Time Management used to be a popular subject for writers and presenters especially in the 1990s when it seemed to be in its heyday. I don’t hear so many people discussing it these days but it’s as relevant as it ever was, if not more so largely because of technology.
Technology is a double-edged sword, which has both helped and hindered the way we manage our time. Before the advent of mobile phones, laptops, the internet and cloud technology there was a much clearer delineation of the boundaries between work and home life.
In the post-war years of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s work was an activity that took place outside our homes. It was the office, the factory, the fields or on the roads that our work activity took place. We ‘clocked on and off’, had specific instructions and time driven deadlines, which dictated when, and how we worked. Only the self-employed had some leeway in terms of how they managed their time and even this was limited by customer demand, which still insisted that work was something that occurred mainly between 9am-5pm from Monday to Friday.
In those days the only people who worked 24/7 (a phrase your grandparents would have assumed had something to do with the 24th of July) were the emergency services. The idea of doing your weekly shop at 2am on a Friday night either in store or on the Internet would have been the stuff of science fiction for that generation. The concept of sitting by the pool in the Caribbean on holiday whilst conducting a conference call with four colleagues located in London, Sydney, Durban and Beijing whilst all looking at the same information on their screens would have been something that your grandparents would have thought only possible in a James Bond film.
But hang on…why on earth would we be hosting a conference call whilst we are on holiday by the pool on a Caribbean island? Because we can. Technology allows us to work whenever and wherever we want to, but it can make us much less productive because we have no time to recharge our batteries. When work encroaches into our lives to the point that we rarely switch off we can easily become stale. The opportunity for those Eureka moments are denied to us if we are constantly connected to work – Eureka only happens when we are disconnected from work in a completely different activity. Archimedes wasn’t on his mobile phone calling work when he when he discovered his famous principal in the bath – if he had been he wouldn’t have had his Eureka moment.
So how do we manage our time well in order to get a healthy work/life balance, be less stressed and more productive? Here are ten simple tips and hints:
Put first things first (to quote the late Stephen Covey author of the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People). Or to put it another way “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least”…..Goethe. Decide what is really important to you and be more disciplined about getting the most important things done first, especially if it involves family. Work will always be there but children grow up.
Make lists. Sight is the dominant sense and we often feel less stressed when we write down all the tasks we have to do on paper or on the screen. When we can see everything we feel more in control and we can then decide how we are going to prioritise – some people like ‘quick wins’; others prioritise the things they like doing the least to get them over with, or we may simply work through the list in time ordered fashion.
Talking of lists what about having a ‘not to do’ list. Jim Collins author of Good to Great talked about being really clear about identifying what you are not going to do and being disciplined about not getting drawn into things that are a waste of your valuable time. Make an effort to stop doing things that are non-productive like social media.
Consider using Pareto’s 80/20 principle to manage your time better. The Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto found that in 19th century Italy 80% of the wealth was owned by 20% of the population. The so called 80/20 principle has been applied to many things since then. Write down all the work tasks you are responsible for then pick the 20% that are the most important and spend 80% of your time working on the 20% of the tasks that will probably deliver 80% of the results.
Use technology wisely – stop spending so much time on social media (I know I’ve just mentioned this but it’s worth repeating!) – don’t confuse being busy with being productive. Being productive means that you have something tangible to show for your time. Use technology to max out your dead time – I’m writing this article in the waiting room at Wolverhampton station as my train has been delayed (ok I’ll admit I did have to discipline myself not to look at the Racing Post app to check on the results of today’s horse racing!)
Plan your time. Think about which activities can be done when and where. Don’t schedule work that can be any time at a time when only certain activities can be done. For example schedule work that involves connecting to others at a time when those people are likely to be available, you can answer your emails any time – well actually you can’t you need to be able to connect to the internet and there are places where you can’t get online e.g. on a flight or at my local pub in rural Staffordshire.
On the subject of emails one theory says don’t constantly check emails throughout the day – allocate time first thing in the morning and again at the end of the day. If it’s really urgent someone will text or call you. Constantly checking emails distracts you from completing tasks that demand more attention.
Try not to work at weekends when your friends and family are available. Better to work later in the week and keep your weekends free if you can. Use the last hour at work on Friday to plan for the following week, then switch off if you can.
Trade tasks. Spend more of your time doing the things that you have a talent and a passion for. You’ll get through these tasks quickly and it won’t feel like hard work. Trade off the tasks you are less equipped for with a colleague who is good at what you’re poor at and vice-versa.
Understand what works for you and be prepared to ignore any of the advice above. Many years ago I asked a colleague why she always ate her lunch at her desk in between answering calls and emails, it looked so stressful to me but her answer was quite logical “I’d feel a lot more stressed if I took a 30 minute lunch break and then returned to a backlog of calls and emails where I had to play catch up all afternoon”
As Michael Altshuler very astutely summed it up: The bad news is time flies; the good news is you’re the pilot. So take control of your time and live a happier and more productive life.