A great deal has been written about time management. Hundreds if not thousands of systems and apps exist promising to be the best time management tool available. Most of them are more than adequate. Use whatever works for you they are easy to find with a quick trip to Google.
However, I don’t believe the lack of system is the problem. It is more likely the failure to think clearly about what needs to be done and allowing disruptions of all types to pull us off task. Many are trapped in a syndrome that assures lack of productivity going through work life and life driven externally. If you think this sounds like being buffeted by whatever winds life brings, you’re right. People who fall into this habit accomplish less and procrastinate more.
Let’s focus on job productivity. Anyone who manages their time well at work is very likely to carry the same habits into the remainder of their life as well.
- First consider your role in the organization. What are you supposed to produce, drive, accomplish, be accountable for? Find that in your job description. If it is unclear have a discussion with your boss and define those things specifically. If you are the CEO a surprising number of you have no job description and report to no formal board. If this is you, join a peer group designed to hold you accountable.
- Next, be very clear about which of your responsibilities are the most important to your success in your job. There will be some mission critical aspects of your job that you will be better at than others. While you can’t ignore those responsibilities, you are not so well suited for, your success will depend most on the energy you bring to what you are already good at. That doesn’t absolve you from responsibility for aspects of your job that do not attract you or that you are not so good at. Educate yourself so that you can perform well on those or delegate them to someone who already possesses the skill and interest. Then, hold them accountable.
- Set Goals. While work can be performed and tasks may be completed regularly, intentional progress is possible only if proper goals are set. Goals are specific, have clear metrics, define action steps and are shared with others you work with. They are reviewed periodically and tweaked as necessary. Your third task is to set goals. Most people cannot deal with more than three goals. Focus suffers and we feel overwhelmed with a list of goals. Set three with three action steps each. When you complete action steps set the next three. Spread your goals and action steps across time on your calendar and stick to the time frame. Don’t accept excuses from yourself!
- Plan your day in advance rather than reacting to whatever is waiting to hit you when you arrive at work. Many do this in the late afternoon each day so that they are ready to begin at the start of the day. I like to think about my list as I prepare to start my day and create it quickly as I begin work.
- Control your own calendar. Those who allow other team mates to put meetings and calls on their calendar, and this is a common practice in several businesses I work with, are by definition out of control. You may be required to leave some free time for this purpose, but it is up to you to decide where that “open time” is on your calendar.
- Put everything on your calendar. Time for planning work, time for executing on goals, time for administrative tasks. Leave nothing to chance that you might have time to work on it. Then, be calendar driven. Do not allow yourself to reschedule or reshuffle to make room for more or other activities.
- One to Ones work. Establish a habit of regular one to one meetings with all of your direct reports. Have an agenda. Monitor their performance on established goals. Ask what they need as help. Do your job of getting barriers out of their way. Hold them accountable for action. As in all meetings establish a starting time and end on time.
- Prevent constant interruptions. An “open door” policy frequently means anyone can walk into your workspace at any time to discuss anything they want and stay as long as it serves them. While it sounds very accommodating it is, more often than not, a major time waster. How about a “door opener” policy instead. It could be defined something like this. When you need to talk with me please do the following which will help both of us use the time productively. A. send me a message that you would like to meet with me and please define the length of time you need. B. outline the subject of the discussion briefly. Just a few bullet points will do. C. at the end of the outline give me a simple sentence covering what you believe the course of action should be. I may respond with additional questions or suggest a time that works for me. Thanks for helping me use my time better.
- Stop open-ended meetings. When you make appointments define the time you will spend with the individual. Most calendaring programs in use today include the use of meeting invitations that facilitate this practice. Define the purpose of all meetings. If you are not required avoid going just to “stay in the loop”. A meeting summary written by a required attendee and sent to you will keep you informed and not waste the time sitting in an uneccessary meeting.
- Don’t burn yourself out by working constantly. For most people more flexibility and autonomous planning exists today than ever before. Plan time off to relax on weekends and do things you want to do rather than complete concentration on things and tasks you have to do. During any work day take a few minutes to take a walk, plan time for lunch, do a few minutes of yoga. These are very useful at maintaining objectivity and getting just enough rest to complete your day productively. Take vacations. There is no nobility to working all the time. Vacations provide space for objectivity.