Time to create the calm from the chaos!

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I think it is safe to say financial services have just experienced one of those moments in time that will go down in the history books! An endless collection of bedtime stories for the grandchildren for sure!

Now, while financial services have come through this pretty unscathed (in the main!), what has emerged is a new breed of business. For the majority, there has been a dramatic and significant change in how they work as a team, with their clients and as a business as a whole. Behaviours and beliefs have changed and what I believe will emerge will be a more flexible and accommodating way of working. This in my opinion is a refreshing shift and one which is years overdue!

So, with all of these changes to the team and the way stuff gets done – how can we make sure that we keep it together? How can we prepare ourselves to bat off the landslide of work that needs to get done once the flood gates of the world are fully open?

Well, for me, I still think it comes back to some good old-fashioned principles of organisation and the control of the ‘controllables’.

Never underestimate how managing time effectively is an artform. It takes skill, practice and dedication to get it right.

Regardless of the business area, team or department, the methods by which an organisation delegates, logs, tracks and gets stuff done will ultimately define how effective and successful the team are as a whole.

Teamwork is ultimately the key to a business’ success, which is why it is essential to have robust and scalable processes and procedures to help individuals be as effective as possible, whether they are working together or on their own.

Coming in thick and fast!

Requests for tasks to be completed can come in from all directions, such as clients, colleagues, business associates and suppliers. Each has their own agenda, which is why everyone within your team (you included) should remain focused at all times both on why the task is being requested in the first place and also on getting it completed as effectively as possible! If a task is worth starting… it’s worth completing!

There is a caveat to this, though. It is often the case that the amount of work required simply outweighs the amount of time that has been allocated to it. It is important to be realistic with what it’s possible to achieve in the time that you have available. DO NOT under any circumstances over-commit and then under-deliver on your promises! No one wins. The damage that follows includes stress, unhappiness, low morale and ineffective performance. It is simply not worth it! Be honest and open and work within the parameters that have been set; always do your best but do not over-work yourself and NEVER, EVER take on the work of another member of the team if their failure to complete the task stems from a lack of care, skills or ability. If this situation is happening, you must speak to another team member, your line manager or the business owner. It is not your job to do someone else’s!

Never underestimate how managing time effectively is an artform. It takes skill, practice and dedication to get it right. It is a change in mindset and will support the achievement of every task, regardless of size!

The rules

Always remember:

  • Being busy doesn’t mean you are being productive!
  • Lists and structures (whether held in hard or soft copy) are crucial to success!
  • There is always a more effective and efficient way of doing something – so strive to find it!
  • Learn to love lists and structures!
  • We are not designed to multitask… so, wherever possible, don’t even attempt it!

Start as you mean to go on!

I always kick-start the day with some planning time. I find it’s important to set out my stall, and get my head around the day and what is to come. I run through in my mind the key things that I need to get done before the end of the day. I then commit to up to five things that, by hook or by crook, I must get done that day! If I need to review my inbox before I can define my list, then I do. BUT I WILL NEVER respond to anything until my plan for the day is in place.

My daily commitments are the most important things on my agenda. They become the key tasks that MUST be completed before the day is out.

Getting these tasks straight in your head, prior to taking any action, will help you stay focused and not get distracted by the many other things that will likely come hurtling towards you during the day.

If you don’t take a moment before the chaos of the day takes hold, you may spend hours in a frenzy of activity. However, you are in danger of achieving mixed results because you are simply not concentrating your efforts on the things that matter the most.

It’s simple, really! Whose agenda are you working to? Yours or the next person who emails or messages you? Shut out the noise, even if it’s just until the big-ticket stuff has been done. If you need help prioritising, ASK. It’s much better to seek the input of a colleague or (preferably) your line manager than to risk getting stuck down a rabbit hole facing in the wrong direction!

Deadlines

Oooh, I love a deadline! Everyone needs a deadline and the primary deadline rule is that no task should be delegated or requested without a deadline attached. We are all really busy, we all have more stuff on our lists than we have hours in the day, so the main purpose of a deadline is to focus the mind – be that your mind or someone else’s.

Think about it – when you are facing a mountain of tasks, after the initial panic of ‘How the hell am I going to get all of this stuff done?’, the question becomes, ‘What do I focus on first?’ Most people are drawn to start and (hopefully) complete the tasks that have a direct deadline attached to them. In fact, most people do their best work when a deadline is fast approaching and the pressure is on. Why? Focus… the deadline is forcing them to focus!

With an imminent deadline there is no time for faffing, over-thinking or procrastinating! It’s time to focus and get it done! So, even if there isn’t a deadline associated with a task, give it one! Even if you have to make one up. Trust me… with a deadline, everyone’s a winner, baby!

Effective handover

  • If the required task needs completing by someone else, it is vital that the handover process is effective. A misunderstood task could result in catastrophic outcomes, so this should be avoided at all costs. Be clear about what is expected and make sure that the person doing the task has all the information they need from the outset.
  • Adequate time should be allocated to the handing over of key tasks. Notes should be taken to make sure that the instructions and details are clear and can be recalled at a later point if needed.
  • Be clear on the absolute and desired outcomes. Ambiguity doesn’t help anyone!
  • During the handover meeting (which should be scheduled into all diaries), both parties should be clear about the work involved and the time allocated to complete it. Any potential issues should be raised, discussed and resolved at this point.
  • Agree check-in points. It is no good discussing what needs to be done at the start and then not again until the end. You don’t want anyone to go off track and waste time. Work in progress meetings are recommended throughout the task.
  • Once the action points have been agreed, these tasks should be incorporated into the master ‘to do’ list (see below), task planner or project planner.

Plan your diary

You’ve heard it all before I know… which is why I’m telling you again!

  • The trick is to plan your year first and your day last
  • Enter key year planning dates in your diary:
    • regular meetings for the year
    • known one-off events (e.g. annual seminars)
    • holidays
    • family occasions
    • key tasks (e.g. monthly returns).
  • Plan your next month:
    • count the unplanned days available
    • reserve a free period each week to review and plan
    • reserve key task time.
  • Plan this week:
    • develop regular habits (e.g. CPD, general filing, time for reading, review the ‘to do’ list).
  • Plan each day at the start of the day – or, better still, the night before:
    • develop regular habits
    • set specific times to review work
    • list and rank jobs and phone calls
    • make daily action lists.
  • And also…
    • make a list of tasks, work out the time needed for each and prioritise
    • isolate the key tasks (between three and five tasks per day) and make sure they get done
    • don’t be too ambitious and clutter each day with tasks that can wait
    • build in a time for solitude and/or to handle an issue that could crop up
    • tie each day in with your plans for the week, the month and the year
    • only access emails two or three times a day and allocate a time to respond to those that require your attention
    • follow up effectively by using three follow-up files – ‘This week’, ‘Next week’ and ‘This month’
    • use a consistent diary/daily planning format – adopt a system which can accommo­date detailed timings and sections (in each day) to list ‘Tasks to be done’, ‘Phone calls to be made’ and ‘Emails to be answered’.

Get your priorities right

Think about the set tasks for the day. You then need to consider how much time should be allocated to a particular task. Focus your energy on the tasks that are significant to you. Is there a particular time of the day when you feel most productive? If your thinking powers are particularly sharp in the mornings, try to finish your important tasks during that period. You can use the rest of your time to finish the seemingly smaller tasks later.

Keep some extra time in hand

Time management is all about dividing your work schedule in your planner but there may be certain hitches along the way. Sudden meetings or additional time spent on a particular project may require you to change your schedule. You need to be aware of these possibilities and add more time to a particular task in advance to have some extra time in hand. In this way, if there are any unexpected issues, you will still be left with a comfortable amount of time to deal with them.

Avoid procrastination

Procrastinators end up working more than required and often feel stressed about work. Avoiding work so that you can do it later is not a good idea. Know the reasons why you are avoiding a particular task. It would be a better idea to finish the task before its deadline rather than keeping it piled up for the month end.

Organise your workspace

Perhaps the most important aspect of organisation (and one which affects everyone’s ability to tackle important tasks) is how your desk/workspace is managed.

Ways to clear your desk:

  • Don’t leave any papers on it when you leave.
  • Don’t have papers out for more than one task at a time.
  • Don’t keep papers hanging around:
    • diarise when to action and then file them
    • dump unwanted items
    • pass on, with action notes.
  • Don’t let filing pile up.
  • Don’t get side-tracked reading items that should be put in a separate to-be­-read pile.

Have focus and have fun!

Maintain your focus on the important tasks and the key priorities. People often waste precious time on stuff that is just not important! Be creative, remember work is work; there is always lots to do so approach everything you do with a joyful effort and, most importantly, have fun!

 

 

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