Stop blaming time – as in “I’d like to do it, but I didn’t have the time”. What we really mean is: “it wasn’t enough of a priority for me just then”. So all time management is really priority management. We all have the same amount of time – 24/7/365. It’s what we do with it that counts. At work, a lot of our time is owned by other people. But whatever is left, is owned by us. It’s then a question of priorities.
When deciding your priorities, consider the opportunity cost of whatever you might do. Because in doing A, you then deny yourself the opportunity of doing B, or C, at the same time. So the cost of doing A is the opportunity lost to do B or C. So staying late to finish a report has the opportunity cost of taking your child to the park, for example. The benefit of your decision (A) should at least be equivalent to the benefit you are giving up by not doing B, or C. Using this approach helps you be clearer about spending your time on what really matters….
Most of us have to deal with interruptions most days. And we tend to see them as negative. But in fact, many – maybe most – of our interruptions are what we are there for – they are a core part of our job. People come to see us for information, for guidance, for support, or to keep us in the loop – all of which are important. So to get away from the negative perspective produced by the word ‘interruption’, use the words ‘service enquiry’ instead – ie most interruptions are in fact service enquiries.
Then assess/estimate (or keep a log for a fortnight) how much of your day is taken up with these legitimate interruptions. Then make a ‘time budget’ allowance for this. You are then likely to be more realistic about what is achievable in the day, as well as feeling less pressured when you are ‘interrupted’.
Think of your current workload as a bucket, full to the brim with water – that’s your current workload. You are full – there is no extra capacity. Then imagine new work, or extra demands, coming in, as a brick about to be dropped into that bucket.
What happens? Clearly there will be a splash – ie water will be displaced by the brick. It’s your job to either say no to the brick (ie prevent splash), or choose what splashes over the side – ie what you stop doing, or doing to a certain level, to make room for the incoming work. You can either manage the splash yourself, or ask your manager to decide.
If you say yes to the brick, and you don’t want any splash – you are effectively building a bigger bucket….(and people will continue to lob bricks in, since it seems you always are able to absorb the extra demand…..)
When you get information in hard copy form, on paper, put the date you next need to see this information in the top corner. Then file the paper in your ‘pending’ file, in date order. Then each day, take work with that day’s date on it, and work on it. That way, your pending work will always bring itself to the top of your file. If your information is largely in electronic form, then use the outlook calendar to ‘book’ the bring forward date, and every day check what’s in the diary to bring forward.
Instead of ‘it didn’t work’, remove the ‘t’ of ‘it’ and see if it makes any difference (ie ‘I didn’t work – at it!’). Whenever we say ‘it’ instead of ‘I’, we are likely to blame ‘it’, rather than take responsibility for the action and result. For example: the meeting didn’t work, might be better expressed as ‘I didn’t work well enough at the meeting’. Or ‘the training didn’t work’ might also mean ‘I didn ‘t do enough with the training received’. Replacing ‘it’ with ‘I’ alerts you to the possibility of personal responsibility, rather than blame…
Urgent and important travel different paths. If something is urgent, it doesn’t mean it is automatically important. And what we say is important is often not urgent. It’s worth seeing urgent and important as two separate conveyor belts, each delivering their own results. Unfortunately being on one belt may take you away from the other. If you are driven by ‘urgent’, you may never get on the conveyor belt of important – unless important happens to become urgent – but then see the next point.
If you prioritise by urgent:
What does ‘urgent’ mean? Suppose you return to your desk to find 6 post its, all with a requirement to ‘phone X, or Y or Z – urgent’. You still have no idea what it’s about, and what time is meant by ‘urgent’ (or asap). ‘Urgent’ really means ‘time critical’ – ie it’s imminent. There is a fast-approaching deadline. In – which – case, they should be able to tell you when that is. If you give someone the actual deadline, rather than the indiscriminate ‘urgent/asap’, then there is more chance they will meet it, because they have specific factual information. If the deadline is 3pm today, you are more likely to get a response in time if you say ‘can I please have this by 3pm today?’, than if you simply say ‘it’s urgent’. Going back to the 6 post its on the table, it’s really a lottery who gets the call back first. The decision will probably be made by guesswork, or whose name is on the post it, but not by imminence of deadline – since that wasn’t on the post it! So – if you want people to respond by a particular time or date, say what it is – there is no further need to use the terms urgent/asap.
By the same token, challenge others’ use of urgent/asap, and ask for the specific deadline. “Of course I can do that – when would you like it by, specifically?”
If I asked you to write a report, and hand it in two weeks today, how long would you have to write it? If you said ‘two weeks’, you’d probably be wrong. This would assume you had nothing else to do within the two weeks (unlikely). The deadline simply gives the point at which the task should be completed – not how long it should take (duration). Yet it is duration that, by and large, determines quality. Other things being equal (such as talent and effort) most tasks improve the longer you spend on them. The report mentioned is likely to be better if two hours are spent on it rather than two minutes – yet two people could each meet the same deadline, whether they had spent two minutes or two hours. So in giving out (or receiving) tasks, include a budget estimate of time to be spent, as well as the deadline. This will give the individual and their manager an idea of how much time will be given to that task, and thus, realistically, how much of the rest of that person’s time is still available for other tasks. Whether a manager or a team member, which would you prefer: 6 tasks with the same deadline of 1 week from now, or 6 tasks with the same deadline of 1 week from now, and an idea of how long each task should take?