Time management is one of the most frequently lamented management skills and in reality we are not able to manage time, as we always get 24 hours in a day, but we can manage ourselves. Self management tends to be about our attitudes and mindset more than the physical workload in many cases.
But you don’t know how much I have to do I hear you say! No I don’t. But have you spoken to your boss? Have you rationally pointed out that whilst you are more than happy to take on that additional task, then another may suffer? Have you said no when someone has asked you for yet another favour? You haven’t? Then it’s not time management that’s the issue, its assertiveness skills. When I ask people about whether they have said no, they reply – but I can’t, what will my boss think of me? You don’t understand I have no choice, it will be held against me! But in life there is always a choice, though the choices may not be the ones you wanted. You can say no, you can point out your workload rationally to your boss and in many cases it’s not the fact that people point these things out to bosses that causes issues, its how they do it. They either go in all guns blazing and get the other person’s hackles up or they go in with a ‘poor me – look at what you are doing to me’ attitude and that turns the other person cold.
However for those of us with whom it’s just a lack of personal organisation, there are many tips that you can use. Stephen Covey in his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ talks about the four quadrants of time in terms of how we prioritise and manage our workload. Do we spend our time in quadrant 4 ‘Not Urgent and Not Important’ – therefore frittering our time away in nonsense? Do we spend our time in quadrant 3 ‘Urgent but Not Important’ and that can be things like other people’s priorities or spending all our time on e mails or answering unimportant phone calls, therefore we are deceiving ourselves that we are busy but getting nowhere near our goals. Are we spending most of our time in quadrant 1 ‘Urgent and Important’ whereby we are frequently fighting fires? Things happen, emergencies happen, but if we are not planning and sticking to that plan and leaving things to the very last minute, so that they become urgent, then we are living in a high stress environment. Therefore we will not be operating at full efficiency, as we cannot be working at that heightened level all day, every day. Some people deceive themselves by saying ‘I work better under pressure therefore I leave it’, when in reality its poor motivation and organisation beforehand. Or are you working in quadrant 2 which Covey calls ‘Not Urgent but Important’, whereby you are spending time working on the important things that help you achieve your goals but you have pre planned them and are sticking to that plan, therefore they are not urgent at that time. This gives us perspective and space to do good work so that when the emergency does come, it’s ok for you to leave the other things and deal with the emergency with a clear head.
Some good tips for personal organisation are
- Identify your priorities; what are the things that are most important to you. Ask yourself, if I didn’t do this what would happen? If the answer is nothing, dump it!
- Plan your time in advance, make sure that whatever paper diary or electronic diary you use that you are able to see a week in advance. The Friday before each week review your diary and plan your workload in terms of what has be to complete that week but also anything beyond that. Schedule your week and make it realistic.
- Each evening review your next day’s work load
- Plan time to plan – put planning time when you undertake your future priorities in the diary – block it out and don’t deviate from it! Many of us are always moving this future urgent priority purely because it is not urgent and its usually for other people priorities. But we forget that perspective and quality are as important as mere deliver
- Give yourself slots in the day when you can answer e mails – maybe first thing in the morning and last thing at night; do not be tempted to answer every e mail as it comes in. That is the thief of time and if people catch on that you respond immediately all the time, they will have an expectation that you will do that and become irritated when you don’t.
- Make lists, but close lists, close the list every week and make a new one. The ongoing continuing list will eventually get you down as you will feel you are never getting to the bottom.
It’s funny how although it may be stressful on that last day, most of us manage to get everything done just before we go off on annual leave. Why? Because we generally in that last week, identify our priorities and plan when we will complete them. If we did that on an ongoing basis we would be so stressed on that last day before a holiday or through the year.
Time management is mainly about attitude and beliefs and once we understand that our behaviour is linked to attitudes and beliefs it makes our own personal organisation much easier