Failing to manage time makes you disorganised. You will spend a disproportionate amount of time involved in the kind of activity known as ‘firefighting’.
Being disorganised causes problems. If you work, or live in a state of disorganisation you will lose things, miss deadlines and fail to notice opportunities that come your way.
Disorganisation will not only contribute to a lack of success but will also reduce your physical efficiency – you will be drained without achieving as much as you are capable of.
Recognising that the workload is building up, people tend to react inappropriately. A common solution is to allow work to impact on their personal time. Without improvements in time management and organisation, this can never be more than a temporary fix though and even if no one else in the family complains, it will probably cause resentment towards their job. Feeling like that doesn’t normally help with doing a better (more efficient) job.
Worse, the person in question can surrender to the chaos, feeling powerless they tend to blame others. Some people adopt a pattern of hyperactivity; doing multitudes of tasks (especially the insignificant ones) in the belief that frenzied activity and ‘all-nighters’ can solve the problem. It can’t. It normally causes mistakes, poor judgement and combines inefficiency with chaos.
Few jobs allow a person to breeze through the day without a care. No level of organisation can ensure there are no emergencies and problems and usually, when a person convinces themselves they have it all under control, it simply means they have taken their eye off the ball and the dam is about to burst.
The realistic aim is to minimise the chaos through being prepared. To cope with more while being less stressed and to get stuff done, efficiently and to reasonable deadlines, allowing you to go home approximately on time and enjoy some time which isn’t entirely devoted to work. Your work-life balance depends not on your employer, not on your customers and not on anyone you manage, but on you and your ability to manage your time properly.
Solving the challenges to your time that work presents requires a calm, careful, well-judged and above all, a methodical approach. Preventing chaos is easier if you are organised. Here are some basic pointers to managing time and generally being more organised.
Only people with photographic memories don’t need to do this and so the vast majority of people operate this way as a matter of course. You probably do. You’ll know what happens with a food supermarket shopping trip if you don’t have a list: It takes longer as you have to scan every aisle and section as you wrack your brains for things you need.
You stare at items you know you use wondering if you have any left. There’s a chance you’ll go home with surplus, or decide not to buy any only to find you had none left. You miss crucial stuff while going over budget on things you fancy but shouldn’t buy. All in all, it simply doesn’t work anything like as well as going prepared with a list.
Some people prepare one each morning, reviewing the previous day’s list and updating it according to the needs of today. Others prefer to prepare one for the next day at the end of the current working day, writing it out and satisfying themselves that they have achieved everything important and urgent prior to leaving.
Whatever you prefer, just be sure to use some kind of list as a starting point to managing your time and matching it to the tasks ahead.
The biggest problem regarding lists is when people have a corporate system which they have failed to adopt or which, for whatever reason, simply does not work for them.
Computer-based diary systems or those generated by smart-phones or other devices can be fantastic, but problems arise when more than one is in simultaneous operation or when, for whatever reason, the all-important list isn’t staring the person in the face for most of the day. Whatever system you use, make sure it can achieve this one primary quality of a hand-written list on a bit of paper.
There are lots of ways of doing this, the most scientific of which is to consider each entry with regard to:
The most urgent and important tasks get done first, the least urgent and important tasks get done last. In the middle are tasks which might be urgent but not important (these come after the urgent and important ones) and tasks which are important but not urgent (which come after the urgent but not important ones).
Some people achieve precisely the same result by thinking in terms of:
Presumably arriving at a sensible order by unconsciously figuring out matters of urgency and importance.
People with a soft spot for decoration may colour-code their items Red, blue and green while linguists might annotate them with the letters A B & C.
Number fetishists can simply attribute 1, 2, 3, 4 as they deem fit. Not much chance of confusion there!
The best possible advice is to do whatever appeals most and works best for you.
When it comes to prioritising, remember The Golden Rule
“He who pays the gold, rules.”
What this means is that if the boss asks you to do something, you’d better assume it is a ‘now’ thing (urgent and important) unless you are told otherwise. It’s smart to enquire as to deadlines and importance when being issued with the task and be prepared to negotiate if the red/A/1s are stacking up and deadlines are looking shaky.
People with a habit of saying ‘Yes’ are frequently among those who struggle to manage their time. They are easy prey for lazy colleagues who like to offload work and willing subordinates for managers who soon learn to rely on them. Unfortunately, like someone with a sweet tooth in a chocolate shop, it’s all too easy to allow a disconnection to occur between input and output.
When it comes to dealing with higher-level managers, enquire about importance and deadlines and if this new, additional task creates a conflict, explain your current workload and ask the manager to advise you regarding what to do first and which deadlines to miss. That ought to do it!
Some tasks can be knocked off quickly and to a completely acceptable standard, as long as you don’t attempt to do them to an unnecessarily high standard.
If your manager wants a report does it need pages of data and graphs or simply a few core numbers? If you are asked to drop someone a line does that mean a beautifully crafted letter or a few lines?
If it is your habit to overdo things, if you are a bit obsessive about what you produce, you are likely to find that simple tasks add hours to your working day. You may need to learn to let go a little bit.
Your list will not work if you allow half an hour to do tasks which take an hour and five minutes for things which turn out to need thirty.
Experience will help you here but one way or another you have to know what’s needed to achieve the goals for which you are accepting responsibility.
This process is familiar to Workshop Managers in car dealerships (and the like). They have labour hours to sell and work backwards, selling them until there is a minimum buffer of time left. You need to do the same, allocating your working day with foresight and sense, recognising how long tasks take and figuring out how you’ll achieve your deadlines.
Everyone needs to do this, but especially managers for whom interaction with customers is a part of the daily routine. Even with appointments there is no way of organising the unexpected so expect to be interrupted, prepare for it allow time for it anyway.
This isn’t so much a matter of efficiency as a strategy for successfully getting through a pile of work. Within the schedule that you create, if possible, structure things so that after struggling your way through difficult tasks you get to do something lighter and more enjoyable.
This is in contrast to some people’s idea of knocking off all the simple and quick tasks first so the list looks shorter, giving them a false sense of achievement. Along with the missed deadlines and absence of prioritisation which result from this wrong way of doing things, large tasks are inevitably postponed over and over again.
These are a good idea and they work better if they are arranged for times other than on the hour or half hour. In most cases, people are more likely to be on time for a meeting which is at a quarter past or a quarter to an hour than on the half hour or hour. Some people prefer twenty past or twenty to, too.
Make appointments work for you.
These suck time and some people can make what should be a fifteen minute meeting last for ninety. The whole subject of meetings will be handled fully elsewhere, but with regard to time management, these points will help:
If you are familiar with the saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” or the similar piece of advice about walking the Great Wall of China one step at a time, you’ll already understand the advice about large tasks: Break them into manageable chunks.
Every task will give you clues as to how long it will take and what resources you might need so when you evaluate a large one (and realise it is large), think about the steps into which you can sensibly divide it and diarise them separately. You might do one initial step today a larger one tomorrow, two more a couple of days later and finish the whole thing next week. Whatever is practicable and appropriate.
The problem is that large tasks often seem so overwhelming that they simply get put off over and over again. Even a well-meaning sensible person can realise day after day that they simply don’t have the time to cope with the task and in spite of their best intentions, the task never gets done. They almost certainly could however, have made a start by this point.
This might be the time you need to apply a bit of carpe diem and just ‘do it now’.
To most people, the idea of Time & Motion Studies is about as useful as the interference by Health & safety Inspectors insisting it takes two people to wheel each motorcycle out the front door. In other words, it’s irrelevant in the real world and would be funny if it wasn’t so dumb. What isn’t always understood (and setting aside matters of safety for the moment) is that companies like Apple and IBM have streamlined modern business thinking through Time & Motion analysis and that you can save some of your otherwise wasted time by following some advice these clever giants can offer us.
First, you might already know that many years ago IBM is said to have banned the use of paperclips from offices when it was learned that they were the main cause of lost paper documents. If you’ve ever spent time looking for a lost piece of paper only to (eventually) find that it had attached itself to some unrelated bundle by getting caught up underneath via a paperclip, you’ll understand how they came to this conclusion. No paperclips, just staples and files. If that’s new to you, you might like to adopt it.
More recently, the advisory rule touch each piece of paper once only arose from further studies. It became apparent that people who managed their time better operated slightly differently to the rest of us by processing tasks more directly.
As an example, the typical person gets a piece of mail, opens the envelope and starts to read the content. It is unfamiliar to them at first and they turn it over a few times until establishing what it is. It’s too important to throw away but isn’t urgent enough or interesting enough to require further attention today so what happens? It gets put on a pile.
The pile in question is frequently on the left hand side of people’s desks and tends to grow larger over time. Its contents include some things which are now mildly important and overdue plus a lot of other stuff that will eventually simply be thrown away having done nothing except sit there for weeks or even months.
The whole thing is made much worse by the person’s frequent visits to the pile where they scan through some of the documents reminding themselves of them with a bit more reading in the hope of enlightenment, but nearly always returning the document to the ‘rotting pile’ once again, sometimes many times over an extended period until:
The time-efficient way to behave is this:
With many tasks there is a need to plan backwards. From something as simple as going out for the evening there is:
Many people (you may know some or even be one) understand all of these factors but loosely feel that 7:00pm is a long time hence and only realise they are going to be late when it’s way too late to do anything about it. They turn back towards their own home because they have forgotten something after their due arrival time of 7:00pm and then realise they have to get fuel on the way. Their planning is abysmal, their grasp of reality tenuous and this particular episode of stressful rushing is not unique, it is a regular occurrence and something of a habit. They simply fail to plan, or actually, according to leading psychiatrist Dr. Wil Monteiro, they do plan, but rather perversely:
“People plan their lateness.”
Dr. Wil Monteiro
We have covered delegation in a separate section so hopefully you will have won yourself some time by allocating tasks to colleagues, but sometimes, success causes growth and growth requires increasing the human resource to cope. This rarely happens way in advance and so most often, before recruiting help, there is a period of heavy, unsustainable workload for the existing team.
The key point here is to understand the point at which efficiencies and avenues of delegation are exhausted and to plan expansion of the department.
Fortunately, in many businesses there are existing, historical KPIs which map out headcount against production or levels of business so that you know numerically when to recruit. In some businesses it is the level of customer bookings which force recruitment, but in vaguer circumstances, you just have to think it through, do your budgeting and take the step.
The main things to understand are these:
1. When employees are flat out they are rarely:
Instead, they are heading towards the effects of stress.
2. Usually, work which can be done at low cost if being performed by more expensive members of the team simply because there is no one else to do it. This is highly inefficient.
Fed up with waiting? Do you find your days short of sufficient time to get everything done but equally dotted with periods where you are made to wait for people and things? If so, you’ll have recognised the incompatibility of these two events. You’ll be frustrated when people are late for things and also by time lost queueing, sitting in waiting rooms or stuck in traffic.
The organised solution is to have at hand, small tasks you are happy to do.
o Concentrate solely on your driving and do nothing else!
o Enjoy listening to music or an entertaining or informative programme
o Do the same but via podcasts so you more closely control what’s going in your ears
o Use audiobooks to learn a language or get you closer to a professional qualification
o Travelling together with colleagues in the same car offers a great opportunity to hold a meeting
o Or if alone most people like to use the time to hold telephone conversations. Obviously, this is only smart when it is entirely safe and legal to do so
o Perhaps best of all is to use the time (or at least some of it) as quiet thinking time. No stimulus, your driving is given over to practiced ease, muscle memory and sub-conscious commands while you simply allow your mind to relax and be creative
James Cash Penney (the founder of JC Penney) may well have been right about what it takes to reach the top (see Delegation section), but it’s worth remembering that if you work seriously and intensely beyond approximately 5 ½ hours per day you are heading to, or storing up a need for R&R. Failing to provide it for yourself will result in other consequences.
So JC, ‘Fair enough, but chill dude!’
All of this will remain nothing more than good advice unless you do it. And it won’t make much difference to your life unless you do it again and again and again, and keep doing it until it is simply your way of operating.
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