As managers, we live in a fast-paced world, filled with seemingly infinite, competing tasks, and at times we can feel completely overwhelmed. What do we choose to concentrate our efforts on? How many of those tasks can we realistically keep saying “yes” to? Is saying “no” career-limiting? When we do tackle them, how should we handle unexpected interruptions?
When responding to this situation, many of us try to cram more into twenty-four hours than is humanly possible and get so caught up in urgent demands that we never make progress with what is most important. The problem with never tackling the ‘important’ tasks is that they eventually become ‘urgent’, resulting in a constant cycle of fire-fighting. And when you’re constantly fire-fighting, sooner or later you’re going to get burned.
It’s highly likely that, over the course of your career, you’ll have learned some techniques to improve your management of that most precious resource: time. But do you find yourself slipping back sometimes into bad habits? In this article, we will remind you of a few proven techniques for managing your time and show you how to:
- Be realistic in planning what you can achieve in a given day.
- Expect the unexpected, but stay on track to ensure the right things get done.
- Connect what you manage to complete each day to ‘big picture’ goals, to build a genuine sense of job satisfaction.
- Create the potential for a happier work/life balance.
Firstly, take a moment to reflect on your ‘normal’ working day and answer the following questions:
- I always find time to …?
- I never procrastinate about ….?
- I find deadlines easiest to meet when …?
- I delegate the following …?
When not working
- I never find time to ….?
- I spend way too much time on ….?
- I find it hard to say ‘no’ to ….?
- I always underestimate how long ….?
What did you discover? Are there any common themes?
It’s a fair bet that one of the biggest challenges you face in getting the most from your time at work is how to manage the time bandits. These are distractions that sabotage your day, gnaw at your ability to concentrate and steal hours every day. There are internal eaters such as perfectionism and procrastination; and external eaters, usually interruptions such as e-mails, calls and unexpected “have you got a sec?”.
Let’s be honest. It’s unrealistic to expect that you can eliminate all these eaters – what counts is how you deal with them in the moment and how you then get back in control of your day. However, first you need to prioritise.
Every day you face a myriad of choices about your daily ‘to-dos’. Things you have to do, stuff you’d like to do and jobs other people ask you to do. It’s easy to dive in at the top of the list, endeavour to work your way to the bottom in chronological order and then wonder why you are still left fighting deadlines and feeling overwhelmed. By prioritising tasks using a simple classification system, you can focus more on what is the most important task that needs your attention rather than giving in to urgency:
Delete – delay – diminish – delegate
You will find it helpful to sketch out a schedule of your tasks, then apply these 4 Ds of time management to each one.
Here are some additional tips to deal with the most common management time bandits.
- Each day, prioritise your tasks.
- Work through them one at a time, in order of priority. Set daily targets and when they’re completed, tick them off your list. It sounds petty, but that simple tick can provide a real sense of achievement.
- Show some faith in your team and delegate. Give them something important to work on. The likelihood is they’ll be motivated by your display of trust and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results!
- E-mails – set up your automatic e-mail filters, so that incoming mails are routed appropriately. Read e-mails that you have been copied into ‘FYI’ last.
- Meetings – start at the agreed meeting time, always have an agenda and stick to it. If a topic goes off track, defer the conversation to another time.
- Calls – manage incoming calls: voicemail was invented for a very good reason.
- Requests – just say “no”, assertively but positively. Offer alternatives – “I can’t just now, however what I can do is …”.
Think about your most common time bandits. How could you deal with them differently?