So, You Think You Don’t Have Enough Time?
We all do things that waste time. Some of us will do low-value tasks that we really should be delegating (or just not do at all), but we feel that no one will be able to do it as well as we do. Others will look at a huge project and procrastinate because it appears to be too big and complex, likely doing unimportant tasks to put off that large task that scares us. Still others are perfectionists who continue with a task long after the return on the additional effort is negative. Alternatively, a perfectionist may put off tasks because they are uncertain that they can perform at the unrealistic level that they set for themselves. Finally, there are some of us who get a feeling of importance by never saying no to requests. It feels good to be the go-to person that everyone thinks can do the impossible. However, by never saying no we make everything a priority, and, in the end, nothing gets done. Let’s face it, time and task management are not something that any of us will ever get perfect. What we all need to do is determine what is “good enough” and then use that as a starting point towards continually improving.
There are several ways that one can use to improve our time and task management skills. None of them are one-size fits all. You may find that some are better at one stage in your career, but they may need to be changed or modified as you change roles and responsibilities. You may have other ways of managing that work better for you. The important thing is to create a system that works for you and continue to improve it over time. Holding on to things that don’t work is another time cost that we put on ourselves!
Organize Work Around Energy Levels
Find your most productive hours and schedule high value and high energy tasks during those times. As an example, if you are a morning person then do your most critical work when you start your day. After lunch, your energy level may drop a bit so use that time to do more administrative tasks.
You should also know your energy levels by day. Most people find Tuesdays and Wednesdays as their most productive days, so scheduling their most difficult and important tasks on those days will lead to getting more done.
Start the Day with Critical Work
Mark Twain once said “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” He was talking about determining what is your most important or hardest task and dealing with it first. Getting it done will bring you momentum for the rest of the day. Think about it – if you have already achieved your most important goal for the day then tackling the rest of them will seem easy by comparison and that positive mindset will carry with you throughout the day. Elon Musk suggests that you “don’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t actually make things better.” Sometimes we deal with the squeaky wheel or the easiest tasks first and never get to what was important. Resist that urge and leave those simple tasks for that time in the day that you know you are at your lowest energy.
Knowing how to prioritize is a must – if everything is a priority then it moves towards nothing being a priority. One way to determine priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. The goal is to focus on accomplishing the important and urgent before moving on to the other tasks.
Do it now
· Pressing clients
· Deadline driven projects
Decide when to do it
· Long-term planning
· Calling back a client
· Replying to a specific email
Who can do it now?
· Booking a trip
· Scheduling interviews
· Social media
· Working on a dead report
- Start by writing down all your tasks – at this point don’t worry about the order, just get down everything that you need to do.
- Identify what’s urgent and what’s important and note which of them applies to each task. Tasks can have one, both or none of these identifications. If the task has none of them then find a way to purge it.
- Assess value. Look at the important tasks and identify the high value items. Determine which tasks have priority over others and how many people are impacted by your work.
- Now estimate the amount of time is required for each task and order them from the most effort to the least.
- Insert the tasks into the Eisenhower Matrix to gain a full overview of your work tasks
Some tasks will be urgent, but not important. These are tasks that are good candidates to get delegated to others. You don’t need to do everything yourself and moving these tasks to others can free up time to get the important and urgent tasks done. Remember that holding on to these tasks can have a large opportunity cost – they are time that could be spent doing something that is yields a greater return on your time investment. When delegating, keep these things in mind:
- Find the right person – they should have all the necessary skills and be capable of doing the job.
- Provide clear instructions – write down the steps and be as specific as possible.
- Define success – be specific about the expected outcome and the timelines.
- Clarity – have that person explain the tasks back to you. Clarify what they are unclear about, rewriting the instructions if necessary.
- Expect that the person will not do it exactly the way you did it – in fact they may find a better way. Don’t let your pride get in the way of delegating things that you should not be doing yourself.
Automate Repetitive Tasks
Find the things that you do multiple times a day or week and see if you can use technology to help you work smarter. Examples include setting reminders so that you don’t forget anything; creating canned responses for emails that you keep writing repeatedly; or creating spreadsheet templates for reports that you do on a weekly or monthly basis. Find those common elements and figure out ways to stop reinventing the wheel each time you do them. Saving a few seconds here and a few seconds there will eventually free up 30 to 60 minutes a day that can be spent on your important and urgent tasks.
Next week we will look at eliminating distractions, how to say “no” more often and gaining more time through batching similar tasks.