed you will start to take control of your workday.
- I know this is an old chestnut but it is so important, you must start each day with a list of items you want to try and get done through the day. This means you need to start with a ‘To do list’ this is the starting point of any day and if you do not have this you are asking for trouble.
The to do list should be done at the same time each day as it becomes a habit. It is often asked on time management training courses when is the best time to do the list?
There are 2 trains of thoughts on when is the best time, some people prefer to write a to do list for the next day in the evening before they leave their work. There is an argument that says this is the best time because you can then leave the list in your work and return to it tomorrow, but in the meantime by leaving it at work you are then going home for the evening and this is now your time.
A psychologist once said that psychologically by writing the to do list in the evening before you leave work you are actually saying that is your work finished for the evening.
The other train of thought is to do with our own body clock and it is said that most of us can think clearer and are at our best in the morning. With this in mind many people prefer to write the list in the morning.
Whether you write a to do list in the morning or the evening is not really the issue, the most important thing is you do write a to do list before you start working so as at least you have some form of a plan for the day.
Remember it’s so important to ‘plan your work and work your plan’
2. Now we have the to do list written we now have to move from the to do list to an action list. An action list is a list of actions you are going to get done that day with a time allocated to when you are going to do them.
It is a bit like booking an appointment with your tasks and by doing this it will give you a much greater chance of getting done what you need to get done. The key thing is you need to schedule your day and what you are doing during the day.
3. Depending on your job role you may also be able to look at your plan and see if there is anything that you have to get done that can actually be done by someone else in the company. If this is the case you may be able to delegate the task to them.
Delegation is often only seen as a Managers role and although there is no doubt that this is a skill usually used by managers, in some organisations you can also delegate sideways to colleagues or there is also a skill in delegating upwards.
So before you get started on your day just see if there is anything you can delegate, obviously the other person has to be willing and able to take the task or willing and not able but teachable.
Also it goes without saying that the person you are delegating the task to has to have the time available to complete the task. It is also important when delegating that we delegate the task effectively as opposed to abdicating a task.
We need to discuss the task and agree what how and when, who why. On a recent time management training course someone mentioned the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling as a way to think when delegating a task, the poem reads as follows:
There were 7 honest serving men
Who taught me all I knew,
Their names were,
which what why where how when and who
It is also important to set SMART goals around the task that need to be agreed.
SMART goals are:
Achievable & Agreed
4. The to do list also needs to be prioritized and as often stated in time management this is often a vital part of time management that gets overlooked. I often hear of people that say I write a to do list every day and then:
- I start at the top and work down
- I do the hardest one first
- I do the ones I like to just get me in to my stride
Although these are all fine and at least you are working on a plan of action we have to remember that every task is different and has a different value to you and the company, therefore you must prioritise the tasks in the correct order.
On a recent time management training course, someone said to me that they decide by thinking about a fire evacuation. In other words they say to themselves ‘if there was a fire in the building in 3 hours time and we all had to evacuate, which tasks would I want to have completed and why?
Not a bad way to think about it, the key thing is to understand every task is different and the value of getting the task done is different. In business and life there is a process called ‘Paretos Principle’ you may know it better by its other name ‘the 80/20 rule.
Paretos principle or the 80/20 rule states that 80% of the things you do will get you 80% of your results and 20% of the things you do will get you 80% of your results.
Good time managers are those who can differentiate these on their to do list or action plan and obviously the skill is finding the golden nuggets of tasks on your list that give you the greatest results.
I find on time management courses that people get very confused with the difference between a task being important or urgent. Because of this they automatically get tied up in the urgent tasks which may or may not be correct.
What makes a task urgent is a deadline that is looming, but just because the task has a deadline that is looming it does not mean it is necessarily important. Don’t get me wrong it may be important but it may not be.
What makes a task important in my mind is the impact of carrying out that task or the impact of deciding not to carry out the task. The greater the impact the more important.
It is possible to find a tool called the priority matrix online and download it and this will offer 4 quadrants that may help you distinguish the importance and urgency of the tasks to prioritise.
- The 4 quadrants are as follows:
- Important and Urgent
- Important and less urgent
- Urgent but not important
Not important and not urgent Of course, it will take a time to get used to prioritizing this way but the payoff is worth it.
5. When planning how long a task should take we should always allow a little more time than anticipated, this is called the iceberg law. In time management terms it means we often only see the work on the tip of the iceberg and don’t think of the time for the part of the iceberg under the water.
Another thing that is interesting is we do have to understand with all the planning in the world we can only control the controllable. This means there will be occasions when an emergency happens during the day and your plans are pushed aside.
IMPORTANT ….I use the word emergency not an interruption they are 2 different things. Your plans should only be pushed aside if it is a real emergency.
We need to manage interruptions and although we will never really stop them, we can learn to manage them effectively.
Finally remember Time management training and time management courses can help teach you to plan and control your day so you can achieve more with less stress.
I used the word iceberg earlier in this blog but again I am saying that the above 5 points are really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to time management but they are a good starting point.