If success depends on effective action, effective action depends on the ability to focus your attention where it is needed most, when it is needed most. This is the ability to separate the important from the unimportant, which is a much-needed skill in all walks of life, especially where there are ever-increasing opportunities and distractions.
First, let’s talk a little about ‘time’: There are two types of time, clock time and real-time. In clock time, there are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. All time passes equally. In real-time, all time is relative. Time flies or drags depending on what you’re doing. Time management systems often don’t work because they are designed to manage clock time. You live in real-time. The good news is that real-time is mental. You create it. Anything you create, you can manage.
There are three ways to spend time:
Regardless of the type of business you are in, your work will be composed of those three items. Follow these steps to see where you are currently losing your time, and develop ways to reclaim that lost time and be more productive:
- Record your thoughts, conversations and activities for a week. Write down EVERYTHING
This will help you understand how much you can get done during the course of a day and where your time is going. You’ll see how much time is actually spent producing results and how much time is wasted on unproductive thoughts, conversations and actions.
- Any activity or conversation that’s important to your success should have a time assigned to it.
Use a calendar, and schedule appointments with yourself for high-priority thoughts, conversations, and actions. Schedule when they will begin and end. Have the discipline to keep these appointments.
- Plan to spend at least 50 percent of your time engaged in the thoughts, activities and conversations that produce most of your results.
- Schedule time for interruptions.
Plan time to be pulled away from what you’re doing.
- Take the first 30 minutes of every day to plan your day.
Don’t start your day until you complete your time plan. The most important time of your day is the time you schedule to schedule time.
- Take a few minutes before every task to decide what result you want
This will help you know what success looks like before you start. And it will also slow time down. Take a few minutes after each activity to determine whether your desired result was achieved. If not, what was missing? How do you put what’s missing in your next activity?
- Put up a “Do not disturb” sign when you absolutely have to get work done.
- Practice not answering the phone just because it’s ringing and e-mails just because they show up.
Disconnect instant messaging. Don’t instantly give people your attention unless it’s absolutely crucial in your business to offer an immediate human response. Instead, schedule a time to answer email and return phone calls.
- Block out other distractions like Facebook and other forms of social media unless you use these tools to generate business.
- Remember that it’s impossible to get everything done.
Also remember that odds are good that 20 percent of your thoughts, conversations and activities produce 80 percent of your results.
10 Common Time Management Mistakes
When we manage our time well we’re exceptionally productive, and our stress levels drop. We can devote time to the interesting, high-reward projects that can make a real difference to a career. We’re happier!
Failing to Keep a To-Do List
Do you ever have that nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten to do an important piece of work? If so, you probably don’t use a To-Do List to keep on top of things. (Or, if you do, you might not be using it effectively). The trick with using To-Do Lists effectively lies in prioritizing the tasks on your list. If you have large projects on your list, then, unless you’re careful, the entries for these can be vague and ineffective. For instance, you may have written “Start on budget proposal.” But what does this entail? The lack of specifics here might cause you to procrastinate, or miss key steps. So make sure that you break large tasks or projects down into specific, actionable steps – then you won’t overlook something important.
Not Setting Personal Goals
Do you know where you’d like to be in six months? What about this time next year, or even 10 years from now? If not, it’s time to set some personal goals. Personal goal setting is essential to managing your time well, because goals give you a destination and vision to work toward. When you know where you want to go, you can manage your priorities, time, and resources to get there. Goals also help you decide what’s worth spending your time on, and what’s just a distraction.
Sometimes, it’s hard to know how to prioritize, especially when you’re facing a flood of seemingly urgent tasks. However, it’s essential to learn how to prioritize tasks effectively if you want to manage your time better. One tool that will help you prioritize effectively is the Urgent/Important Matrix. It can help you understand the difference between urgent activities, and important activities. Overcome the tendency to focus on the urgent. The Action Priority Matrix is another useful tool, which will help you decide if a task is high-yield and high-priority, or low-value, “fill in” work. You’ll manage your time much better during the day if you know the difference.
Failing to Manage Distractions
Whether they come from emails, IM chats, colleagues in a crisis, or phone calls from clients, distractions prevent us from achieving flow, which is the satisfying and seemingly effortless work that we do when we’re 100 percent engaged in a task. If you want to gain control of your day and do your best work, it’s vital to know how to minimize distractions and manage interruptions effectively. For instance, turn off your IM chat when you need to focus, and let people know if they’re distracting you too often.
Procrastination occurs when you put off tasks that you should be focusing on now. When you procrastinate, you feel guilty that you haven’t started; you come to dread doing the task; and, eventually, everything catches up with you when you fail to complete the work on time. One useful strategy is to tell yourself that you’re only going to work on a project for ten minutes. Often, those who procrastinate feel that they have to complete a task from start to finish, and this high expectation makes them feel overwhelmed and anxious. Instead, focus on devoting a small amount of time to starting. You might also find it helpful to use Action Plans. These help you break large projects down into manageable steps, so that it’s easy to see everything that you need to get done, and so that you can complete small chunks at a time. Doing this can stop you from feeling overwhelmed at the start of a new project.
Taking on too Much
Many of us have a hard time saying “no” to people, and then end up with far too many projects and commitments, leading to poor performance, stress, and low morale. Or, you might be a micromanager and insist on controlling or doing all the work yourself, because you feel you can’t trust anyone else to do it correctly.
Either way, taking on too much is a poor use of your time, and it can get you a reputation for producing rushed, sloppy work.
Learning how, and when, to say “no” is the only way to avoid this pitfall.
Thriving on “Busy”
Some people get a rush from being busy. The narrowly met deadlines, the endless emails, the piles of files needing attention on the desk, the frantic race to the meeting… What an adrenaline rush…The problem is that an “addiction to busyness” rarely means that you’re effective, and significantly increases stress. Instead, try to slow down, and learn to manage your time better.
Focus on one task at a time. You’ll produce higher quality work, and can finish the task faster, getting you on the next on the to-do list. Multitasking may give you the feeling that you are getting more done in the same time, but what you are really doing is causing the tasks you are working on to take longer overall.
Not Taking Breaks
It’s nice to think that you can work for 8-10 hours straight, especially when you’re working to a deadline. But it’s impossible for anyone to focus and produce really high-quality work without giving their brains some time to rest and recharge. Don’t dismiss breaks as “wasting time.” They provide valuable down-time, which will enable you to think creatively and work effectively. If it’s hard for you to stop working, then schedule breaks for yourself, or set an alarm as a reminder. Go for a quick walk, grab a cup of coffee, or just sit and meditate at your desk. Try to take a five-minute break every hour or two. And make sure that you give yourself ample time for lunch – you won’t produce top quality work if you’re hungry.
Ineffectively Scheduling Tasks
All of us have different times of day when we feel most productive and energetic. You can make best use of your time by scheduling high-value work during your peak time, and low-energy work (like returning phone calls and checking email), during your “down” time.
One of the most effective ways of improving your productivity is to recognize and rectify time management mistakes.
At a simple level, you can prioritize based on time constraints, on the potential profitability or benefit of the task you’re facing, or on the pressure you’re under to complete a job:
- Prioritization based on project value or profitability is probably the most commonly used and rational basis for prioritization. Whether this is based on a subjective guess at value or a advanced financial evaluation, it often gives the most efficient results.
- Time constraints are important where other people are depending on you to complete a task, and particularly where this task is on the critical path of an important project. Here, a small amount of your own effort can go a very long way.
- Pressure would be coming from clients or management to have results by a specific time.
To combat feelings of being overwhelmed, break down your goal into smaller ‘do-able’ activities:
- Start with a clear vision.
- Break the vision down into spokes or slices.
- Develop a group of activities to carry out each spoke/slice.
- List no more than six activities that directly relate to a spoke/slice.
- For maximum result, make the list the night before.
- Block out at least one hour for these activities. Turn off your BlackBerry and avoid checking e-mail during that time.
- Roll unfinished business to the next day, and do that first.
Do you have any suggestions for how to prioritize or better manage time? Share them in the comments!