One of the key things that everyone struggles with is Time Management, whether they are C-Suite (I actually hate that phrase) or a junior executive. It’s also even more prevalent if you are the owner of a Start-up where you can end up being responsible for everything from toilet rolls to long-term business strategy. Even if you are the owner of a thriving SME with a team, you’ll still end up with a long, long ‘To Do’ list that never seems to get shorter, but only seems to grow longer. So what is the answer for effective Time Management?
The truth is there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone when it comes to Time Management. If you Google ‘Time Management’ (don’t do this, you’ll just waste your time…) you will see that there are a huge number of different systems and mnemonics to help with your Time Management.
There is however one simple goal for whatever Time Management system it is that you use, and that is to ensure that you are delivering maximum value-add with your time. And the best way to ensure that your are maximising the value you add to a business is to ensure that you are working in a prioritised order. However you set that prioritisation – it doesn’t matter how you get to that prioritisation order – you do need to be doing so.
Here are 10 issues, in no particular order, that affect the amount of time that we actually have in our working days to manage, before we even get to prioritising our workload;
I recently listened to a podcast (Peter Sumpton’s Marketing Study Lab) where the guest, a Time Management specialist, said that every time we are interrupted it takes, on average, 23 minutes to get back to the task we were interrupted from. Now that is frankly shocking!
Those disturbances might be phone calls, people, emails, social media alerts, anything….. Think about the amount of time that is wasted like this. A solution? Why not try to make a point of pro-actively removing, or limiting, those interruptions from your day. Perhaps put your phone in a different room, or at least on silent? I have a contact who states on his email signature that he will only check email at certain times of the day. Time block some of those disturbances? Perhaps a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your office door or desk?
2) Nothing is THAT urgent
Because of the 24/7 connected society that we now live in, it seems everything needs to be done NOW, or responded to NOW. Anyone with children will recognise the ‘but I must reply immediately’ panic should a nano-second pass before that Snapchat isn’t replied to.
Unfortunately, this almost expected immediacy for everything has permeated the work environment, and we are all guilty of it. In many scenarios I recommend that you ask ‘Is it really THAT urgent?’ Chances are that, unless life and limb are at stake, it probably isn’t. If you work on recognising that most tasks are not ‘that’ urgent, you will free yourself up to be able to manage your available time much better. Remember, you wouldn’t email the Fire Brigade…..
3) Just say No
To those of a certain age, this takes us back to Zammo, ‘Roww-land’ and the rest of the Grange Hill gang, but whilst what we’re rejecting is different, the message is the same. Whether it be one of those ‘could you just….’ tasks or someone palming off their work to you, or indeed a client or offer of work that you really don’t want, saying ‘No’ is a hugely powerful way of managing, and OWNING, your time.
Naturally, as humans, we want to please and the overwhelming natural desire is to say ‘Yes, of course’, to any task thrown at us. However, you will be amazed at the power of saying ‘No’ to stuff. It frees you up to do all those things that you should be doing, and thus using your time productively. Saying ‘No’ was a skill that I learnt late in my career, but it is so amazing that I wish I’d started doing it much earlier. And don’t worry, despite human nature, saying ‘No’ doesn’t upset people as much as you’d imagine.
Getting tasks off your ‘To Do’ list and onto someone else’s is a great Time Management tool. However, there is a great skill to doing this properly; delegation is not just about dumping your unwanted work onto some other unfortunate, usually more junior, soul. Delegate very specifically, clearly and carefully is all I will say at this point in time.
5) Clear Roles & Responsibilities
Depending on what you are responsible for delivering in your role, you need to ensure that the tasks you have on your ‘To Do’ list are indeed your responsibility. That’s not to say a negative attitude of ‘that’s not my job – I’m not doing that’ but conversely, you need to ensure you are focused on the tasks you are responsible for and will therefore be evaluated on. It’s where you add most value. Unless you have clear roles and responsibilities you cannot really prioritise your tasks.
In addition, without each member of the team having clear roles and responsibilities, then tasks may well fall through the cracks and may not ever get done or simply be missed. Unclear, or missing, roles and responsibilities in an organisation simply lead to confusion and, inevitably, problems.
6) You own your own diary
What do I mean by this? How many times has someone said to you something like ‘the meeting is at 10.00 tomorrow’ or ‘two of us are free on Tuesday so that’s when the meeting is’….. and this doesn’t fit with your work schedule, and subsequently ruins how you had planned to use your time. You own your diary and you are well within your rights to say ‘I’m sorry I’m not free at that time’. In an ideal world you would also offer alternatives that ARE convenient for you.
You will be surprised how easy it is for other people to re-arrange to fit in a time that is convenient for everyone involved, not just the person arranging a meeting/event to fit only themselves. If you’re attendance is really needed at that meeting, then it will be moved. Do not be afraid to push back on people who are messing up your well-prepared work schedule.
7) Deadlines are usually movable
I learnt this lesson the hard way many years ago. A client needed some leaflets delivering on a date that he set, which meant we had to rush to deliver them. Inevitably, due to the rushed deadline they arrived with errors, although we did deliver on time. The client rejected them and asked us to reprint and re-deliver the next week, which we did, with seemingly no issues regarding timings.
You will often find that deadlines have been created arbitrarily, usually to fit a person’s own schedule (that’s schedule, not deadline) and rush jobs are normally the result of other people’s poor Time Management. When someone issues you with a deadline, query it; ‘Does it have to be on that date/time?’ Why is it required then?’ ‘If I deliver on this (alternative) date would this still be OK?’ Or, see previously, just say ‘No’.
Of course, some things really are fixed deadlines, but work on identifying what are and what are not real, hard deadlines. With realistic, and true, deadlines you have the flexibility to complete the task within your own timelines, and more importantly within your time plan.
8) Does your company culture steal time?
Do your company’s meetings always start late? Do people chat amongst themselves for a few minutes before you start the meeting? Do you HAVE TO be at that meeting? Are meetings simply a waste of time, or simply totally unnecessary? All of these things may steal time from you, leaving you less time to complete your important tasks. If your company culture does indeed steal, and waste, time make a point of perhaps raising the issue, and offering a solution. At our company I put up a clock on our meeting room wall. Anyone not in the meeting when it started (on time) had the ignominy of entering the room with the meeting in full flow….. this focused everyone’s minds on being on time. And in addition, meetings finished on time, rather than dragging on indefinitely.
Who me????? Do you yourself actually contribute to your own Time Management issues? Are you a procrastinator? Do you put things off that you know you ‘should’ be doing but keep shuffling around like some cold broccoli on an empty dinner plate? Those hilarious cats on Facebook that you ‘have to’ watch….. ‘just checking’ Twitter to see what news you may have missed (since the last time you checked)…. I’ll just make a brew first…… and on and on and on. We’re all guilty of this to some degree or other, but if you are at least aware of your procrastination and recognise it, you can do something about it…… or maybe do something about it later……..
10) Get prepared for the task in hand
So you’ve turned off your notifications, set a time allowance for a task and are about to sit down in the peace and quiet to get going….. Do you fully understand the brief? Have you got all the tools to hand? It’s a huge time waster, and motivation killer, to false start on a task. If you don’t have all the facts to hand, all the tools in place, a full understanding of what’s required you will simply waste time, having set up to start, to then have to stop and pull together all of the elements that you require. Use the 6 Ps……. ‘Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance’. With everything in place before you start your task you’ll avoid wasting your valuable time.
About the Author
Phil Fraser is a Business Sounding Board; A pair of ears and an extra pair of eyes for owners of SMEs to help clarify them their business thinking. Working with Phil allows clients the space, freedom and time to talk about their business, to discuss the challenges and opportunities they face and to 'download' their issues.
Phil Fraser - Business Sounding Board