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Time Management At Its Best
Article Number: 189 | Rating: Unrated | Last Updated: Mon, Apr 9, 2012 3:58 PM
Time management training most often begins with setting goals. These goals are recorded and may be broken down into a project, an action plan, or a simple task list. Activities are then rated based on urgency and importance, priorities assigned, and deadlines set. This process results in a plan with a task list or calendar of activities. Routine and recurring tasks are often given less focus to free time to work on tasks that contribute to important goals.
This entire process is supported by a skill set that should include personal motivation, delegation skills, organization tools, and crisis management.
Are you ready?
Begin with asking yourself these questions in order to know where you need to improve:
Setting SMART Goals
Goal setting is critical to effective time management strategies. It is the single most important life skill that, unfortunately, most people never learn how to do properly. Goal setting can be used in every single area of your life, including financial, physical, personal development, relationships, or even spiritual. According to Brian Tracy’s book Goals, fewer than 3% of people have clear, written goals, and a plan for getting there. Setting goals puts you ahead of the pack!
Some people blame everything that goes wrong in their life on something or someone else. They take the role of a victim and they give all their power and control away. Successful people instead dedicate themselves towards taking responsibility for their lives, no matter what the unforeseen or uncontrollable events. Live in the present: the past cannot be changed, and the future is the direct result of what you do right now!
The Three P’s
Setting meaningful, long-term goals is a giant step toward achieving your dreams. In turn, setting and achieving short-term goals can help you accomplish the tasks you'll need to achieve the long-term ones. It is also important to make sure that all of your goals unleash the power of the three P's:
The SMART Way
SMART is a convenient acronym for the set of criteria that a goal must have in order for it to be realized by the goal achiever.
Prioritizing Your Goals
Achieving challenging goals requires a lot of mental energy. Instead of spreading yourself thin by focusing on several goals at once, invest your mental focus on one goal, the most important goal right now. When you are prioritizing, choose a goal that will have the greatest impact on your life compared to how long it will take to achieve. A large part of goal setting is not just identifying what you want, but also identifying what you must give up in your life in order to get it. Most people are unwilling to make a conscious decision to give up the things in their life necessary to achieve their goals.
Emotionalizing and visualizing your goal will help you create the desire to materialize it into your life. One of the best visualization tools is a vision board. Simply find a magazine, cut out pictures that resonate with the goal that you want to achieve, glue them onto a piece of poster board, and place that board somewhere that you can view it several times a day.
In order for visualization to work, it’s necessary that you emotionalize your goal as much as possible. Create a list of the benefits you will see when you achieve your goal and concentrate on how that will make you feel.
Prioritizing Your Time
Time management is about more than just managing our time; it is about managing ourselves, in relation to time. It is about setting priorities and taking charge. It means changing habits or activities that cause us to waste time. It means being willing to experiment with different methods and ideas to enable you to find the best way to make maximum use of time.
The 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 rule, also known as Pareto’s Principle, states that 80% of your results come from only 20% of your actions. Across the board, you will find that the 80/20 principle is pretty much right on with most things in your life. For most people, it really comes down to analyzing what you are spending your time on. Are you focusing in on the 20% of activities that produce 80% of the results in your life?
The Urgent/Important Matrix
Great time management means being effective as well as efficient. Managing time effectively, and achieving the things that you want to achieve, means spending your time on things that are important and not just urgent. To do this, you need to distinguish clearly between what is urgent and what is important:
This concept, coined the Eisenhower Principle, is said to be how former US President Dwight Eisenhower organized his tasks. It was rediscovered and brought into the mainstream as the Urgent/Important Matrix by Stephen Covey in his 1994 business classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The Urgent/Important Matrix is a powerful way of organizing tasks based on priorities. Using it helps you overcome the natural tendency to focus on urgent activities, so that you can have time to focus on what's truly important.
The Urgent/Important Matrix:
At times, requests from others may be important and need immediate attention. Often, however, these requests conflict with our values and take time away from working toward your goals. Even if it is something we would like to do but simply don’t have the time for, it can be very difficult to say no. One approach in dealing with these types of interruptions is to use a Positive No, which comes in several forms.
The hallmark of successful time management is being consistently productive each day. Many people use a daily plan to motivate themselves. Having a daily plan and committing to it can help you stay focused on the priorities of that particular day. As well, you are more likely to get things accomplished if you write down your plans for the day.
Creating Your Productivity Journal
Essentially, planning is nothing more than taking a piece of paper and a pen and writing down the tasks and associated steps that you need to take throughout the day to ensure that your goal is completed.
To start, get yourself a spiral notebook and label it as your Personal Productivity Journal or your Professional Productivity Journal. (We recommend keeping a separate journal for work and for your personal life, so you can focus on them at separate times, thus maintaining your optimal work/life balance.) Label each page with the day and the date and what needs to be done that particular day. Next, prioritize each task in order of importance. Highlight the top three items and focus on those first. Cross off items as you complete them. Items that are not completed should be carried over to the next page.
Maximizing the Power of Your Productivity Journal
Personal development expert Brian Tracy believes that when you write down your action list the night before, your subconscious mind focuses on that plan while you sleep. By planning the night before, you will also start fresh and focused on the most important tasks for the day. Of course, you will want to review your list in the morning, but you will have a head start on your day.
Always have your productivity journal with you during the day to avoid becoming sidetracked. Crossing off completed tasks will give your subconscious mind a tremendous amount of satisfaction.This will also help to maintain your motivation to complete the remaining items on your action list.
If you find yourself moving uncompleted tasks over into the following day, and the day after that, then you need to ask yourself why that task is on your list in the first place and what value it has in your life.If you postpone a task three times, it does not belong on your action list.
The Glass Jar: Rocks, Pebbles, Sand, and Water
There is a story about time management that uses a glass jar, rocks, stones, pebbles, sand, and water to illustrate how to plan your day. The glass jar represents the time you have each day, and each item that goes into it represents an activity with a priority relative to its size.
If you commit to this approach to planning your days, you will see as time goes on that you are able to achieve more in less time. Instead of finishing things in a mad rush to meet deadlines, each day will be organized and become more productive and profitable. You will also notice yourself spending less time on activities that are of little to no value. And because you have a clear vision for dealing with competing priorities, the level of stress in your life will diminish, which will allow you to become even more focused and productive.
Chunk, Block, and Tackle
Large projects can sometimes be so overwhelming it is difficult to even plan to start them. This time management technique is ideal for taking on these jobs. Simply break down the project into manageable chunks, block off time to work on the project, and then tackle it with a single-minded focus.
Ready, Fire, Aim!
We’ve all heard the saying, "Ready, Aim, Fire!” Often in time management planning, it is better to think "Ready, Fire, Aim!” instead. This is because most people aim for the target, and then they keep aiming at the target, but they never seem to fire. They get so caught up with the planning that they fail to take action. This is just another form of procrastination, which we will discuss in a moment. Better to take a shot and see how close you were to the target.
Procrastination means delaying a task (or even several tasks) that should be a priority. The ability to overcome procrastination and tackle the important actions that have the biggest positive impact in your life is a hallmark of the most successful people out there.
Why We Procrastinate
There are many reasons why we tend to procrastinate, including:
Nine Ways to Overcome Procrastination
Your ability to select your most important task at any given moment, and then to start on that task and get it done both quickly and well, will probably have greatest impact on your success than any other quality or skill you can develop! If you nurture the habit of setting clear priorities and getting important tasks quickly finished, the majority of your time management issues will simply fade away.
Here are some ways to get moving on those tough tasks.
Eat That Frog!
"If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long!"
Your frog is the task that will have the greatest impact on achieving your goals, and the task that you are most likely to procrastinate starting.
Another version of this saying is, "If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first!"
This is another way of saying that if you have two important tasks before you, start with the biggest, hardest, and most important task first. Discipline yourself to begin immediately and then to persist until the task is complete before you go on to something else. You must resist the temptation to start with the easier task. You must also continually remind yourself that one of the most important decisions you make each day is your choice of what you will do immediately and what you will do later, or postpone indefinitely.
Finally, "If you have to eat a live frog, it does not pay to sit and look at it for a very long time!"
The key to reaching high levels of performance and productivity is for you to develop the lifelong habit of tackling your major task first thing each morning. Don’t spend excessive time planning what you will do. You must develop the routine of "eating your frog" before you do anything else and without taking too much time to think about it.
Successful, effective people are those who launch directly into their major tasks and then discipline themselves to work steadily and single-mindedly until those tasks are complete.
In the business world, you are paid and promoted for achieving specific, measurable results. You are paid for making a valuable contribution that is expected of you. But many employees confuse activity with accomplishment and this causes one of the biggest problems in organizations today, which is failure to execute
With better planning, improved efficiency, and increased productivity, the number of crises you encounter should decline. However, you can’t plan for everything, so in this module we’ll look at what to do when a crisis does occur.
When the Storm Hits
The key to successfully handling a crisis is to move quickly and decisively, but carefully.
The first thing to do when a crisis hits is to identify the point of contact and make them aware of the situation. (For this module, we’ll assume that point of contact is you.)
Then, you will want to gather and analyze the data.
Above all, take the time to do thorough, proper research. You don’t want to jump into action based on erroneous information and make the crisis worse.
You will also want to identify the threshold time: the time that you have before the situation moves out of your control, or becomes exponentially worse. You may also find that the crisis will resolve itself after a certain point of time.
Creating a Plan
Once you have gathered the data, it’s time to create a plan. The best approach is to identify the problem, decide on a solution, break it down into parts, and create a timeline.
Executing the Plan
As you execute the plan, make sure that you continue evaluating if the plan is working. In the example we just looked at, perhaps after gathering project information, you realize you need more details on a particular item. It would then be appropriate to add that step and make sure you are still on track to meet your timeline.
During execution, it is important to stay organized and on top of events to make sure that your plan is still applicable. This will also help you deliver accurate, effective communication to others affected by the crisis. (In this example, your manager is probably pretty anxious to get that report!)
After the crisis is over, take a moment to look at why it happened and how to prevent it in the future. In the example we used, our Quarter One Status Report was not completed on time. (In fact, it sounds like we forgot to start it altogether!) The planning and prioritizing tools that we are discussing in this workshop should help prevent those kinds of emergencies. However, you will likely find that you’re always adjusting and perfecting your approach, so it is important to learn from the times where those tools don’t work.
You can even be prepared for disasters that can’t be predicted, such as illness, fire, or theft. In the case of illness, for example, you could prepare a short contingency plan indicating who will be responsible for your correspondence, projects, and general responsibilities in case you are ill for an extended period. Make sure you share these plans with the appropriate people so that they can be prepared as well.
Organizing Your Workspace
In order to effectively manage your time and to be productive each day, you must create an appropriate environment. By eliminating clutter, setting up an effective filing system, gathering essential tools, and managing workflow, you will be well on your way to creating an effective workspace.
Removing clutter is itself a time-consuming task, but a cluttered workspace significantly impairs your ability to find things, and you will get the time back that you invest – and more! To retrieve materials quickly, you’ll need an effective filing system that includes three basic kinds of files:
Once clutter has been eliminated and other materials have been filed, the effective workspace includes only what is essential: a set of three trays to control the workflow on your desk (see the next topic), standard office supplies, a computer, and a telephone. Everything else, except for what you are working on at the moment, can and should be filed where it can be retrieved as needed.
How do you process the mountain of material that collects in your paper and electronic in-baskets? The answer is one piece of paper, one electronic message at a time. Many time management experts agree that the most effective people act on an item the first time it is touched.
Although difficult at first, the practice can become habitual, and is made easier with the four Ds:
Remember, to take the S.T.I.N.G. out of feeling overwhelmed about a task, follow these steps:
Dealing with E-mail
Electronic communication can be managed just as easily and as quickly as paper with the four D’s that we just discussed. However, there are some other key ideas that will help you maximize your e-mail time.
To manage all of the things that you have to do, it’s important to organize your reminders into a small number of calendars and lists that can be reviewed regularly. A calendar (paper or electronic) is the obvious place to record meetings, appointments, and due dates.
People with multiple responsibilities, an annual calendar organized by areas of responsibility (e.g., budget, personnel, schedule, planning, and miscellaneous) may be especially valuable. For each of these areas, one can list the major responsibilities month by month and thereby see glance what tasks must be completed in a given month of the year.
Don’t forget the Productivity Journal that we discussed earlier. This can be a valuable tool for organizing tasks, identifying patterns, improving workflow, and recording work completed.
Delegating Made Easy
If you work on your own, there’s only so much you can get done, no matter how hard you work. As well, everyone needs help and support, and there is no shame in asking for assistance. One of the most common ways of overcoming this limitation is to learn how to delegate your work to other people. If you do this well, you can quickly build a strong and successful team of people.
At first sight, delegation can feel like more hassle than it’s worth. However, by delegating effectively, you can hugely expand the amount of work that you can deliver. When you arrange the workload so that you are working on the tasks that have the highest priority for you, and other people are working on meaningful and challenging assignments, you have a recipe for success.
Remember, to delegate effectively, choose the right tasks to delegate, identify the right people to delegate to, and delegate in the right way. There’s a lot to this, but you’ll achieve so much more once you’re delegating effectively!
When to Delegate
Delegation allows you to make the best use of your time and skills, and it helps other people in the team grow and develop to reach their full potential in the organization. Delegation is a win-win situation for all involved, but only when done correctly. Keep these criteria in mind when deciding if a task should be delegated:
To Whom Should You Delegate?
Once you have decided to delegate a task, think about the possible candidates for accepting the task. Things to think about include:
When you first start to delegate to someone, you may notice that he or she takes longer than you do to complete tasks. This is because you are an expert in the field and the person you have delegated to is still learning. Be patient: if you have chosen the right person to delegate to, and you are delegating correctly, you will find that he or she quickly becomes competent and reliable. Also, try to delegate to the lowest possible organizational level. The people who are closest to the work are best suited for the task because they have the most intimate knowledge of the detail of everyday work. This also increases workplace efficiency, and helps to develop people.
How Should You Delegate?
Delegation doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There are several different levels of delegation, each with different levels of delegate independence and delegator supervision.
THE SPHERES OF INDEPENDENCE
People often move throughout these spheres during the delegation process. Your goal should be to get the delegate to one of the outer three spheres, depending on the task being performed. Make sure you match the amount of responsibility with the amount of authority. Understand that you can delegate some responsibility, but you can’t delegate away ultimate accountability. The buck stops with you!
Now, once you have worked through the above steps, make sure you brief your team member appropriately. Take time to explain why they were chosen for the job, what’s expected from them during the project, the goals you have for the project, all timelines and deadlines, and the resources on which they can draw. Work together to develop a schedule for progress updates, milestones, and other key project points.
You will want to make sure that the team member knows that you want to know if any problems occur, and that you are available for any questions or guidance needed as the work progresses.
We all know that as managers, we shouldn’t micro-manage. However, this doesn’t mean we must abdicate control altogether. In delegating effectively, we have to find the difficult balance between giving enough space for people to use their abilities, while still monitoring and supporting closely enough to ensure that the job is done correctly and effectively. One way to encourage growth is to ask for recommended solutions when delegates come to you with a problem, and then help them explore those solutions and reach a decision.
The Importance of Full Acceptance
Set aside enough time to thoroughly review any delegated work that delivered to you. If possible, only accept good quality, fully complete work. If you accept work that you are not satisfied with, your team member does not learn to do the job properly. Worse than this, you accept a new project that you will probably need to complete yourself. Not only does this overload you, it means that you don’t have the time to do your own job properly.
Of course, when good work is returned to you, make sure to both recognize and reward the effort. As a leader, you should get in the practice of complimenting members of your team every time you are impressed by what they have done. This effort on your part will go a long way toward building team members’ self-confidence and efficiency now and in the future.
Setting a Ritual
For most people, the word "ritual” typically conjures up an image of a boring, repetitive life, with every moment controlled and managed, and no room for spontaneity. Rituals and routines, however, can actually help increase the spontaneity and fun in your life. Because routine tasks are already planned for, you have more energy to spend on the tasks that will bring you closer to your goals and bring more joy to your life.
What is a Ritual?
The Random House Dictionary defines a ritual as, "any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner.” In fact, you can build any type of ritual in three easy steps.
Remember, a ritual shouldn’t be set in stone. Once you establish a ritual, it can be modified at any point in time, depending on what works for you. With our exercise example, you could easily decide to exercise before work or even at lunch and still use the basic task and sub-tasks.
Ritualizing Sleep, Meals, and Exercise
These three items are essential to ritualize. Here are some ideas.
Here are some rituals that many people find helpful in maximizing their time:
Using Rituals to Maximize Time
Once you have been using a ritual for a while, you may find that you have bits of extra time here and there. For example, you may find that by establishing an exercise ritual, you finish five or ten minutes earlier because you know exactly what you’re going to do at the gym. At the end of the day, you may find that you have a half hour or more of unexpected time.
This is where the "Trigger” part of rituals can come into play. Instead of setting a specific time of day, you choose a situation or an event that will cause a ritual to come into play.
Meetings are often seen as a necessary evil of office life. Few people look forward to meetings, and with good reason. Too many meetings lack purpose and structure. However, with just a few tools, you can make any meeting a much better use of everyone’s time.
Deciding if a Meeting is Necessary
The first thing you need to decide is if a formal meeting is necessary. Perhaps those morning staff meetings could be reduced to a few times a week instead of every day, or maybe they could take place over morning coffee and be more informal. (In the next module, we’ll talk about some alternatives to meetings, too.)
If a formal meeting is necessary, divide your attendees into two groups: participants and observers. Let people know what group they belong in so that they can decide whether they want to attend. If you send out a report after the meeting, that may be enough for some people.
Using the PAT Approach
We use the PAT approach to prepare for and schedule meetings.
Building the Agenda
Before the meeting, make a list of what needs to be discussed, how long you believe it will take, and the person who will be presenting the item. Here is an example.
Once the agenda is complete, send it to all participants and observers, preferably with the meeting request, and preferably two to three days before the meeting. Make sure you ask for everyone’s approval, including additions or deletions. If you do make changes, send out a single updated copy 24 hours before the meeting.
Keeping Things on Track
Before the meeting, post the agenda on a flip chart, whiteboard, or PowerPoint slide. Spend the first five minutes of the meeting going over the agenda and getting approval. During the meeting, take minutes with the agenda as a framework.
(Although this informal structure will be sufficient for most meetings, more formal meetings may require more formal minutes.)
Your job as chairperson is to keep the meeting running according to the agenda. If an item runs past its scheduled time, ask the group if they think more time is needed to discuss the item. If so, how do they want to handle it? They can reduce the time for other items, remove other items altogether, schedule an offline follow-up session, or schedule another meeting. No matter what the group agrees to, make sure that they stick to their decision.
At the end of the meeting, get agreement that all items on the agenda were sufficiently covered. This will identify any gaps that may require follow-up and it will give people a positive sense of accomplishment about the meeting.
Making Sure the Meeting Was Worthwhile
After the meeting, send out a summary of the meeting, including action items, to all participants and observers, and anyone else who requires a copy. Action items should be clearly indicated, with start and end dates, and progress dates if applicable. If follow-up meetings were scheduled, these should also be communicated.
Alternatives to Meetings
Sometimes, a face-to-face meeting isn’t the best solution. In this module, we will explore alternatives to meetings that can help you and your team save time and be more productive.
Don’t forget that even if you use a meeting alternative, you should still use the PAT approach that we discussed in the last module, take minutes, and distribute post-meeting notes and action items.
Instant Messaging and Chat Rooms
Instant message applications and chat rooms can be a great alternative to meetings, especially if meeting members are separated by distance.
Some things to remember:
If more personal contact and real-time sharing is needed, try a teleconferencing system like Adobe’s Acrobat.com, Microsoft Live Meeting, or Citrix’s Go To Meeting.
Most teleconferencing applications feature:
E-Mail Lists and Online Groups
If your meeting group requires ongoing, interactive communication, rather than periodic face-to-face gatherings, an e-mail list, forum, or online group can be an effective tool.
There are a few options for these online tools. If your organization has the infrastructure in place, you may be able to set up something on site. If your organization doesn’t have such an infrastructure, there are many free tools out there, including Google Groups, Yahoo Groups.
A few things to keep in mind if you are going to use this sort of solution:
A more sophisticated electronic tool that can reduce the need for meetings is collaboration applications. Systems like Microsoft SharePoint, Google Docs, and Base camp can give users interaction and collaboration tools from any location.
These sorts of tools may be most beneficial for project meetings, or situations where users need to peer review each other’s work.
Once again, these tools must have their purpose clearly stated, and participants must make sure that these time-saving tools don’t turn into time wasters.
We hope that your journey to improve your time management skills is just beginning. Please take a moment to review and update your action plan. This will be a key tool to guide your progress in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. We wish you the best of luck on the rest of your travels!
Words from the Wise
Here are a few thoughts that we would like to leave you with, to accompany you on your journey.
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