Time management is such a funny phrase. We all banter it about like we understand it, but really what does it mean? My definition of Time Management is getting done what you have to do so there is time to do what you want to do. There is such a wealth of information and tools to help manage your time – but as with everything I espouse IF IT’S NOT EASY, IT’S TOO HARD.
What works? Here are some simple strategies you can implement starting now:
Set meetings with start and end times: When setting appointments, meetings and networking don’t just set a start time SET AN END TIME. If I’ve budgeted an hour for a coffee meeting and the person I’m meeting budgets two than one of us is going to be disappointed. When setting meetings make it clear: “I’ve got us down from 1 pm to 2 pm”
Stay in control of interruptions: You don’t have to answer the phone when it rings – but if it is someone you want to talk to there are techniques that you can use that will keep you from getting off course. State up front how much time you have (or want to invest): “I’ve got 20 minutes”
Give your work a time budget. Just like you know how much money you’ll spend for an item ($18 entrée – okay …$38 entrée – too much) think about how much time is reasonable to spend on a specific task (1 hour ok…3 hours too much). If I have deemed a project to be worth one hours’ worth of time not only will I set a timer for an hour to cue me to stop, but I’ll set another for 45 minutes, so I know when I have 15 minutes left. Always ask yourself “how much time is this task worth?”
When determining your time commitment keep in mind Pareto’s Principal (the 80/20 guy I talk about all the time.) You will accomplish 80% of your work in 20% of the time. That means if you meet someone for coffee/lunch/networking you’ll have held the most important parts of the conversation in the first hour, anything additional contributes minimally.
It’s surprising to see how many of my clients are traveling at this time of year. So much is going on that sometimes people tell me they wonder if it is even worth the effort to get out of town. Add to that the stress of re-entry and it’s no wonder our vacations don’t do such a good job of sustaining us. Of course I have a solution – and it is in that old fashioned form of a list.
I’m all about lists supporting you in getting the right things done, and we do that by creating zones in the list. For travel the list I suggest looks like this:
To make it work for you do as follows:
Find a note pad
Divide it into 4 sections and label them as follows:
Must Do Before – put tasks here that MUST be done or you can’t get on the plane
Like To Do Before – put tasks here that would help you enjoy your trip more if you were to get them done before you leave
Do ASAP When Home – put tasks here that really need to be done when you get home
Do When Home – put the other stuff you think of here
Focus on the “Must Do Befores.” If you get those done move to the “Like To Do Befores”
Like everything else, when you are clear about what’s most important then doing it is easier. And when you get on the plane you will feel peace. Hope you have a great trip.
What I’m about to say is sacrilege. It goes against every bit of advice today’s productivity experts lend. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and am just going to put it out there… Don’t write down every possible to-do or task you have to do. I know, “if you don’t write it down then it is taking space in your head.”
The way I see it is that if you write everything down your endless lists become useless. You have so much to do and so many possibilities. To improve your quality of life I suggest you write down the to-dos that are important and just let the other stuff go. Each time you think of something that could be done I want you to run it through the “Is this important” filter.
Deciding what’s important isn’t as easy as it sounds, but it’s not that hard either. It just takes a bit of thought.
Getting clarity around your goals, dreams, values and needs makes it easier. Read my blog post on 10 minute goal setting http://bit.ly/1vLUlOb or consider hiring a coach or doing some reading to help you determine what is “most important” for you. Once you have some structure to “what is important” it will help you to cast off those time-sucking obligations and “shoulds” that weigh you down.
Only when you can focus your time, energy and financial resources on the things that help you live in the way you want to live will you truly be productive. So this week, instead of putting everything on your list, ask yourself “what can I leaving off?” A list of 5 important items is much more effective than an endless list of stuff. Go ahead – defy the experts and leave I off. I can’t wait to hear what will happen.
With the summer coming to a close it’s good to remember that vacations are exciting – but getting back to routine reduces stress. Part of being organized and productive is having routines. They enable us to enjoy the doing more – to be more creative and effective – with less effort. When routines becomes “routine” life is just easier.
Are there things you do regularly in life that would be easier if you made them part of your routine? I know there are in my life. When I have a routine I don’t spend time worrying when I’m going to do something, or if I’ve missed opportunities or deadlines. The task is on autopilot. It takes care of itself until it’s time to do it again.
What can you autopilot? Here are some ideas:
Bill Paying – set up a system to check bills on a regular basis. Even if you do most of your bill paying on line, it still takes a degree of supervision. I pay my bills on the 10th and 25th of each month. I don’t worry about it in between. Other people like to pick one day of the week (each Sunday night or Monday morning), or do it three times a month – the 1st, 10th and 20th. What works for you? Put it on your calendar with follow up reminders until it becomes routine.
Blogging – My blog posts are written on Tuesday morning between 7:30 and 9:30 am. If I have a meeting or client or am out of town, I move it to Wednesday morning. I know I won’t do it Monday night – so I build in a more realistic option.
Processing Email – I check each morning for anything that is urgent and address it. I handle those and leave the rest for non-prime time. I build time into my schedule to review and process the remainder.
Processing Regular Mail – Each day I look at my mail. If someone sends something I didn’t ask for or need and takes my time and space to review I recycle right off the bat. I put my bills where they belong, I put my coupons where they belong, and I put other things that need action where they belong. It is in the system and then I don’t have stacks of unaddressed things that become overwhelming.
What do you do regularly that would benefit from routine? Contacting clients, grocery shopping, making phone calls, doing laundry?
Now here is a secret! A routine is nothing more than a system or a process. Creating a system for doing what you do all the time is the secret to having less stress in your life. Put the things you have control over on autopilot and free up your better self for the more challenging important things.
I don’t know if you were raised like I was, but when was little I was taught to finish my work before I played. It made sense in to finish my homework before I went out to play. It made sense to study for a test or clean my room before my friends came over. It made sense then.
But does it make sense now? Will we EVER be done with our work? I don’t think so. As a business professional, homeowner, and mom I could work 72 hours a day and still not be done. In this day and age of information overload and cutting budgets we are all trying to fit the work of 3 or 4 people into one. It’s time for a shift.
It’s hard to up your game when you’re burned out and overwhelmed. It’s hard to think clearly and productively when you don’t have the bandwidth. Our short term memories are finite and sometimes there is just no more room. If you don’t take time to care for yourself it will take longer to get your important work done. As Abe Lincoln said “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my ax.”
So now in the middle of summer, when things are a little slower, it maybe the perfect time for you to set some “self-care” boundaries and make new habits. How can you build enjoyment and downtime in to your life:
Find a class you like, sign up and go regularly
Schedule technology vacations – pick a day or two every month and turn it off
Schedule fun time out with friends, family and/or just yourself
Close up shop at a scheduled time each evening
But most importantly, think differently. Balance work and play. Know that work before play is obsolete. Know that if you don’t take care of yourself your work will suffer.
Ever wonder why some people notice clutter and others don’t? Have you been curious about why some people are comfortable going down a list while others prefer to hop around? The answer is related to who they are, not to what they chose.
In the Coaching world, we look at needs and values to help our clients create environments in which they can be most successful. Needs can include things such as Adventure, Fame, Fellowship, Freedom, Happiness, Health, Love, Power and ORDER. Just like some people NEED adventure, others NEED order.
Another powerful Coaching tool is self-observation. Have you ever observed yourself in terms of NEED FOR ORDER? Awareness around its importance can be a wonderful clue to creating the environment in which you are most at ease. With the degree of stress that most people feel, whatever can be done to create a less stressful/more productive environment should be prioritized. Where do you fall on the Need for Order Continuum?
The first step is awareness. The second step is thinking about what you can do to change your environment.
The goal of getting organized and improving productivity is not to be perfect. It is to make life easier and more enjoyable and fulfilling. Complex systems are rarely the answer. The best solutions are often the simplest. Over complicated systems most often cannot be maintained. More often than not, well done is good enough.
There are times that being “perfect” is important; in a client proposal, or on a resume, or in a white paper for your boss. But equally, there are times that you don’t have to be so perfect – I’m not talking about spelling errors, or typos – I’m talking about thoroughness and precision.
When you strive for perfection your time investment is maxed out. Where can you step back and save a bit of time and energy? Here are my favorites:
Email – ask yourself, do I have to include that piece of information. The briefer and more to the point your email is the faster it takes to write it and the easier it will be for the person receiving it to send you a prompt response
Planning your day – write out the top 5 things (or 3, or 7) you wish to accomplish. Prioritize them by writing numbers next to each task – 1 for the most important, etc. Just do it – but don’t spend a lot of time on this task – it will change anyway because you’ll never be able to anticipate the nuances of each day. It’s the act of planning that keeps you focused, not the exact plan itself
Drop the Penny – round up, it always balances out and it saves such silliness. Imagine how many payroll dollars would be saved if employees didn’t have to count pennies. Their impact is insignificant (unless of course you have a million of them – but that’s not the point!)
If you’re a perfectionist, try an experiment. Pick one thing today and try to be a little less perfect.
You know that urge to squeeze one more thing in…and then it makes you late. It makes you late for the holiday party, the concert, or puts you at the mall with only an hour left to shop. It makes the traffic heavier, it makes the prices higher and it makes the blood pressure rise.
Now, what if instead of making that phone call, answering that email, or checking Facebook one last time you left 5 minutes earlier. I know, it’s hard to do. But consider the benefit. Ask yourself – it is worth it? Even if it was an important task, ask yourself:
Can it wait?
What if I did it later?
What if I didn’t get to it at all?
The trade off for doing one less thing? MORE JOY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON.
Wishing you a wonderfully joyful pre-holiday week.
No… not talking about Santa’s list. I’m talking about your TO DO list. If you’re putting EVERYTHING on your list you are probably overwhelmed. Before you say YES to a task or opportunity, run it through a filter list that helps you sort the yes’s from the no’s:
Possible Filter List Questions:
Will it help someone or something important to me?
Will it help me grow personally or professionally?
Will it help me reach my goals?
Will I have fun doing it?
Will it give me joy?
Not sure? Ask yourself:
What’s the worst thing that will happen if I say NO?
Why should I say YES, and why should I say NO?
If I say YES to this, what will I be saying NO to?
If the answer isn’t clearly “yes”, then it probably should be “no.”
When I was in college and had a term paper to write I would go to the Library and check out as many books and periodicals as I could find. I would read them, then write the paper. The amount of information available was finite.
It is not this way for today’s students. With the advent of computers there is no end to the amount of research that can be done. The amount of information available is infinite. But somehow, kids today have learned when enough is enough and are able to stop researching and start writing.
If your formative years were like mine, learning when to stop presents a challenge. We were taught to research a topic until all sources were exhausted. Could this be part of the reason why our work never seems to end? We were taught to research until we could research no more. Trying to do this in today’s day and age does nothing but over-stress us, over-work us, and cause us to run continually behind. We simply have access to too much information.
When working in today’s climate consider creating self-imposed limits:
I will research the topic for 1 hour and then act
I will read 4 books and 4 articles and then act
I will give myself one week to gather information and then act
The concept of stopping research before exhausting all options is uncomfortable for many detailed and perfectionist professionals. But when you consider the minimal incremental learning you gain from the 5th, 6th, and 7th books you will be more empowered to stop gathering and start producing. As my favorite Disney character Mary Poppins says, Enough is as Good as a Feast.