Boris (not his real name) a client of mine found that he was always behind. He was constantly responding to interruptions and getting off task. He was forgetting to follow up on requests, waking up at night with things he was supposed to do and didn't. He was trying to keep a list of all his activities in his rapidly failing memory bank.
One of the exercises most successful people do is to take ten minutes at the end of the work day to examine how their day went and to plan for the next day. They review what they did and what they didn’t do. They then look at tomorrow and see what is on their task list and what they need to carry over from their today's incomplete list. Having set their list of tasks they then put them in order of priority and tackle the most important ones first thing in the morning. Oh, one more thing, they make sure their priority tasks are linked to their overall goals.
This is a simple exercise but it works. It keeps us focused on the important and not on the urgent and ensures that we are marching toward our goals and objectives. It is not always easy to keep "on task" because of the numerous interruptions we have during the day, but having the task list in front of us will keep us on track.
What to do: Take ten minutes at the end of the day and look back. Complete the exercise described above and add some more ingredients like: Think about what good you did, what good you could’ve done and the things you could've avoided. Ask: Do I procrastinate on certain tasks? Why didn't I complete this task? Can I do it tomorrow? Is it a real priority? Did I serve an employee, colleague, or customer with a positive attitude? Can I do better tomorrow. Now look ahead and reset your priorities.
By the way when Boris began tracking and planning his activities he slept better, didn't need to be reminded about what he forgot, and actually produced more in a day with less stress
Want to learn more: Consider one of Priority Management's programs at: www.prioritymanagement.com ; read a good book on time management - I found David Allen's book "Getting Things Done" to be a good resource.
Revised from the Archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions.
Note: Image from Microsoft Clip Art
We have plenty of opportunity to fritter away precious time in our places of work.
We allow noisy interruptions such as someone knocking on our door and asking, "You got a minute?" to leaving the "sound" on that lets us know that an email has arrived. We also allow silent ones like having little sticky notes on our walls or on our computers and loading our virtual or physical desk top with files, folders and notes. All of these interrupters take us away from our most important priority of the moment. We get further behind and then claim we are "overloaded" with work. Perhaps we fail to realize that every time we are interrupted we lose about 8 minutes of time. Why? Because our mind needs to disengage from what we are doing, deal with the interruption, and then reengage back to the task at hand.
What to do:
Set aside quiet time to work on your most important items. Some companies have established a policy for their employees not to interrupt their colleagues for the first hour of the day. That time is set aside for them to work on their most important priorities. Failing a company policy, make an appointment with yourself. Guard it just like any other appointment and close your door or put a 'do not disturb' sign on the door or doorway, letting others know that you are busy.. When you have completed that important task you can then remove the 'do not disturb' sign and give the person the attention they deserve.
Break the multitasking myth: Many people think they are good at multitasking. The truth is, they are not. It is estimated that only 2% of the population can multitask without loss of productivity or personal energy. This suggests that for the 98% of us who think we can improve our productivity by multitasking, in reality we are reducing it. Studies show that multitasking increases mistakes, slows down productivity by as much as 40%, dampens creativity, increases stress, impacts relationships negatively (think people viewing their cell phone messages while talking to others), and can place us in very dangerous situations (think driving and texting). The answer to multitasking is to focus on one thing at a time, or at least work on similar things consecutively, e.g. pay all bills at one time, even in this case we can only pay one bill at a time
Control Cell Phone Usage. Related to multitasking is the misuse of cell phones. Cell phones give us a sense that we can do many things at once, but frankly they can be a huge distraction at work. Consider those who check their phones in meetings, text under the desk, hide their phones in files and folders during a meeting, have their phones on during meal time, maintain personal social networking while employed, and look things up on their cell phone rather than on their employer's computer because it would not be considered appropriate. Cell phones can be a great tool to affirm relationships, improve productivity and be a mini-computer in our hand; but, they also can be great time wasters and a cause for discourtesy and disrespect if we don't manage them properly. The issue here is one of self-discipline where we need to manage cell phone usage rather than allowing it to manage us.
Commit time for sleep and rest. We now know that if we are sleep deprived we can expect less productivity and more on the job accidents and mistakes. Improve both your efficiency and effectiveness by getting the appropriate amount of sleep.
Delegate but make sure you delegate appropriately. Delegate the "what" and leave the "how" to the delegatee. His or her "how" may actually improve your "how." If so, both you and the members of your team have gained. Of course if the person doesn't know "how" to do the task then coaching is necessary - yet another learning opportunity has presented itself.
Turn off the "sound" your email makes when it lands in the inbox. If you use Microsoft Outlook go to your inbox, open the tab "tools." and click options. Under email click "email options" and then click "advanced email options" and unclick "play a sound." Presto another interruption disappears.
Commit specific time for your email. Go to your email three or four times a day and at a time when you can respond to the messages. This way you can give due attention to the email rather than being interrupted by it.
Set aside time for energy breaks and physical exercise. A vehicle can't run without fuel and must have the right fuel to run. It also needs regular maintenance if it's to operate at top efficiency. So too we need proper food, fluids and physical activity if we expect to function at our best.
Learn to say "no, I don't have a minute right now." Ask how important the issue is and if its really important you may have to take the minute. However, I have found that most people who ask "got a minute?" don't have important and urgent matters that require immediate attention. Let them solve the issue themselves and have them report later on how they handled it. You can then praise them for a job well done or turn it into a learning opportunity for them.
Work on your priorities and commitments throughout the day. Before you leave the office take 10 to 15 minutes to plan for tomorrow, record your achievements, prioritize and reschedule the tasks left unfinished, and thank those that helped you succeed during the day. Then go home relaxed knowing that you have done your best. When you wake up in the morning you will have a plan of action ready rather then asking yourself that profound question: "What am I suppose to do today?"
The Learning: When we apply one or two of these strategies each week they help us to: become self-leaders through focus and self-discipline, take ownership of our responsibilities, be accountable for our actions, improve relationships, become more productive, and respect our own and each other's resource we call time.
Thanks for reading
Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC Updated from Fontanie Learning Solutions Archives
The first conundrum about time management is that we can’t manage time. We can only manage ourselves within the time that we have. Time marches on, tick by tick, without us or without our awareness. The second conundrum is that it takes discipline to manage oneself.
Self-discipline is that elusive quality that forces us to keep to task and to keep on focus. It is elusive because we often want to do something else rather than do what we know we need to do. We let our emotions take over, or do something easier than what we know we should do, or, if we are honest, we are lazy and just don’t want to do it. We give in to our weaknesses, feelings and temptations. We lose the will-power and self-restraint to keep on focus and task. This is why, with all our good intentions, we don’t do what we should do within the time that we have.
The first element in managing the time we have then is to manage our selves – to become strong-willed self managers, to become self-disciplined individuals. Once we understand that this is what keeps us on focus and task we can then put the other elements together.
In organizations, we have the big picture – the strategic intent of the organization or of the business. It is spelled out in the vision, mission, goals and values statements. From this big picture teams and individuals establish work plans with specific measurable objectives. These objectives are often called SMART objectives. They are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Trackable. The objectives are the specific “what” of what we are to accomplish. They are the major “dos” for us to do. This strategic intent gives us our focus for our work.
From big picture focus, comes work. Work is the “doing” of the objectives. It is translated into our roles and responsibilities. It finds itself in our day-to-day activities – answering telephones and emails, writing emails, inputting data on computers, meeting people, making sales calls, writing letters, documenting calls, completing specific administrative tasks to get the work done – all related to our specific roles and responsibilities. This is our daily work.
When we look at our work objectively we see that what we do is all related to building relationships with others. So, the key to our work is building relationships. However, in doing all this work we are constantly making decisions about what to do. Each time a telephone call or email comes in, or when we are asked to complete a task, or attend a meeting we make decisions about what we are going to do concerning the request, directive, or conversation.
As we make the decision, we give it a level of priority. We ask ourselves four questions: 1) Is it important and urgent? If it is important and urgent, I must do it now. We give this item an “A” priority. 2) Is it important and non-urgent? It is important but I have time to do it later. If so, this also becomes an “A” priority because it is important. 3) Is it urgent but not important? If it is urgent and not important perhaps someone else can do it. Or, if we can’t delegate it to someone, it becomes my “B” priority. I will do it when I can fit it in my day. But remember we still must complete the task. 4) Is it not-important and not urgent? If so then it is something we can delete or not do.
In the process of making these four decisions we are deciding to “Do it now,” “Do it later,” “Delegate it to someone else,” “Defer it to another time,” or Delete it altogether. Ah, the all important “Delete Button.” A button people often forget is on their key board and in their head. Use it when necessary.
When we go about our work there are things we do that are not related to a specific decision as described above. They are related to a multitude of tasks and activities. These are assigned to projects. Projects have many tasks and activities but within each task or activity we need to go through the same decision-making process. So, although a project has many tasks and activities, each one is assigned a priority as well as to when and who will carry it out.
As we go about our day, there are unscheduled interruptions – those dastardly activities that interrupt our thought processes and activities. They may be more important than the priority we are working on, or they may not be. So, we are back in the decision-making process. How important is the interruption and when should I complete it? Or, should I delete it?
The final context of managing self during work time, is the evaluation process. At the end of the day we review what we have accomplished during the day. As we accomplish a task we check it off. Those we didn’t complete because of unscheduled interruptions, we decide when we should do it. Will it be the next day or later?
When it’s time to close the day – the last ten to fifteen minutes of the work day – it’s time to plan for tomorrow. That’s when we review the day’s accomplishments, prioritize tasks for the next day and set time frames when we intend to complete them.
At week’s end or month’s end we look at all the completed items on our list and measure them against our over-all strategic intent and determine whether we are on target, what has taken us off focus and what are we going to do about it. The evaluation process is a great way to maintain focus on the big picture and making sure our work is moving towards the end in which it is intended.
Keeping self-management in relation to time in context, and following a process of decision-making, prioritizing tasks, checking off completed tasks, determining when to complete unfinished tasks and evaluating our work against our strategic intent will keep us focused, on-point and give us a sense of accomplishment. We can say not “what did I accomplish today?” but “I accomplished these things.” The result is a positive reinforcement of what we do and provides us a greater sense of self-worth.
A great program to get back into control is offered by Priority Management within its Working Sm@rt program. You can find it here.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC
When our youngest daughter, Leanne, was about 6 years old, we were just beginning to start our evening meal, when she posed this question to me: “Dad, what do you do all day?” I wondered if this was prompted by a "show and tell" project at her school and so I asked “is this something you need for school?” “No,” she replied, “I’m just interested.” Wow, my daughter is interested in what I do all day! Then I sat back and wondered how am I going to explain to our six-year-old what a management consultant, business coach and trainer does.
So, I began, “Well, Honey, I work with people who run businesses and help them plan and get organized so that they can run their businesses better.” That seemed to satisfy her for the moment and she proceeded to fill up her plate. I could see she was thinking about what I said and I wondered whether my explanation made any sense to her. I didn't have to wait too long. She continued her cross examination.
Do you go to a lot of meetings?” This was an easier question to answer, because it was a yes or no answer. “Yes,” I replied. Then came a question that needed a lot more explanation, “what do you do at your meetings?” Well now I was in my element, because this was an area where managers wasted a lot of time and our firm helped them run their meetings more efficiently. I thought maybe if I explain this right my young daughter would learn something important about how to run a meeting – even at her age. So, I explained:
"Meetings have agendas. An agenda identifies what the people in the meeting need to discuss. We let those who attend meetings know how long it should take to cover each agenda item. We then talk about each item and identify what needs to be done about it, who is going to carry it out, and when we expect it to be done."
I felt good about that answer. But Leanne wasn't finished yet: “Who attends these meetings?” She asked “Only those who need to be there; if people attend and they don’t need to be there, then they are wasting their time,” I replied. “Are you usually late for meetings?” she quizzed. “Oh no,” came my quick reply, “that’s one of the things we teach people. It's everyone’s responsibility to be on time. If I’m late and people are waiting for me I’m wasting their time, and besides it’s pretty rude because when you come into a meeting late you disrupt others."
Then, my little girl of six looked me straight in the eye, and asked: “Why are you usually late for our dinner meetings?” Dumbfounded, I looked at her mother. “I didn't put her up to this,” she said with a smile (and probably thinking "way to go girl!"). I looked at her older sister and she quickly denied any involvement, “it wasn't me.”
So, my six year old put it directly to the Management Consultant - who prided himself on helping others do the right thing and to clearly understand their priorities. In essence she said to me: “Do you have your priorities straight, Dad? Don’t you know that we are just as important, even more important than those business meetings you attend. At least, you can do is be on-time for our meetings too.”
A lesson well learned. And, something I carry with me to this day.
Questions to Answer: Are your priorities in the right place? Do you view family gatherings as important events? Do you attend them on time? Or, do you think your business is more important than your family? Remember children spell “love,” as “time.” To improve your meeting outcomes consider this program.
Author: Richard Fontanie MSW, FCMC, from the Fontanie Learning Solutions Archives.