Doing more with less is a key mantra of today’s world. At the same time, most of us are buffeted with distractions at work. From the beep of an incoming message or email to changes in how we do business, most people spend their week being pulled from task to task. Whether it’s running from meeting to meeting or juggling multiple life roles, it can be useful to stop, pause and return to time management basics.
There are numerous distractions overwhelming us in our daily lives, whether you work in an office or stay at home you will need time management skills to get productive and make the most of the time you have!
Research says that Managers may spend up to 40% of their time managing email, which is more than 2.5 or 3 hours a day. You may face up to 56 interruptions per day. We all face information overwhelm.
On a daily basis it might seem like a constant barrage of information and communication is keeping you away from what needs to get done. Over time this may lead to overwhelm, and in the longer term we experience disengagement and a lack of satisfaction with results. The practical implication – nothing gets done!
The following are tips you can use for better time management:
1. Know where you actually spend your time
A lot of us “think” we know where we spend our time. When in fact the “thinking” may not be representative of where our time is really spent.
One exercise my clients enjoy participating in is the Time Tracker. For decades authors including Steven Covey and Laura Vanderkam have encouraged us to audit where our time actually goes.
For the span of a week (or longer if your schedule varies greatly) track where your time is going. It’s useful to do this in 15 or 30 minute increments. Electronically or on paper, note each time block and categorize it into common areas (meetings, commuting, email, time with staff, reporting, time spent building and maintaining relationships etc). At the end of the week, summarize and total where you have spent your time.
As you review your tracker information ask yourself:
What do you notice?
Where are you spending the bulk of your time?
What results are you getting from this?
What do you want to do more of? Less of?
What changes are needed to support you in maximizing your productivity?
As the Pareto Principle asserts, we often get 80% of our results from 20% of our efforts. Where are the bulk of your results coming from?
2. Prioritize
The “fallacy of the urgent” is pervasive in today’s business context, where EVERYTHING appears to be urgent. We have a fixed amount of time, so it’s important to consider what is truly important in our work.
In considering your priorities you might ask yourself:
What’s important?
What are the things, which are important to you – in the Short term, medium term and long term?
What things are important to your clients/customers/team?
What actions are aligned with your values?
What is REALLY a priority in the bigger picture?
3. Execute (Get Things Done), and Manage Your Interruptions
Getting things done is key to productivity. Execution feeds into our focus, our vision and also managing our interruptions. What windows have you allocated and scheduled to get things done? Is this the time of day when you are at your peak? Have you given yourself enough time to complete the focused or “deep work” needed as a business owner or professional?
The hidden damage caused by interruptions:
Every time we get interrupted, we need to stop what we are doing, refocus and then start up again. But we often don’t factor in the cost of “starting-up” again.
Research by Gloria Mark has found that there’s an average of 11 minutes between interruptions and it can take upwards of 25 minutes to get refocused again.
And while we may not be able to completely erase interruptions, we can manage them more effectively.
Some possible options for managing interruptions include:
Keep an interruption log. Just as you need to know where your time actually goes, review where your interruptions come from. What can be managed better?
Create dedicated focus time. This may require a change to the way you work. What time of day could you “close your door” for a centralized focus time? Communicating this time to others supports blocks of more focused work. This may in fact shorten the time it takes you to get things done overall.
Schedule times when you will check email and/or the phone. Depending on your role, email may be a constant interruption. It may be useful to experiment with creating dedicated email time, turning it off at points of the day. The key to success with this strategy is shaping other people’s expectations. Communicate your plan to others so they’re aware you won’t be available or online at certain times.
Consider these questions:
What specifically, is going to help you create “focused action”?
What blocks of time have you allocated to get work done?
What interruptions are you facing in your work right now? And what is the cost?
What approaches can you use to minimize interruptions?
4. Track Your Time
Tracking our time provides the data we need to make better business decisions in a rapidly changing context. And tracking these metrics visually on a regular basis, can provide useful insights around patterns and other trends.
For entrepreneurs, metrics we may want to track include sales, customer meetings, or design and development time.
For leaders you may want to track 1-1 time, goals, time spent in meetings, time with stakeholders, and other designated Key Performance Indicators(KPIs).
Consider which of these 4 tips is a priority for you?
Taking time on a regular basis to build in quick pauses to explore what you are doing and where your time is going is essential. What is having a positive and negative impact? Use this information to focus your efforts and build the momentum for ongoing performance.