Time – the most precious of resources. It can not be increased nor recreated when lost. A finite resource that is delivered in equal installments of 24 hours each day. Given time is a fixed commodity; we must improve at getting more done in less time. So…. what can you do differently tomorrow to manage your time better?
Let’s start with you. As Jerry Seinfeld famously put it “The morning guy doesn’t like the night guy” referring to what he is like in the morning after staying up late. Are you a morning person who bounces out of bed early and gets to work on your most important tasks while others are still sleeping? Or do you start off slowly and really get firing in the afternoon or evening? This is a really important aspect of your personal make up to understand. I don’t believe that we really change fundamentally in this regard through life. While we can get better at working at our peak throughout each day, we still seem to have a few golden hours each day where our focus and output is at its optimum.
So what is your “zone” where you operate best? Listen to your mind and body here and respect and utilise your golden hours. If you are a morning person, try and schedule your most important tasks and priorities at this time of day. You’ll get the big stuff done more effectively and accurately by working when you’re in your zone. If you’re more of an afternoon person, perhaps schedule your “think tank” time or important projects, tasks or meetings then. Trial this for yourself. It works!Now, let’s think about the major interruptions to your time which are people, meetings, telephone and email. How can you leverage these to your advantage?
People. Have neither a permanently open door nor permanently closed door at work. What do I mean by this? A lot of us feel the need to be permanently available for access or interruption by others. Who made this rule up? Regulate access to yourself when needed. Most of the time you can probably have an open door policy, particularly when you are doing bump and grind type day to day work. However, when you are working on an important document, preparing for a meeting or working on a strategic activity; it is reasonable and appropriate that you close your door, block calls or move to a quiet work space. This type of work is not “pick up put down” work and needs an uninterrupted focus. You may need to explain to people around you that you’re “off the air” for the next two hours but people should accept this.
Meetings. Meetings should be short, sharp and to the point. They should have agendas with a start and finishing time. There should be outcomes, accountabilities and deadlines that flow from them. They should be scheduled in your diary in advance. All businesses need regular meetings. If set up well, meetings are actually the conduit for implementation so learn to love them. If run and scheduled well, they should not be an impediment to your personal time management.Telephone. The telephone rings and you pick it up. No…. not always. Certainly mobile phones and telecommunications have created an overwhelming expectation of immediacy in today’s business world. However, don’t let it dominate you. Again, if you are attending to low priority day to day tasks, by all means answer the phone. But if you are working on a major project that requires high level thinking and is time sensitive, consider this approach if it’s doable for you in your work environment. Bank your phone messages through to mid morning. Stop work at say 10.30 am and spend 10-20 minutes returning calls. Do the same again before lunch, mid afternoon and close of day. Now you have returned all calls on the same day in 3 or 4 banks saving you significant time, increasing your productivity while completing and focusing on your most important priorities.
Email. Email comes in and beeps at me. I hear it and go straight into the email message. No, No, No. Research has shown email robs people of one hour or more every day. Imagine coming in over an hour late each day to work and keeping on top of things. That is a staggering observation on the modern world and must surely be the greatest contributor to diminishing productivity as it touches every person every day. Absenteeism as a comparison involves only a fraction of all people on only some work days. So what can you do to stop this impacting on you?
First, turn off the beeping noise that announces incoming email. Secondly, don’t leave your Outlook screen maximized permanently as your background screen. Minimize it or turn it off. Introduce the same banking system for your email management that I explained above for telephone. If you are fortunate enough to have a PA or administration support personnel, consider asking them to review all emails and only forward you genuine solicited email. Also, keep your inbox clean. Set up folders in MS Outlook (or your chosen email browser) to the left of screen with titled folder names such as Administration, Personal, Client names, Work projects etc and drag and drop email messages into these grouped folders. You can then go into a folder and view all emails relating to the one topic quarantined together.
In closing, to summarize these time management techniques:
• Understand yourself individually and know the times during the day that are your “golden hours”
• Proactively manage the access other people have to your time
• Ensure meetings are scheduled and run well and use them to facilitate implementing action
• Consider banking phone messages and returning calls in batches while working on major projects or important tasks
• Re-engineer the way in which you manage email and gain up to one hour per day
In considering the benefits of changing the way you manage your time, I can’t think of a more powerful reason than creating more hours in your week. The return on your modest investment in introducing these changes is significant, so start tomorrow.