Managing your Time

21 February 2007

Effective Time Management is really about managing your mental energy. The trick is learning to empty your mind – not in the Buddhist sense, but by finding ways to unclutter your mind – so that you can focus on the task at hand.

You will be surprised at how little time there is for ‘productive’ work. But it is amazing how much you can achieve in so little time, with a clear mind.

Master List – your week (or month) based system

Processing your Master List

This is like the traditional To Do List. Write down everything that you want to do over the next month or so. Empty your mind. Keep it handy and continuously add to it. You can promptly forget everything on the list until you come to processing it.

Usually at the end of each day, for each item on the list or that comes your way, decide first whether it is actionable or not.

If it is not actionable: Is it something you might be able to use in the future? In which case, file it as maybe. If it is something that could be used as reference material then file it. Otherwise just bin it!

If it is actionable: Do it immediately if it can be done within two minutes.

Otherwise, if it is something that can be delegated then do so and make a note to monitor the progress. You might need to devote time for briefing and training.

If you must do it yourself then enter the task in your calendar if applicable; otherwise do it as soon as you can – make an ordinary To Do List for these tasks.

The Unschedule – blocking out personal & social time

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A remarkable technique. Block out your personal and social time first and then find empty slots to squeeze in ‘productive’ work activities. A monthly ‘unschedule’ usually works best.

You will be amazed at how little time you do have to work! The ‘work’ slots are the very focused, high energy uninterrupted sessions when you get things done.

The rest of the time you can devote to clients, staff and colleagues, networking, relaxing, exercising, and enjoying your friends and family. It is important to make time to recharge batteries and raise energy levels through exercise.

By the way, make sure you get enough sleep. A refreshed mind achieves more in one hour than a sleepy one can in two.

Always set time aside at the end of the month/week/day to plan the following month/week/day. This is when you process your Master List and fill up your Unschedule.

With these techniques, your life will be easy, yet you will achieve as much and more by working 3-5 short bursts each day with a fresh, energetic, uncluttered mind than if you slog the traditional 8-10 hours.

Make an appointment with yourself

This is a powerful way to manage your time and empty your mind. You can forget about the task until it pops up in your calendar. It takes a little experimentation to get it right. We tend to underestimate how long things take and pile on the tasks. Decide a realistic timescale and block out time in your calendar when you are going to do it. Don’t give yourself too much time, because you will just work slower to fill it up. But don’t reserve too little time so that you overshoot into your next ‘meeting’ with yourself. If you do then take this into account in your next planning session.

Also break up a task into chunks so that you work in focused bursts. Long sessions become tedious and your energy wanes. Keep up the interest, the variety and the pressure.

Educate your staff and clients

When you are in a meeting then you are simply not available – unless it is something really really urgent. If you are in a meeting with yourself then the same rule applies! Switch phones to answer service, turn off email alerts, instruct your secretary/receptionist that you are in a meeting, don’t allow interruptions.

You can reserve time for dealing with calls and messages, and block out ‘available’ time when people can walk in or call.

About staff and client meetings, is it really necessary to attend these? Often your participation isn’t really required and the minutes of the meeting will suffice. If you do have to atend a meeting then use Six Thinking Hats to help focus the meeting and keep it short. And when you are on the phone with someone, prepare in advance what you want to achieve with the phone call, get to the point quickly and wrap up quickly.

Some clients prefer a leisurely pace, so you might need to take time with them. Factor this into your planning (and pricing).

Be organised

To work effectively, you must know where things are. This is an important task in itself (to go in your Master List). Keep files of documents and reference material that allow you to retrieve information instantly. Time is wasted by having to look for things before you can get started.

It often helps to prepare your desk the day before, so that everything is ready to go as soon as you sit down.

Delegate

Good management is being able to get work done through others. Consider it an investment in time and effort to find and train other people to do the work that frees you up to focus on your strengths. Let’s say it takes a week to train someone to do the initial follow up on sales leads. Thereafter, you have someone else doing the work that might be taking half your time, which you can now devote to serving your customers and closing deals.

If you don’t have the staff then outsourcing or an alliance with others could be a way to focus your energies on increasing sales and revenue.

Most companies believe that they can’t afford to outsource work or take on new staff. If you calculate how much you are losing in lost sales and lost opportunities then you probably can’t afford not to.

Just Get Started

Sometimes, you may not be in the mood or the task seems too big. In this case, just spend 10 minutes getting started. Lots of focused 10-minute effort adds up to many hours of productivity. And, often, once you get started it is hard to stop!

Time to Reflect

Is what you are currently doing getting you to where you want to go? Are you becoming the person you want to be? What do you want your business to attain? Give yourself time periodically (a holiday retreat?) to think about what you want out of life and how you could possibly achieve it.

It’s a great way to reward yourself for all your good work!

Bibliography
The Now Habit – Neil Fiore
Getting Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play – Mark Foster
Getting Things Done – David Allen
What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School – Mark McCormack

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