The company I worked for had budget pressures and decided the management team would be assigned to teach courses to save training budget. (Yes, it is a crazy concept.) I was asked to teach a one-day “Time Management Course“.
I asked how many of the 25 people in the room had taken a time management course before. The hands of 24 people went up. “OK, what is the first thing you do?”
“Prioritize your tasks” was the agreed-upon approach.
“What do you do next?” I asked.
“Do #1 on your list” they agreed.
With that, I said “Great – you all know how to manage your time!” I walked out of the room. I stayed out long enough for them to wonder if I was coming back.
Simple and Not Easy
When I returned, we discussed why the SIMPLE rules of time management are NOT EASY to implement. If people had taken a course before … why are they here to take another time management course? There are thousands of courses on time management. There are probably a thousand phone apps that promise to help you manage your time and priorities. Almost any of them will help if you work at it. What does it mean to work at it?
The former President of Weight Watchers shared with David Letterman the single secret to weight loss … counting calories. All the diets and approaches can be distilled down to paying attention to what you are eating or not eating. When people reach their goal weight and stop counting calories, most people gain their excess weight back.
Time Management is somewhat like a diet. Instead of counting calories, you’re counting minutes. Are each of your minutes productive in reaching your goals? You need to make a plan and count your actual use of time. Your plan and actual will not be the same for each day of the week. If you know where and when there is a gap between plan and actual … you have a chance to get better.
Good Habits Take Time
At the end of the day, look at what did, and did not, get done on the priority list. Make note of what caused you to go off course and not get top priorities done.
The victory list for the new day should be a fresh list. It may or may not include undone items from the prior day. Deciding you do not need to do something on the list or delegating an item is a great time saver.
Learn to say “no” to interruptions from others and from yourself. Know your priorities and remember them continually.
At least weekly, look at all the things that did not get done. Ask why they did not get done. Hint: Usually there is an emotional component, such as wanting to please someone who is requesting your time; avoiding an uncomfortable task; getting distracted by something interesting, but less important, such as social media (big time killer), etc. Do you need to break goals into smaller pieces so you can make progress in a day?
There are items that must be done and only you can do them. They cannot be delegated. Make sure the key activities are not pushed out of your day by non-key activities. Examples of key activities are: relationships, planning, preparation, personal health, leadership, etc. Several of my clients have found blocking two hours a day (and holding on to at least one of the hours daily) for thinking and key activities has significantly improved their time management and effectiveness.
If you save 20 minutes each workday by focusing on priorities, that equals two work-weeks each year. What could you do with that additional time?
Not Easy, But Worth it
Can I walk out of the room now? Time management is simple. Time management is not easy. Time management is not complicated. Time management has high payback.