Recently, in my work as a business coach, I was asked to give a presentation on the subject of ‘productivity and time management’.
In order to prepare for this, I polled a number of friends and colleagues on their individual work habits. Nobody I spoke to felt like they had enough time. Based on my interviews, these nine time management ‘principles’ emerged.
- Spinach first. Your mom was right. Always tackle the most difficult task on your plate first thing in the morning when your energy and concentration level is at its highest. The longer you put it off in favour of easier, lower priority matters, the bigger that mound gets (and the worse it tastes). Keep the main thing the main thing.
- Think sprint, not marathon. We are not designed to ‘park it’ at a desk for eight hours at a stretch. Short, uninterrupted bursts of concentration are the key to knocking out good work. Get a kitchen timer, or stopwatch. Set it for 45 or 60 minutes, and don’t stop until you hear the buzzer. You’d be amazed at what you can accomplish in one good uninterrupted hour.
- Be selfish. Once you have prioritised your to-do list, you must put that ahead of all others’ lists. When you are able to get your own work done, you are in a much better position to support others with their projects. But your work comes first. Always.
- Date stamp your expectation. Whenever you request a deliverable from someone, do not simply ask for it, but also inquire when you can expect to receive it. Things tend to happen much faster when there is an explicit deadline.
- Touch it once. With the never-ending onslaught of email, it’s crucial that you have a good filing system in place. My rule is ‘read it once’ – then decide what to do with the information, then do it.
- Group like items. Organise your week into specific days for similar tasks with allotted timeframes. For example, on Mondays and Wednesdays, focus on face time – like seeing to clients or making sales. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, reserve the time for writing, emailing or working on strategy. Friday morning is for overflow, and Friday afternoon is free.
- Face time saves time. Don’t try to figure out what someone meant in a confusing email; go straight to the source and ask. This saves on time, energy and mistakes.
- Delegate. Learn to delegate more of the work. When you actually do this, you’ll notice how your role and work output will transition to the next level.
- Track it. If you can’t figure out where the week went, it’s time to take a closer look at it. Track your time hour-by-hour for one week: everything that you’re doing from the time you get up until you go to bed. This is sobering! You’ll likely see where the holes in your calendar are and may need to rearrange your life accordingly.