In my community forum, a member asked the rhetorical question, “How do you manage your time?” to the group. The member then shared the common refrain, “I haven’t found a system that works for me,” despite being approached by vendors with solutions regularly.
He is not alone. I won’t pretend that I have the answer(s) that work for everyone, but I do have a few things that have proven to work for me. They are not in the rocket scientist tool kit, but they are practical and have been time-tested. In no order:
- Limit your focus on “news” each day. By this I mean let go of the idea that you need the news crawler on in the background all day. You are awash in “news and information” already. You need to think about what you are consciously doing to filter out the extraneous noise in your day. The continuous flow of news is something you can manage.
- Get rid of lists. Making a list can be a great exercise just to get your head clear and to go through the exercise of getting it all out of your brain. The list needs to immediately shift to action items. Action items belong on a calendar, either yours or someone else’s. They do not belong on a list you carry around.
- Schedule actions on a calendar. This assigns actions a place in time they will be dealt with. Some actions may warrant multiple blocks of time, they may be recurring, or they may be delegated to others. If you are delegating, put a calendar entry for the follow-up. If you are working with a group, consider a common calendar with permissions and color coding. It’s a simple way to let everyone see what the actions are for you and the team.
- When actions come due on the scheduled date, they must be completed or appropriately rescheduled. They cannot be skipped over. Think scheduled maintenance – you can defer it with good reason, but you don’t skip it.
- Do the difficult things first, and limit the time you spend on them. Rather than procrastinate on that task you dislike, set a short amount of time to spend on it. This could be 15 minutes or 45 minutes. If you spend more than an hour grinding on an action item you hate, it will take you a lot longer to complete than it needs to. Set a timer. If the task is not complete within that short amount of time, schedule another burst of time to pick it up again.
- Don’t try to do multiple things at once. The ability to have “eleven-teen” (hat tip to General Newbold) windows open on your computer can be a curse. Focus on the single task at a time. Completing singular tasks within short amounts of allotted time will keep you fresh, and you will complete a lot more each day. Multitasking is for “one-man bands,” not busy executives.
- Don’t confuse being busy with productivity. Does your calendar reflect action items that connect to meaningful outcomes such as near-, mid-, and long-term goals? If they don’t, why are they on your calendar? Linking activity to performance to outcomes is easy to lose sight of. Scrutinize your business and see if it’s productive or not. Ending the day with little to show means you have an issue with this one.
We can all stand to periodically step back and see how in- or out-of-balance our “activities” might be. It’s not about being active and busy. It’s about being productive in support of profitability. If you’ve got these wired, good for you. Someone on your team could likely use your counsel. Who are they?
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