One of the most popular one-day training workshops my firm offers is one entitled simply Time Management. A first, and perhaps slightly obvious, thing to say about time management is that time itself cannot be managed. Not without getting Stephen Hawking and the folks at NASA and CERN involved. So what we’re talking about here is managing the hours you have to get more done in them.
Everyone wishes they had more time. But almost all of us allow much of the precious time we start each day with to trickle through our fingers. That’s why we spend the first part of each of our workshops giving delegates the tools they’ll need to analyse how they spend their time and to pinpoint where they’re wasting it.
Many of us are perfectly well aware that we’re wasting time when we allow ourselves to become distracted by irrelevant emails, social media posts or office conversations. Call it displacement activity, procrastination, or stress-induced self-harm, but many of us do it. Unlearning those behaviours is important. So too is identifying the things we do that we didn’t even realise were hurting productivity.
Some exist in a state of near-permanent emergency, devoting all their energy to one task at a time, while neglecting others
One of the ways we suggest delegates do this is to keep a daily log of how they allocate the time they have. We stress the need to be ruthlessly honest when doing this. You may decide you don’t want to share this information with your manager. That could even help with the ruthlessly honest bit! But unless you log those minutes and hours truthfully, you’ll be wasting your time. Which is, of course, exactly the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve.
No two people waste their time in exactly the same way. Some exist in a state of near-permanent emergency, devoting all their energy to one task at a time, while neglecting others. Some suffer from a perfectionist streak that means nothing ever feels quite finished. Some secretly believe they can only function in the panic-productivity of a looming deadline or ultimatum. Some simply take too much on.
Setting goals and priorities is essential. We tell delegates: don’t take on (or set yourself) impossible workloads. Wherever possible, plan your workload in advance. Don’t just react. Factor in – not just whether you’ve done something – but how well you’ve done it. Don’t simply tick off items on a list: consider outcomes.
Delegate tasks wherever you can. Support your colleagues, but don’t pick up the slack when others fail to manage their time well. If you have perfectionist tendencies, accept that others may not always do things exactly as you would, and that sometimes you just have to let go!
Don’t get bogged down in clutter. You don’t have to be anal-retentive to keep your desk or desktop clear! Backed up projects sap energy and enthusiasm. Filing things may not resolve them, but it keeps you organised and feeling productive. Each time you organise your work, focus on prioritising.
Some things are neither urgent nor important. Bin them, we tell our delegates. Some unimportant things may come billed as top priority. Exercise your judgement. Some things are clearly important but can certainly wait while more urgent things get done. Some things are both urgent and important. Action these first.
Some people fight shy of being ‘proactive’ about managing their time. They would rather fall back into ‘coping’ with a spoon-fed workload. But life is short. Looking back, few things cause more regret than wasted time and squandered opportunities. Finding the time to get more done – and to get it done well – simply feels good. What more motivation do you need?