I often ask leaders and managers what the biggest challenge they face each week is? The most popular answer I get by far is “I don’t have enough time!”
I have written many blogs on time management before so either these people haven’t read them, the ideas they contained don’t work (as if), or they have read my blogs and many others on time management and not implemented the ideas. Which do you think is the most likely? To be fair I would need to work with each individual to come up with a definitive answer but in my experience it is usually the final one!
The problem with time management principles is they look very simple, straightforward and easy to implement on paper but much harder to do in reality. Just like 90% of New Year’s Resolutions, good intentions are replaced by business as usual the moment the first hurdle is faced.
The key issue with time management is when your perfectly planned month, week or day is disrupted by an unforeseen event or events. Something that demands you ‘drop everything’ and focus on just it. This puts all your careful panning out of sync and chaos ensues!
As a teacher of time management skills my delegates often ask me if I eat the medicine I teach? Now I’m an honest and ethical person so cannot lie and therefore my best answer is usually “I try”. Whilst I am being honest I might also add that I find many time management theories far too complex. For example Franklin Covey’s Time Management Matrix that divides activities up into four quadrants that classify activities as Important/Urgent, Important/Not Urgent, Not Important/Urgent and Not Important/Not Urgent. I know some people love this model but it’s not for me. I’d spend far too much time deciding which quadrant an activity would fit into and when working with teams everyone has their own idea on what is or isn’t urgent and important. Having said that when you read further you will see that I do similar, only not so structured.
Personally I stick to a few very basic principles and they seem to work for me just fine. The first is based on my own personal time management mantra that I say to myself every morning; “My most productive day is always TODAY and my least productive day is always TOMORROW!” This statement helps me avoid procrastination and in effect it enables me to ‘create free time’ in the future to deal with the unexpected crises as and when they arise.
The second principle I observe is the famous “Eat That Frog” idea from Brian Tracy. Each night I make a short list of the key tasks I must get done tomorrow, no matter how onerous they might be. I then prioritise and rank them in order of what I must do first rather than what I want to do first!
The final principle I use is a principle of constant evaluation! Things are constantly changing and therefore our priorities must also change. I am always prepared to reevaluate what I am working on and if it is right to do so, swap to a new task. With this in mind I NEVER shut myself away to complete a key task, turn off my email or put my telephone on divert! Why? Because in today’s business world clients want answers in minutes not hours! That call or email could be your NEW most important task!
What do you think? I’d love to hear your time management stories and ideas.
Head of Training
Originally published: 12 March, 2014