Time management is the bane of our lives. We constantly complain that we never have enough of it. We don’t have time to do what we need to do, let alone what we want to do. Not having it is our excuse for everything. Ironically, even if we had another few hours in the day, it wouldn’t alter a thing because we would fill that up also and still not have any time.
Yet, if we don’t manage our time well, it has major repercussions for our personal and professional lives. Apart from us always feeling stressed and stretched, never having time for the important people in our lives or what’s really important in our businesses, we lay ourselves wide open to heart attacks, strokes and an early death.
Time does indeed fly, but you are the pilot. I don’t know who said those words, but they are full of truth. You make all the decisions about what happens with your time. You set your priorities.
Time management is one of those important soft skills that impacts significantly on our success in both our personal and professional lives. It’s not just about learning some strategies and getting a few tips. What makes us an effective manager of our time lies below the surface. That’s where we need to go if we are really going to make changes that will be long lasting. We have to do some reflection on what’s important to us, become self-aware about what motivates us during our day, and then be pro-active about making the changes we need to make.
Eben Pagan’s words are very pertinent here:
The term time management is a misnomer; we need to manage ourselves, not time.
I’ve isolated 13 behaviours that my clients use to excuse their inability to manage their time. Any one of these could be the major obstacle for you. It is much more likely, however, that there are a number of overlapping activities here that impact on your day and your life.
I’ve isolated each one because when we become overwhelmed – as many people are about their lack of time – everything becomes so big that we often feel we cannot do anything about it. The most effective way to get out from under the overwhelm is to break it down into small pieces.
13 Common Reasons People Find Time Management Difficult.
Go down the list and mark the ones that most challenge you. Make a decision to take action on them one at a time, starting with the easiest
1. I Have No Clear Goals For My Life.
These determine what’s important and where you should be spending your time. They help you set priorities. Everything else below is built on this.
Pro-active response: Make it a priority and allocate some time to determining what your goals are under Family, Work, Health and Well-Being, Financial. Decide what is negotiable and what is not negotiable. Involve the significant others in your life in this activity because it will impact on them.
2. Can’t Plan My Day.
If you don’t, someone else will “plan” it for you and you lose control of your life.
Pro-active response: Write a To Do list every day. It must be prioritised otherwise it can add to your stress.
As well, bunch your work into time slots. It is said that 90 minutes is about the optimum time we can work productively without a break. For example, plan to work 90 minutes on your most high performance, high value, high yielding project. Diary 1 hour to return phone calls. Detail 3 X 20 minute time slots a day to deal with emails.
3. I Find It Difficult To Prioritise. Everything Is Important.
No one has time lying around not being used, so when some new interest, activity, project emerges that you want or need to do, then the only way to fit it in is to put it higher up your priority list. This means moving something down the list.
Pro-active response: Go back to your goals and what’s important. Use Stephen Covey’s Time Management Quadrant to determine what’s really important. You will find it in his classic book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Separate your high value/high yield activities from the low value/low yield ones and make those your priority. We often tend to start with the low value ones, thinking we will get them out of the way first, but then don’t have time or energy for the high value ones. Ask if the low value ones need to be done at all or could they be done in the two minute time slots while waiting for something or someone.
Get very clear your reasons for your priorities. Have the courage to stay with your prioritised plan in spite of criticism you may get from others who feel you have your priorities wrong. Remember, however, that priorities change.
4. Work Seems To Be 24/7 For Me. I Have No Boundaries.
If we don’t value our time by putting boundaries around it, no one else will either.
Everything will begin to leak – all over the place! We can’t be all things to all people. We can’t be available to everyone for as long as they want.
Pro-active response: Put a boundary on your availability at work – close your door for a period each day and educate your staff not to interrupt you at that time. This is when you do your high value work that demands concentration. Learn to keep phone calls concise and productive. Don’t necessarily even take every phone call when it comes through. Have a time for returning phone calls. Don’t set up an expectation that you will answer emails immediately they arrive. Determine what time you will leave the office every day. Decide how much work you will do at home and at week-ends, if any.
Put boundaries on your availability at home for work related matters. Turn your phone off for some family time.
5. I Don’t Have A “Stop Doing” List.
What are your biggest time absorbers/wasters that yield few productive outcomes for you? These are often the things that see you very busy, but at the end of the day you can’t see what you have achieved – because often there’s nothing to show.
Pro-active Response: Take time out to determine what you need to stop doing so that you can do what you NEED and WANT to do. Maybe it is checking emails all day long, or “playing” with social media, or staying up too ate, getting up late, having an open door policy all day, buying lunch that is junk and energy sapping, drinking too much coffee.
6. I Have Too Many Interruptions.
These are what stop us from ever being able to concentrate on anything in a focussed way. It means that what should take us 1 hour to complete, often takes us 2 days. We need to be able to manage interruptions because they are inevitable.
Pro-active response: Determine which issues warrant you being interrupted and which can be handled another way. Educate your staff on this. Examine your own work practices to see how they may be contributing to the number of interruptions you get in a day and how you can make changes, e.g., an open door policy.
Create a time every day of focused uninterrupted time for important work.
7. I Find It Difficult To Delegate.
You are doing everything yourself. You have staff but you are micro-managing them, checking everything they are doing and making sure it is the way you want it done. Everything has to be approved by you. All decisions need to be made by you. You are working 80 hours a week.
Is this because you don’t know how to delegate? You have always worked by yourself and had to do everything but now you have staff and you haven’t made the transition. Or maybe you don’t want to ask your staff to do things because you don’t want to over-burden them. If so, you need a coach or mentor to help you do this.
Or is it because you don’t trust your staff to do it well enough? Did they mess up last time? Do you feel you’ll only have to do it again yourself so you may as well do it from the beginning?
Pro-active response: Investing in a coach to help you work through this may be the best investment you make in your organisation. Not being able to delegate can have a major impact on your organisation if talented staff leave because they feel you don’t trust them, you micro manage them or you don’t give them room to grow their careers by giving them responsibility, new challenges and stretch assignment.
Determine what your key role is and what you need to be responsible for. Get to know your people and what their talents are. Find out what their goals are and work with them to align them with those of your organisation. Assign roles and responsibilities consistent with those aligned goals and their talents.
Provide training and professional development in team building.
8. I Am A Great Procrastinator.
You know you have to do certain things. Part of you even wants to do them. You even know that you will feel great when you have done them, but you keep putting it off. You hesitate to make a start.
Pro-active response: If this is a major problem for you, then it is important to find out why you are procrastinating. Do you only do it on big projects or on everything? Are you frightened that when you finish your work will be rejected or criticised? Are you unsure of the value of what you are doing? Are you frightened you won’t be able to do it well enough? Are you overwhelmed by the size of the project? You may need a coach to help you here.
If it is just an infrequent annoying aspect of your life, then confront it head on and take action because the weight of procrastination is very heavy, wears us out and puts us into a negative space.
Decide whether you need to do this “thing” or not. If it doesn’t really need to be done, let it go with no regrets or recriminations. If it needs to be done, delegate it to someone else or pay someone else to do it or just do it. Make a start today. Set yourself a target to spend 20 minutes on it every day until it is completed.
9. I Can’t Say “No”.
Are you one of those people who find yourself with so much on your plate because you can’t say “No” to people? You want to be helpful and supportive to everyone. You then find that you are running on empty and have nothing to give to the really important
Pro-active response: Revisit your goals and what’s really important to you and what your negotiables and non-negotiables are. It’s easy to say “No” when you have a bigger “Yes” inside you. Learn some assertiveness skills.
10. I Spend Lots Of Time Looking For Where I Put Something.
Remember when we were told some many years ago that a paperless office was on its way? Instead it has got worse. We have piles of paper around our office and we can never find what we want.
Pro-active response: I like this tip from Michael Sheargold’s T-A-S-K process about handling paper only once.
T – toss it.
A – action it.
S – send it to someone.
K – keep it for reference and file it.
Begin today to do this with every piece of paper that crosses your desk. As well, put aside 15 minutes a day, for as long as it takes, to go through the paper on your desk and clear it.
11. I Seem To Be Always Stressed Meeting Deadlines.
Are you lurching from one deadline to another? Do you leave stuff to the last minute?
Are you then burning the midnight oil the night before and turning down important family invitations because you have to meet a deadline? As a result are you constantly in a state of stress?
Pro-active response: If the deadlines are regular, for example, a monthly report due on the first Wednesday of the month, create a system for producing it – a structure with the same headings each month, a template for producing it, a process for obtaining the required information and progressively adding it so that much of the report is done beforehand. Block out in your diary every month 3 hours to produce it – the day before it is due.
If it is work for a client, always under promise and over deliver. Set a date for the client, but make our completion date in our diary four days earlier. If we set expectations we can’t meet or fail to meet our reputation will suffer badly. If we deliver earlier than we said we would our reputation is greatly enhanced.
When we have reports to write, or projects to complete, using a project management approach can be very helpful. If we detail steps that need to be taken to move the project forward, who will do them, timelines for completion and then manage that every day, we can avoid the stress of the deadline. Writing it down and putting it up on a wall is very helpful.
12. I Have Too Many Meetings And I Can’t Get Things Done.
You have so many meetings to attend every day that you can’t get time to do the work that the meetings decide needs to be done. You are having to stay back late at work or work at home.
Pro-active response: Take time to assess whether all those meeting are necessary, especially those over which you have some control. Seek other’s views on how matters can be dealt with in alternative ways. Be courageous enough to raise this with others and seek solutions.
Within your team, look at the possibility of a 10 minute stand up meeting every morning at 9 a.m. This is accountability time, reporting on where everyone is at. It is also motivating and keep everyone on their toes knowing they have to report every morning. The monthly team meeting then can become more innovative and transformative for both the individuals and the organisation rather than just being task oriented.
13. My Organisation Lacks Systems.
Constantly re-inventing the wheel takes up an enormous amount of time in organisations. This happens when an organisation doesn’t have systems and procedures in place for how things are to be done.
The same thing has to be explained over and over again when an instruction sheet could be sent or accessed.
People don’t know how to do something that is integral to the functioning of the organisation, so they have to interrupt someone to ask for details or instructions.
There is no recorded process for handling issues that come up over and over so that if someone is needed to man the phone if the receptionist is away, for example, there is nothing to guide them.
Pro-active response: Get all staff involved for 2 weeks to write down everything they believe could be systematised to save time. As well get them to record systems and processes that could be removed or streamlined to save time. Set up a project team to take responsibility for collating results to be presented to the management team.
When it comes to creating the systems do it in multi-media format which is more aligned to all the generations across the workforce – video, text and audio. Involve staff across the organisation in producing the systems because that way they feel ownership of it. Acknowledge their contribution on completion.
So Now It Is Up To You To Take Action on Your Time Management Dilemma.
Take one small step at a time. Choose one thing and work on it.
I have written blog posts on nearly all of these things that develop them out further. if you can’t find them, email me and I’ll point you in the right direction.
I want to repeat what was said earlier. Time management is not just about changing behaviour. It is about changing your mind-set as well.