What makes you more productive and are there any golden rules to ensuring you maximise your time?
Everyone wants to be better at managing their time. There are occasions when things feel out of control or un-manageable, but some simple techniques can help you to feel more in control.
Time management is a skill. And because it is a skill it can be developed and improved. By practising good time management, you can ingrain this as a new behaviour and make a permanent change.
The holiday phenomenon.
People are more productive in the run up to their holiday. The day before they go away they manage to get what they need to get done; their to-do list is complete and they can go away and have a relaxing break. How are they able to do it on this day and not the other days of the year?
The list of why this happens can be down to the individual but there are common themes including:
- Prioritising and focusing on the key issues
- Getting the big tasks done early on
- Closing loops – you want to ensure that the projects you are working on are at a stage where you can leave them and that you know the next steps when you come back
- Focussing on the reward – although it will be a tough day you know you will be going away and therefore it will be worth it
- Minimising disruptions – such as putting your phone on voicemail and only checking this periodically/ensuring your team know to speak to you at specific times during the day
- Batching emails so that you only look at these at specific times during the day
- Delegating tasks – when you have limited time you are more focussed on what you can pass to colleagues
Taking some of these concepts in greater details we can see how, by making a few simple changes, we can make a significant improvement to the way we work.
1. Four-week view
We often look at the week ahead but have you thought about looking four weeks down the line? This longer perspective will enable you to plan and to spot where you can make time savings. For example, you may be going to Manchester twice in that four-week time frame but with some forward planning you could combine the two trips in to one, saving you travel time.
2. 8 out of 10
We can waste time on perfecting our wording or the presentation of the work that we have completed when it isn’t necessary. Sometimes a piece of work does not need to be perfect – if the content is correct and it is ‘fit for purpose’ we can waste time on the non-message which could be better spent on other tasks.
Email can take over our lives, to the extent that we feel we have to respond to an email the moment we get it. This means that we can be working on something and then be distracted by our email changing our focus away from the piece of work to the email and back again. This diverts our attention from our work and makes us less productive. If we are in a meeting, the email has to wait and we are still able to respond to it when we return. Batching uses this ‘in a meeting’ principle to ensure we are not distracted by email throughout the day but that we set aside specific times to look and respond to it.
4. Do Not Disturb
It is ok to flag to your colleagues that you do not want to be disturbed during specific times in the day. If you are a morning person, spend time in the morning completing your tasks/projects and ensure your team know that you are unavailable during that time – after you have completed these you can then go on to look at your email and other tasks. If you work better in the afternoon, schedule your day around this so that you deal with the most critical tasks at a time that works for you – and let people know that this is your Do Not Disturb time.
The To-Do list
Many people use To-Do lists to help them to work through what they need to complete. Often To-Do lists do not have time limits, there is a lack of distinction between tasks and projects (they are all just on the list) and there is no visibility of invisible recurring activities. These are the activities we have to do every day but which we don’t think about such as:
- Data entry
- Email management
- Dealing with interruptions
- Putting together a day plan
If the invisible recurring activities take an hour or two of your day but you have not accounted for this you will be an hour or two down before you even start your day and therefore will be setting unrealistic expectations on what you can achieve with your day. By acknowledging these activities you ensure that you are aware of how you actually use your time.
Instead of using a To-Do list it can be more useful to concentrate on a Today ListTM. This is a list of activities, that are time bound, that enable you to balance your day. Within this Today ListTM you need to include the recurring activities, and then list the other activities you would like to accomplish that day. It’s also important to add some time as a contingency to ensure that you can spend extra time on activities when needed.
Why is this important? Time management can make a difference to your mental wellbeing and your work/life balance. Put simply it can enable you to feel more in control and more satisfied with what you have accomplished at the end of each day.