Posts tagged #time management

Make it a priority

“You had better make that a priority!”

A common phrase that we hear every day in our workplace. But what does it really mean? How do we ascertain if something is a priority? What behaviours does that then drive if we do make something a priority?

The word priority comes from the Latin word Prioritas which roughly means to come before in time, order or importance. This definition provides a useful framework when we need to prioritise on a day to day basis. The challenge we all face is that we have more to do than we have time available. It is a very limited resource. So to manage our time and priorities effectively, we need to make some decisions about what we do, and when we do it.

The first prioritisation technique we could use is what I call filtering. This is where we prioritise based on whether something is an important use of our time. When checking email, accepting meeting invites, dealing with interruptions or even answering the phone, we should always be filtering out the lower value demands on our time, and filtering in the things that are a genuinely a good use of our time. The most productive people are usually very good at filtering.

A second prioritisation technique that we can use is scheduling. Choosing when to work on your priorities based on their deadline, or your capacity is critical to getting the right work done at the right time. If you do this well, and use the power of the time that lies in front of you, you will feel less overwhelmed and will work a lot more proactively than if you were to just let everything pile up.

Lastly, we can prioritise by sequencing our priority lists. Whether this list is a task list for the day, or your monthly list of big priorities, or a task list for a project, it will benefit from some sort of sequence. The challenge is to resist sequencing your work solely in order of urgency. A well sequenced list will evaluate both urgency and importance, and create a rough order of execution that is based upon something more than just “This is urgent”.

To truly create an impact, we have to ensure that as much as the time as possible we are working on the right work, at the right time, in the right order.

Are you clear about your priorities?

Posted on September 5, 2016 .

Our dirty little secrets

My brother is visiting from Ireland and of course staying at our place. While we generally keep the house clean and tidy, we spent the last few days doing an extra special round of cleaning. Cupboards, the fridge, drawers, under couches and beds, shelves, blinds. Places that privately we put up with being the dirty corners of our busy lives.

But when someone comes to stay, and those corners may become public places, we get busy cleaning and polishing. I was actually astounded at how much dirt I have been living with privately over the last couple of years. That said our house is generally clean, and I suspect (read hope) that we are just normal.  I have vowed that I will clean those drawers and corners in future at least every couple of months. It did not take long, and they looked and felt much better for it.

Is there a parallel here with our work spaces? Do we let things get messy when it is private, but feel the need to clean up when it might be public? I certainly see my coaching clients clearing their inbox before I come in as they know I will be looking at it!

Some of our work is very public, like meetings. And we are usually pretty good with managing those as others are involved, and it is immediately obvious when we are messy with meeting workload by turning up late or unprepared. But when it comes to how we manage our priorities, or our email, that is a much more private thing. Nobody gets to see how you manage this work, so we can get a bit messy. We manage this work in fragmented piles, and often leave things until the last minute as nobody will notice until it is overdue. Just in time is good enough.

But managing this work in a messy way can cause stress, a drop in work quality, a clash of deadlines or even lead to one of the biggest causes of productivity loss – rework. Don’t just wait until this work becomes public to get it organised. Make an effort to keep your inbox under control and your task list up to date whether other people can see it or not. Manage your work with integrity. They say that integrity is when you do the right thing even though nobody else is looking.

Ok, back to my cupboards. I think I see some more dirt! I hope my brother appreciates this.

Posted on August 22, 2016 .

Scheduling actions – hard or soft?

A common question that we hear when discussing task management in workshops is 'When should a task be blocked out as an appointment in the calendar'? Blocking out time, or what I call ‘Hard scheduling’ is a great strategy for putting traction into your action, but if overused or misused, it can work against your productivity.

In Smart Work, I talk about the difference between meeting and task workload. Meetings are ‘fixed’ commitments that we have with other people, tasks are ‘flexible’ commitments that we have with ourselves. Meetings need a scheduling tool that allows specific scheduling for both date and time. But tasks, given their more discretionary nature, need a more flexible system to manage them effectively.

So, in a good scheduling system, where meetings and tasks are managed together in a holistic way, meetings are hard scheduled into your calendar, and tasks can be soft scheduled into a dated task list. The difference is that although both are scheduled by date, only meetings are scheduled with a specific start and finish time.

But, I believe there can be a case for hard scheduling tasks into your calendar, sometimes. If you choose the right circumstances to do this, and you honour the time that you block out, this is a great strategy to make sure the important work gets done in a timely way.

Here are some circumstances where I will hard schedule tasks into my calendar:

  • Any task that will take more than 1 hour of concentration time
  • If I have pressure on my schedule from others, and need to protect time for the task
  • If the work is something I am likely to procrastinate about
  • A task that need to be complete by a specific time in the day i.e. a report due by midday
  • If the task requires me to go somewhere outside of the office

I reckon that your calendar and task list are both designed to help you get things done at the right time. The calendar is by nature more time focused, so is worth using in these situations. But be careful not to overuse the calendar for task workload. There is a risk that you may end up ignoring the reminder that pops up for the activity, and end up leaving work behind in your inflexible calendar. If you schedule it, do it, or prioritise again and reschedule the activity.

How we waste each other’s time

While much of my time is spent helping workers to increase their personal productivity, I also see many issues with how we work together. The truth is that your behaviours affect my productivity, and my behaviours affect your productivity. Teams that do not put strategies in place to manage this will experience a sense of friction when they collaborate together. Teams that do work on this will experience a sense of flow.

Most people are trying their hardest, and certainly do not mean to drag other people’s productivity down. It is often unconscious behaviours that cause the friction. So it might be useful to bring to the surface all of the ways that you might be diluting your team’s productivity. See how many of the following unproductive behaviours you are guilty of from time to time.

Meetings

  • Turning up late
  • Coming unprepared
  • Not following through on agreed actions
  • Inviting the wrong people
  • Calling meetings at short notice
  • Not clarifying meeting outcomes or the agenda

Emails

  • Sending too many
  • Writing unclear communications
  • Burying the actions three paragraphs in
  • Copying people unnecessarily
  • Writing fuzzy subject lines
  • Marking emails as urgent every time

Delegations

  • Choosing the wrong people for the job
  • Delegating at the last minute
  • Delegating in a rush
  • Giving responsibility but no power
  • Micro-managing the delegation
  • Not providing enough support when needed

Interruptions

  • Interrupting too often
  • Having a lack of awareness and empathy
  • Interrupting to manage your mind clutter
  • Making negotiation hard for the other person
  • Make every interruption an urgent issue

Deadlines

  • Leaving work until the last minute
  • Creating unnecessary urgency
  • Expecting instant responses
  • Forgetting deadlines
  • Being a squeaky wheel

If we expect other people to respect our time (and we should), we in turn should respect theirs. With the right mindset, we have the opportunity to amplify the productivity of those around us, rather than dilute it. Play well together.