“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
Time management is in fact a misnomer. We all have the same 24 hours in a day; some people simply get more done in their work time than others. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? It is probably because they are more effective in the way they manage themselves over the course of the day. Good time management is simply being effective in how you manage yourself personally, which involves you planning carefully and then correctly focusing your efforts on relevant activities: the outcome is that you will increase your effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.
Like all new skills, it takes time to learn – which in itself is quite ironic. But by setting aside some learning time, you will become more adept at managing yourself and others you work with. Remember, learning is a process; whilst there are some easy quick wins, generally results are not instantaneous. By taking a marginal gains approach and making small and regular changes to the things you do, the effects of your new behaviours will gradually become self-evident, so that will achieve more on a day to day basis, and improve your overall wellbeing as a consequence.
A bench mark approach of where to start in this topic is time management matrix, first quoted by Dwight D. Eisenhower, and then used by Stephen Covey in his ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, which is an effective method of organising your priorities. The ‘Urgent and Important’ matrix is shown below.
URGENTNOT URGENTIMPORTANTQuadrant I: Urgent & ImportantQuadrant II: Not Urgent & ImportantNOT
Quadrant III: Urgent & Not ImportantQuadrant IV: Not Urgent & Not Important
Quadrant I is for the immediate and important deadlines.
Quadrant II is for longer-term strategies, projects and development.
Quadrant III is for time pressured distractions. They are not really important, but someone else wants it now.
Quadrant IV is for those activities that are of little value. These are activities that are often used for taking a break from time pressured and important activities, such as social media, and online games.
If people sit down and monitor their workload, many find that most of their activities fall into quadrant I and III. Quadrant II is often under used. Yet, Quadrant II is exceptionally important because people who work effectively manage tactical and strategical issues at the same time: they manage the now and also keep an eye on what is coming up soon in the near future. Finding ways to expand Quadrant II activities is a common outcome from using this grid; the result is you will spend less time working on urgent and important activities since you will manage to stay one or two steps ahead.
There is no doubt that understanding the time management matrix goes a long way to ensuring that more gets done on a day to day basis; sometimes we need additional structure on how to manage the little things that prevent us from actually implementing the ideas. As a subject it is an integral part of the RESOLVE model and approach. The concept of contracting at the start of the meeting ensures that meetings do not go on endlessly round and round in circles – it provides for a pause for reflection, and an agreed return to the process. In addition, a lack of productivity, often a subject within a difficult conversation, is often down to the subject having never been learned by the person concerned: often an assumed competence.
Top Tips for getting work completed on time.
Self Knowledge: Know yourself. Are you an owl or a lark? All of us have times of day when we produce our best work. It’s best to schedule the important and difficult tasks for these periods of time.
Manage procrastination more effectively: Accept the fact that you are likely to address some tasks more readily than others. Procrastination always comes up on time management courses: the key issue is to understand why you chose to defer some tasks in favour of others, or in some cases not all, and to use this understanding to devise a more effectively strategy to getting these types of tasks done. The reality is that there are clearly identifiable reasons why some tasks remain undone by the end of the day:
Some tasks are out of your comfort zone because you probably don’t really understand how to do them – so ask for help from a supportive colleague.
Some tasks are just unpleasant, they are not really enjoyable but are part of your responsibility. Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worse things that is going to happen to you all day long. Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. So, schedule that in first.
Some tasks are daunting by their very size and nature, so if you tend towards only doing tasks you know you can do well, and won’t fail at, you are likely to constantly put them on the back burner for a while. The solution is to simply start the task: spend 5 minutes on identifying what needs to be done (which is different from actually doing it). This will help you break it down in to small easier achievable parts and you will become clearer about the larger more challenging ones. Going through this process will help you identify where your strengths lie, which parts you can tackle by yourself, and which ones may need the support of others.
Some tasks do actually need thinking about, so putting them off can be useful. The solution lies in being structured about your thinking time. Set a task to exactly this, by asking key questions such as: How important is this to me now, what will success look like, which parts can I do myself, who else needs to be involved, who else is accountable for the outcome, what are the different parts to the problem and what is a logical order to tackle them, and what is a realistic timescale for it to be completed?
Personal Organisation: As we move towards a totally digitised world, many people still prefer, or have the need to handle paper. There is an ongoing discussion about whether a clear desk is desirable or not: some advocate a tidy desk represents a tidy mind, where for others, a messy desk demonstrates an active thinking and creative mind. The challenging question to ask is how well your desk reflects the way you work? If you have never thought about this, notice how much time you spend looking for things and organising piles of documents. If you are awash with paper, consider rationalising what you actually need to keep (and needs to be actioned), what might be useful give to someone else, and what simply needs to be placed in the recycling bin.
A process for keeping track of what to do: Many people keep ‘to do’ lists, of which few succeed in getting through it on a day to day basis. Re think about how you structure and manage this list in terms of the important and urgent criteria. If you are of a certain age, you might be slightly resistant to using a more contemporary method such as an app on your Smart phone. The reality is that many really do make a difference, so put some time aside to research which ones are best: there are many out there. Trello, Asana, Evernote and Slack are some of the many choices available to you; investigate which one best suits your work style.
Delegation: Be honest, are you doing other peoples’ work? A reframe of the classic ‘delegation’ belief that no one wants to do more work, is “I am holding back people from developing and reaching their full potential”. The key issue is to remember that delegation is a process, where the time demands are front loaded, but the end result pays great dividends. Invest in following the incremental route: be patient and build the person’s knowledge and skill of the task before you hand it over.
Stay Calm and Keep Things in Perspective: It is inevitable that on occasions your plans, your delegated work, your careful management of your diary, your successful early morning or late night routines will go wrong, and things won’t get done when and how you want them to.
We increasingly understand the effects of stress on both our physical and emotional state; as a consequence, an important part of our personal effectiveness skills is to have a self management routine that ensures we are able to keep ourselves grounded, calm, focused, and are able to put the current short term lack of success into perspective.
“Why have I failed again to complete my ‘to do’ list” can be reframed into “what is the next slot in my diary to tackle this important task and how can I safeguard the opportunity?”