Wednesday, 19 March 2014

It's About Time - Time Management 101

What are you putting off? It's time to do it for Anti-Procrastination Day!

 Time keeps on ticking, ticking into the Future.

Whilst St Pat’s Day was on the 17th, I’m turning green today.  That is - Green with Envy.  Yes I am envious of all those Super Mum’s who seem to have it all together-  Work, family, leisure and pleasure. Yes, I’m envious of all those people who seem to have mastered the art of creating an extra hour in every day.  I use to be one of those people.  Worked full time, studied a degree externally full time and raised my family all at the same time. Since I started to work for myself and from home I have gradually fallen into a rut where  I find myself at the end of the day wondering where all my time has gone and why have I achieved so little.    If this rings a bell with you and you want to make better use of your time then then read on.

Time is a non- renewable resource - once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.  So it’s best to make good use of it. It’s about time I started to re-apply all those great time management skills and strategies that makes every minute count.   Time management is the act or process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities. Initially, time management referred to just business or work activities, but eventually the term broadened to include personal activities as well. A time management system is a designed combination of processes, tools, techniques, and methods. (Wikipedia)

Starting Point
To determine our starting point and identify what we are already doing well and what needs tweaking we need to explore our current use or misuse of time. 

At Weight Watchers they suggest you keep a food diary for a week before you start your diet so that you can keep track of what is going into your mouth and when.  I recommend you doing a similar thing, but in this case tracking your use of time.  I was surprised at how much time I wasted watching reality TV shows, internet surging and Face-booking. How are you wasting time?

Activity: Break your day up into 30 minute intervals and record the activity performed.  Give each activity a rating of importance.  Also document how you were feeling at the time. (Thoughts, behavior, energy levels and actions are all interrelated.)  This will help you identify not only how you spent your time but also how productive you were.  It might also help pin point particular habits and mindsets. For example, my husband gets frustrated with technology and avoids tasks associated with computers while I dislike accounting related activities.

Below are four (4) major themes identified in the literature on time management. Under each theme I have listed a number of techniques and strategies.
Time is really the only capital any human being has, and the one thing he can't afford to waste.– American inventor Thomas Edison

Create an environment conducive to effectiveness

How much time do you waste in a day searching for something as simple as a pen or your eye glasses?  One key element to managing your time well is to create an environment conducive to effectively implementing your plans and executing your priorities.  A disorganized desk or office can be very distracting. When your work space or work life is disorganized, it can be difficult to think and plan clearly.  Here are a number of hints on preventing clutter:
  1.  Ensure there is a place for everything and everything in its place – no more misplaced eyeglasses.
  2. Have a filing system for both electronic documents and paper files
  3.  Don’t hoard.  Only keep what you intend to use.
  4.  Set yourself a deadline to read any professional magazines (2 weeks, for example) and be ruthless about throwing away old mags, journals and newsletters.
  5. Establish a routine for cleaning your home/office/desk
  6. Create systems. Divide material into red, yellow, blue and green plastic file folders. For example, anything that has to be done today (paperwork to be given to a client, bills to be mailed) go in the red folder. 
  7. Colour code various lists and calendars to minimize the time spent looking at them. 
  8. Enact the touch it once concept – That means each piece of paper, each activity, email or task should only have to be handled once. Realistically, twice if you have to delegate it to someone or if you need to file it for actioning later.
  9.  Have.. less.. stuff. has helped me realize that I needed to apply these organisational principles not just ot my office work but also to my home life. She has some great ideas.

Setting goals and Priorities

Time management strategies are often associated with the recommendation to set personal goals.  Goals should be tightly defined and clear.  I’m sure you have probably heard of SMART goals before. If not check out my blog Going for Gold on Goal Setting.  Goals are recorded and then broken down into an action plan (blog), which is further broken down into a simple task list. Individual tasks or goals are then allocated an importance rating with set deadlines established and priorities assigned. This process results in a plan with a task list or a schedule or calendar of activities. I recommend you regularly review your plans daily, weekly, monthly or on another planning period.
The Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule is useful prioritization method particularly in business. Pareto was a 19h century Italian economist who observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.  Further research into its applicability has shown that the 80/20 rule can be applied to many areas of our life.  One such example is that 20% of your tasks produce 80% of your results. Once you have identified the key tasks that provide the greatest returns you can ensure they take priority and becomes the focus of your efforts,  If you have to delete something from your to do list ensure it is not part of the 20% that gains you the most benefit.   
Carrying out activities around those priorities
  1.  Create Routines – One of the most successful habits we can create is developing a routine. Routines help ensure that we consistently focus on our most important things; each day, each week, each month, and each year. Daily routines are easy to create, but challenging to follow. They require discipline and repetition.  The 3 components of a successful and balanced routines are:

·         Activities that relate to your personal well being eg Schedule time for exercise and meditation
·         Activities relating to business eg e- mail management, meetings
·         Activities relating to family and friends – playing a game of soccer with the kids.
Example: My husband’s morning routine which he carries out religiously every morning except Sunday is:
6am – Dressed and ready for exercise
6.30- feeds animals (cattle, horses and chickens)
6.45 – makes breakfast and brings me coffee in bed
7.00 – Shower and dress for work
7.30 – Reads mail
8.00  - goes to office
  1.  A yearly planner, a calendar and a white boardI've found that the easiest way to organize myself is a yearly planner, a calendar and a white board. All of which are displayed in the kitchen – the hub of my home.  On the yearly planner I have all the school holidays marked out, plus long week-ends and trips away.  On the monthly calendar I mark out all the days that have specific activities with a yellow marker and on the white board I document the daily schedule and appointments.  This enables all my family to know at a glance what is happening , when and where.  The kids can make notes (Horse riding with Zoe on Friday or  Grandma called) and I can jot down things as I think of them to be added to tomorrow’s to do list. In addition I keep a dairy in my handbag so I can schedule appointments while I’m out and about without creating a conflict with other entries.  I also carry a paper to do list with me everywhere, so I can make notes at any given moment. Remember the best laid plans can get waylaid so ensure some flexibility in your schedule to reduce stress and burnout.
  2.  At the start of the day spend at least 15 minutes reviewing your schedule and plan how you are going to prepare and carry out any scheduled tasks. Writing down and making mental note of the top 3 tasks to get done for the day. If you do everything will fall into place. At the end of the day take 10 minutes to tidy your desk and scan tomorrows agenda.  
Reduction of time spent on non-priorities

  1.  Whatever electronics or paper you use, make them work for YOU not the other way around.  I have two e-mail accounts – one for personal mail and the other for work purposes. This enables me to create clear boundaries in what is important at certain points of the day.  My work account is Outlook and I only check it at the start, middle and end of the day.  I bet you’ll get a whole lot more done if you decide to check it a few times per day as opposed to every time Outlook notifies you have mail.  That goes for the Blackberry too! After all, there are so many tools, and one to fit everyone – so use what works, but make it work for you!
  2.  Try putting your cell phone/mobile on silent, but within visual range when you are working on a set task. Unless the call is urgent let it go to message bank and call back at a more convenient time
  3. When you’re at work, you should be in the zone. You are fully engaged in what you are doing. With the exception of real-life emergencies, you do not break this state. You keep at it, and you keep on working. Try to work with a s few interruptions as possible.
  4.  When you’re off work, you’re in downtime . Do your best not to think about work, or to take work calls. Really try to engage in your time off – Do something that you enjoy that will recharge your batteries and re-energise yourself
  5.  Learn to say “NO” to activities that do not contribute to achieving your goals.

Times flies and we all want more of it.  So don't let it slip by catch it in your dreams and make use of every minute.  

What dreams are you bringing into daylight.. 

Remember the past is forever with use and the future is yet to come but today is what we make of it.  Have a great day. 

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