How would you like to get 40% more done in the same amount of time?
One skill in which everyone could improve is time management. We all have to-do lists – both business and personal/family. If you could achieve more of your activity goals, i.e. items on your to do list, each day you could be more productive. In most cases people can achieve significantly better results by just making a few changes in how they think and what they do. The following are a collection of seven ideas on how to do so. This list will get you started on a business life that is less stressful, more efficient and in the end more productive:
1. I have read that when someone who is used to working on a messy desk then starts to work on a clean desk, they will be 40% more effective. I have people report back to me that their assistants have told them they got 60-80% more done the day made that change. How does your desk look today?
2. Work to the clock, not the task. This is the opposite of what we were taught as kids. We were told not to watch the clock, and focus only on the job until it is done. However, think about when someone is about to go on vacation. When that person knows they have a day or half-day to get certain must-do tasks done, they achieve a tremendous amount of work in 4 or 8 hours. It is scary to think about how much they could accomplish with focus on a set of tasks while keeping in mind how much time they have left. Just like Michael Jordan’s jump shot at the buzzer, finishing your list by the time you have to leave the office (i.e. the final buzzer) feels great.
3. Multitasking is less efficient than focusing on one task at a time. My apologies to those who have made multitasking an art. I know people who took pride in how much multitasking they could handle at any one time. There have been multiple studies that have proven multitasking costs you time. Start one task at a time and complete it before going to the next task.
4. The follow-on to multitasking and working to the clock is setting a time limit for each task. How many times have you seen someone that scheduled an unrealistic number of tasks to be completed in a day or a couple hours, only to complete very few items on the list? Instead, when you set a goal to be completed, it should be prioritized and given a realistic set amount of time to be completed. If you are not sure how long a task will take, a good rule of thumb is to make a realistic estimate, then double it! If you do not complete a task by the time allotted, you must make a decision. Either you schedule a time for completion of the task, or reschedule the next task and finish your current task. This strategy takes discipline, but it works. Try it today.
5. When listing tasks to be completed in a day, first they must be categorized:
a. A-tasks – which must be completed today or you will be negatively impacted. Examples are getting your monthly or quarterly tax forms completed and paying those taxes, submitting a proposal by the date promised, or calling or meeting with someone at a specific time. These tend to be important and urgent tasks.
b. B-tasks – will become A-tasks if not completed by a certain date. These are the tasks on which you spend most of your time if you are proactive not acting in a reactive manner, as a general rule. These tend to be important tasks which are not urgent (yet).
c. C-Tasks – are less important tasks, but need to be done. These will sometimes be urgent. When categorizing a task as a C, ask yourself – What would happen if you never did that task? If the answer is no, just don’t waste your time. Don’t let an urgent task make you start thinking it is important. Items here may be scheduling a meeting which may or may not bring you closer to your goals, but you won’t know until you schedule it, training at a seminar on a specific topic where the due date to register is coming up, or purging both electronic and physical files.
d. D-Tasks – are often like your D-customers, if you look at them rationally, it is clear you are better off letting them go. These tend to be unimportant and non-urgent tasks. Sometimes after considering a task, you will realize that volunteering for that civic organization was actually a C-task, and you should do it.
e. Once you have assigned a category to all tasks, prioritize each. Therefore you should have tasks listed as an A-1, and A-2, etc. until you run out of A’s, then do the same with your B and C tasks.
f. Next, assign each task a specific time to be completed. Task A-1 may be the first thing you want to get done, if so start with that task to start off your day. Remember the Eat Your Frog concept, from the Brian Tracy book by the same name. Take that task that you have been dreading, and knock that off first chance you get. That way you will not think about it, and just get it done.
6. Handle paper/messages only once if at all possible. This may sound foreign to you at first, but this has been a great timesaver for many people. Each piece of mail, paper, email, etc. must be assigned a category to save you time. It is like an Emergency Department nurse at a hospital triaging patients. You can do it with emails and paper. There are four choices when faced with a document, both physical or electronic:
a. Act – you can take action at that moment. The rule of thumb here is that anything you can complete in 100 seconds or less, you should complete that task, respond to that email, etc. at the moment you first find that message or paper. If not, it becomes a task. See #5 above on how to handle that task. These are the only items that you may touch more than once.
b. Delegate – assuming you have someone to delegate it to, have the person with the expertise and time that can handle that task, do so. Even better, ask them when they can have it done. They will be more apt to complete it by their stated goal day and time. FYI – the person to whom you delegate the task can be someone outside your company or department. Consider all options before determining you don’t have anyone to whom you can delegate a task.
c. File – either in your electronic or physical files store that item. Make it easy to find. Taking an extra moment to determine the best place to put it now, will save much time and aggravation in the future when you need it.
d. Trash – delete the email or throw away the document or letter that has no value. Touch that item only one time. Start doing this instead of handing that document multiple times and your productivity will start increasing quickly.
7. Plan your day effectively. Most people are most effective mornings or later in the day. Determine whether investing the first or last 15 minutes of the day to plan your tasks works best for you, and do it. Here is the toughest part; you need to do it every day. Then, on Fridays schedule one hour, either at the beginning or end of the day, to schedule next week’s tasks and meetings. Remember, the rule of thumb is that for every hour of planning that you do, you will save 10 hours of time. Some people I know have become significantly more effective by following just that one rule.
Start using these seven ideas today, and let us know about your results. Also, please email me at: Bob@BizCoachBob.com if you have a favorite time management strategy that you would like to share. If we have enough response, we will publish additional ideas and then add the best of the ideas you send to us. Remember, no matter how good someone is at time management, you can always be better. Enjoy your new level of efficiency and productivity!