Born of personal and often costly experience I am sharing here what works and why when it comes to getting your life organised. We will put the most important factor of any project center stage- the time you allocate to it. We will look at:
- Undeniable facts and some major reasons why you might have failed so far in your efforts to manage your time.
- Setting off on the wrong foot when it comes to making your to-do lists – how to avoid it!
- Sorting the wheat from the chaff in your life – how to avoid time-wasting
- How to become a master at time management and drastically improve the quality of your life – for real!
Have you ever caught yourself complaining that you don’t have enough time? Are there just not enough hours in the day? I know I’ve done it many times! Maybe the time has come to pay more attention to proper time management!
Why does it seem that some people just “cruise” through the day, getting everything done, while others just battle to find enough time to squeeze everything in? The answer is actually quite simple: it is time management!
If we want to master time management, there are three principles we need to focus on – and they are:
- Develop a prioritized “to-do” list.
- Develop a diary.
- Control time to fit your needs.
We All Have 24 Hours in A Day! What Is Happening To Yours?
Before we can change anything, we need to determine how we are spending our time now! We need to be as accurate as possible and record our activities to the finest detail! Let us use attending a meeting as an example. Let’s say you record time spent at a meeting today, and the total time at the venue was 1 hour and 30 minutes. But 30 minutes were spent waiting for the meeting to start. Then do not record the time for attending the meeting as 1.5 hours. Show your time as 30 minutes “waiting”, and 1 hour for “attending meeting”. You could have used those 30 minutes to do some reading, researching a topic, or any other more productive activity.
You may be surprised at how much time is wasted, revealing many activities which were not productive towards achieving your main objectives, when you record it over 1 week. Just recently I also read an article written by my friend, Larry Lewis, on the subject – “How To Tell If You’re Wasting Your Time“. Reading his article makes it very clear that many people indeed are facing this dilemma.
Examples of such activities are:
- Talking to wrong people.
- Taking unnecessary breaks.
- Searching for an address or venue (lack of planning before leaving).
- Spending too much time on social media sites (eg. just for socializing).
- Unscheduled surfing of the internet.
- Unnecessary phone calls.
I include a sample worksheet here to assist you in recording how you spent your time over the last week.
We often fall into the trap of “being busy”, but that doesn’t mean that we are being productive!
We need to know how to identify the difference between just being busy vs. being productive. To properly manage our time, we need to set priorities and start planning.
While driving in your car, you could be listening to motivational messages on the radio. Instead of just waiting on the airport to board your flight, you can do some reading or catch-up on research using your laptop. Instead of making phone calls whenever you remember to phone someone, why not schedule 30 minutes or an hour as “phone time”, and make all those phone calls in the designated time?
Create A To-Do List
By getting everything out of your head and onto paper (or even a computer screen), you now have something tangible that you can see. You can start comparing activities, move them around, add levels of importance and create deadlines. By looking and comparing activities with deadlines in front of you, it becomes easier to see how you can evenly spread activities and meet different deadlines without over-committing to too many activities at the same time. It also becomes easier to see whether your activities bear any relevance to your goals/objectives or not.
- Write down all your activities that need to be done. As you complete the activities, either cross them off or mark them off with a tick.
- Write down any deadlines that need to be met (including date and time).
- Now organize your activities into time periods, such as what needs to be done in a week, or in one day.
- Check your diary to confirm that you haven’t forgotten any commitments or events.
As activities and events now come up, it becomes easier (especially if you use this method in conjunction with your goal setting) to determine whether certain activities should go onto your “to-do” list or not. You should be able to quickly see if the activity will benefit you in reaching your targets or goals, or whether it is a waste of time.
Listing all your activities and just starting from the top, is not an effective way of doing it!
By properly prioritizing your activities, your “to-do” list becomes an incredibly powerful tool.
A method I like using is called the ABC Method as suggested by Alan Lakein in his book How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. By using this method, you can determine which activities will be most productive in accomplishing your objectives. You can shift your time and attention to the activities of most importance on a daily and weekly basis.
Follow these steps to apply this method:
- As mentioned before, list all your activities.
- Assign the letter “A” to the most important activities (those activities which will have the most impact on achieving your goals and/or meeting deadlines – often a “must do today”. These are priorities.)
- Assign the letter “B” to the next most important activities. (These may be important but not imperative to get done today – not a priority for the day).
- Lastly assign the letter “C” to the least important activities. (These need to get done, but there is no urgency).
What I normally do from here (this is just me personally), I also add a number to each activity, in order of importance. Eg., I will have A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, C1, C2. Then I obviously start at “A1”, and systematically work through them all. I also try not to have more than 8 A and B activities for one day (depending on the time requirement for each activity – which is an important factor that needs to be considered while doing your planning).
Develop A Diary
Now that you have your “to-do” list ready, and you have prioritized your activities, knowing what to do and in what order, it is now time to determine when you are going to do it.
There is no way around it, the best and most effective way to commit definite time to specific activities is by using a diary.
Four Good Reasons To Use A Diary
- To Commit Yourself.
- Once you commit yourself and you put it in writing, you put yourself on the spot. Especially when you make it known to everybody that you are working according to a diary, you eliminate any excuses you might have had.
- You Cover All The Bases.
- Every goal that you set, every activity you have, requires certain action steps to be taken. By scheduling each and every step in your diary, you are assured of taking every step. You will also prevent getting caught at the last minute, having to rush through endless activities to meet deadlines or to achieve any given goal, just because you got caught up with less important activities.
- You Can Be Single-Minded.
- When you are working according to a well planned schedule, you reduce undue stress and anxiety. By knowing that you are busy with one specific activity, and the given time is specifically designated to that activity, and that activity alone, you can be more focused. There will be no need to stress about how and when you need to get to all the other activities done and the chaos surrounding that, seeing that you have everything properly scheduled.
- Avoid Overwhelming Yourself With Too Many Activities Or Double Booking.
- Have you ever double booked for two meetings at the same time? Or have you agreed to meet someone, while you are actually busy doing something else? If you properly maintain your diary, these situations can be avoided all together. It is recommended having a diary which you can keep with you at all times.
Properly using a diary will ensure that you can stay calm and get things done efficiently. You will feel more organized and professional and that is also how others will see you. So you automatically start adding quality to your life.
I recall, many years ago, I was doing business with a German businessman in Johannesburg. This man was extremely organized, professional and efficient. I was always impressed with how calm and relaxed this man was. What was his secret? Let me tell you: his days were properly planned, and he followed his schedule. If you would make an appointment with him, he would tell you in advance when he can see you, and how much time he would have available for you. If the appointment was for 30 minutes, and you arrived 5 minutes late, he would immediately (but friendly though) point out that you now only had 25 minutes available to see him. And when your time was up, it was up. He would calmly move on to his next activity. It made such an impression on me; I can remember this man to the finest detail.
10 Tips For Effective Scheduling
- Consider your goals as priority when scheduling (otherwise, what is the sense of having goals?). Review your plan and milestones weekly.
- Include a starting time as well as an ending time for each activity.
- Group related tasks in sequence to save time. Jumping around between unrelated tasks is inefficient and wastes time.
- Spread your “A” tasks over the entire week to stand a better chance of getting them done.
- Schedule each day around key events and fixed commitments.
- Write down every commitment, including personal ones.
- Check your schedule each night before retiring for the night, to prevent you from starting your “normal” day at 08h00 at the office, and missing that all important meeting at 07h30.
- Schedule your major tasks for completion before deadline delivery, to allow for emergencies, mistakes and underestimating.
- Always block out some “open time” to accommodate unexpected events or commitments. This time can always be filled with some “A” task when the time arrives and that time slot is still open.
- Don’t restrict your schedule to career activities only. You should also include family, social and recreational goals and activities into your schedule. This is essential to maintain a balanced life style and should be included when you do your planning.
This does not guarantee plain sailing though! Here are some “evil gremlins” that might slip in and mess with your perfectly worked out schedule.
- Some activity takes longer than expected.
- You can get interrupted
- Unexpected conflict might occur, where two things just come up unexpectedly at the same time.
- You might be tired at a crucial time.
- Someone else doesn’t show up for a meeting.
- You can get lost on your way to a venue.
- On your way to an appointment you might get stuck in heavy traffic.
- You might be faced with things to do that you have not anticipated.
- Waiting time. (Meetings, seminars, flights, etc.)
- Cancelled appointments.
- These are just to name a few, there are many more. Look over the ones mentioned here, and determine which three of these normally cause you to waste the greatest amount of time.
Ways To Control Time
Here are a few points you can consider to gain control over your time. Not all points will be applicable to everybody, so just go over them and see what will be useful to you.
- Keep Your Own Master Diary.
- Many business executives carry a master diary with them wherever they go. Another diary may be kept at the office or at home, where some other staff member also has access to follow your schedule for making appointments etc. The important point is the diary, called the master diary, is kept by you and is the control point of all activities. Obviously these two diaries constantly need to be synchronized and updated. With the technology of today, we often have the benefit of having a calender on our mobiles. This can easily be synchronized with a computer at the office, so appointed staff can always be informed and up to date with your schedule.
- Allow Extra Time For Unfamiliar Activities.
- If it is an activity you have done before, you can estimate the time needed to complete that activity. But if this is a new and unfamiliar activity, it becomes a guessing game. It is safer to be liberal in allowing more time rather than to be conservative and allow too little time.
- Isolate Yourself To Avoid Interruptions.
- Close the door.
- Have telephone calls screened (unplug your phone or activate your mailbox if you are alone)
- Find a neutral place (coffee shop or restaurant)
- Be Able To Adjust.
- It might happen that you have perfectly scheduled all your activities, when some other, more important activities appear on the horizon. Allow yourself enough flexibility to adjust and reschedule your activities. This does not mean you should “chop and change” every five minutes (then you might as well stop planning all together – going back to the old ways), just be flexible enough to allow maximum productivity!
- Schedule Key Activities For Times When You Know You Enjoy Peak Energy.
- Are you a morning person or are you an afternoon person? Are you even an evening person? Aim to schedule your high-priority activities for these times when you perform at your best and you are most alert. You will see a drastic improvement in your productivity.
- Know Where You Are Going And How To Get There.
- Whenever you need to attend meetings, seminars, etc., plan ahead of time, by investigating the various routes you could take. With technology available to us today, it is often possible to compare various options, such as fastest route, shortest route, scenic route (not recommended for the purpose of this article…..lol). Take into consideration the time of day. Is it peak hour? Is it during lunch time? These will all have an effect on traffic volume. Allow enough time for unforeseen situations while travelling. It is also a good idea to discuss the various routes with your host (or their secretary/receptionist), as they would normally know the best or most practical route.
- Group Your Appointment Activities For Better Travelling Time.
- This point goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. By planning your travelling activities in advance, you would be able to schedule two, three or more meetings for the same trip. This will eliminate unnecessary repetitive trips.
- You Are Allowed To Say “No”.
- We are often our own worst enemies by thinking we should be able to accommodate everybody. We believe the lie of “other people’s time is more valuable than our own”.
- You must also consider your own priorities and goals very seriously. You should always be working towards achieving your main objectives/goals. These should be broken into smaller action steps to be achieved and monitored on a weekly basis. If this activity does not compliment or contribute to achieving your own objectives, it is going to be a waste of your valuable time. Achieving your own goals should also benefit other people anyhow, so by continuously neglecting your own goals, you will eventually end up not being able to help other people either.
- There’s no need to be rude. Here are some ways to say no in a diplomatic, courteous way;
- Rejecting the request: “I don’t think I’m the best person for the job/presentation right now, as I cannot give it the time it deserves.”
- Recommend someone else: “I’m going to ask you to call John. I am sure he will be able to give you better advise/assistance”
- Delay the request: “Would you mind if we discuss this when I see you this afternoon?”
- Carry Your To-Do List, Paperwork And Reading Material With You.
- You may encounter waiting times (or just some open time) between some activities during the day. You can easily turn this into productive time by making phone calls, doing some paperwork or doing some research/reading. This might be just what you need to achieve many of your objectives/goals even sooner than what you expected too.
- Never make Assumptions. Confirm.
- Besides being rude, an unscheduled call/visit is often unproductive. It is unprofessional and very annoying when calling/visiting someone, to just assume they have time to spend with you. On arrival (normally you have an appointment for a physical visit anyhow), or when making the phone call, just ask whether it is convenient for the other person to speak to you. They might be in the middle of something…..another call or a business meeting. They might not even be in, and it was a total waste of time. By just confirming, nobody can be offended, and everybody is more relaxed.
- The other possibility is also that you might even have a scheduled meeting. Confirm your meeting ahead of time. Maybe the day before, just make a courtesy phone call and confirm the appointment. Maybe the other person is not as well organised as you are, and he honestly forgot about the meeting. By confirming, you can prevent wasting time and lots of frustration.
By now you should know the importance of getting started with goal setting. Include action steps into your daily activities to achieve your goals. Prioritize your activities to increase your productivity, and develop a diary to have a proper time schedule for when each activity should be done. Make use of these tools and take control of your time!
I hope this article will be of great value to you! If you enjoyed this article, please leave a comment below, and even share it with your friends. I would love to hear from you!