I am often asked to run time management courses. They are like old chestnuts that keep turning up. Everyone wants more time and no-one in business seems to have enough time. When I train managers they tell me that their workloads are too high and that they can’t get everything done, and when I train their staff they tell me their managers are piling more and more tasks on them, and that they are all ‘priorities’. How do we solve the problem of no-one having enough time?
Well, after years of teaching people techniques for planning, prioritising, goal setting and time saving, I now start all my time management courses by asking the following questions.
1. What is your purpose?
This usually surprises people. They are thrown slightly and some people are suspicious. They think that the question is some sort of test, or challenge. Some people ask me what I mean by ‘purpose’. I usually explain it by saying ‘it is your reason for being employed, or for some people, their reason for being’.
The relevance of the question is that we all have a purpose for doing our work, though for many of us we have lost sight of this as we get bogged down in the detail of job descriptions, shifting priorities, restructures and bureaucracy. I believe that as we plan our time at work we should be asking the question, ‘does this help me achieve the purpose for which I am here?’. If it doesn’t, then time spent on this activity is probably not time that is being spent wisely.
2. Which are your golf balls?
Many of you will have heard the story about filling a jar with sand, pebbles and rocks. When I use this story in training sessions I use golf balls rather than rocks as they aren’t as heavy to transport and don’t create as many strange looks in airport customs! The story goes that if you fill your jar (which is a metaphor for your day) with sand first, then it is impossible to squeeze in any pebbles or rocks. The rocks (or golf balls) represent the important things that directly contribute to you successfully achieving your objectives, or your purpose. If you can’t squeeze them into your day then you won’t be making as much progress as you should be. Filling your day with sand (or the non-essential things) is a great way to waste time. So the moral of the story is get those golf balls prioritised in your day first. If there is time left afterwards, then by all means start piling in the sand!
3. What happens if you have too many golf balls?
We have all got too much to do – so being able to prioritise is going to really help you here. I like to apply the Pareto principle to my golf balls. The Pareto principle (also known as the 80:20 rule) suggests that 80% of your results will be achieved by 20% of your activities. So, you have to get smart in recognising which activities are the ones that will reap the most rewards for you. If you create a list of things to do, count up how many things are on your list, divide by 5, then that will give you the number of tasks that make up today’s 20%. Let’s assume that you have 20 things to do today; divide 20 by 5 and that makes 4 actions to focus on initially. The skill is to review each of your 20 activities and ask the question – how much impact is created by me completing this task? You are looking for the top 4 activities that help you make the most progress, or create the biggest and best impact. imagine you will only have time today to complete those 4 tasks – which ones will help you most? Focus on finding these 4, these are your golden golf balls. Get them in your jar first! They are the most important. If Pareto is correct, then by completing these 4 activities, you will reap 80% of the results you are looking for today! Give it a go!
4. Do you use deadlines and diaries?
Having clear goals is one of the best time management tools you will ever use. Because we have so many distractions it is easy to lose sight of our goals and get side tracked. But having clear goals is only a part of good time management. You could be clear on your goals and still not be making progress towards them. So this is where deadlines and diaries come in.
Write some goals that keep you focused on what you need to achieve today, this week, this month and this year. Diarise some deadlines which mark the stages you will pass through as you work towards the goal. Work backwards in your diary from the date by which you want to achieve the goal. Once the deadline is in your diary you are far more likely to get the tasks done that will enable you to achieve your goals.
5. Where is your to-do list for today?
The very best managers of time know exactly what they need to get done every single day. And their planning for the day starts not after they arrive at work in the morning, but rather at the end of the previous day. It’s a great habit to get into. As one day finishes you simply create a list of all the things you need to achieve the following day. Not only does it ensure that you don’t forget anything that is on your mind, but it enables you to clear your head which for many people means that they find it easier to relax during the evening, and that sleep is more restful. Write your to-do list every day, don’t get lazy, and see the results. You will be a lot more productive when you can see at a glance what needs to be done today.