Time management techniques
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From 20 years of business experience and 5 years of helping people create more time I can tell you that is just not true. There is no ONE way that is right for everyone. Not even most people. In fact I haven’t even found one program that is 100% right for one person.
What does all this mean? It means that YOU need to find the time management techniques, ideas and create you own system to give you more time. Time Management Central is designed to provide you with a broad range of information that we know works (because we have clients who have done it) so that you can find what will work for YOU.
Here are some of the time management techniques we have seen people use to improve time management.
Firstly we recommend you fully understand and use the 4 core skills. These are skills or concepts rather than rigid structures, so you can apply them to whatever your personal style is.
The 4 core skills
1. A mindset of Self-Management not Time Management
2. Use a structure
3. Whole in ONE
4. Use a trigger
Perhaps we should clarify what we mean by time management techniques. We see time management techniques as an approach or way of working that will help you spend you time how you want to spend it.
Here are some time management techniques that our clients have found very effective:
Top 4 – write down your top 4 tasks for the week and for each day This is one of the most powerful time management techniques you can use. It is simple (though not always easy - I'll come back to that). It is proven, not only by our clients, but many others. The story behind this approach is that millionaire Charles Swab allowed consultant Ivy Lee a short meeting only if he could provide value. Ivy Lee introduced Swab to this approach and left saying, if you think this is useful send me a cheque for what it is worth. Swab sent a cheque for $25,000 (a lot of money in the early 1900s) saying it was one of the best pieces of advice he had ever received.
Our version of this technique suggests that you identify the top four tasks you need to complete for the week, ideally on the Friday before the week starts. Write these down. Physically write them out, even if you also put them in an elelctronic system -- it seems to create a different sense of connection to the task in your mind.
This gives you clarity about what is important and what is not for that week. Then identify and write the top four tasks for the next day. We suggest that on Friday afternoon you do the Top 4 for the following week AND the Monday's top four. Monday afternoon/evening you do Tuesday's top four, after reflecting on Monday and how you progresses with the week's Top 4.
The most critical part of the original advice Swab received also said, "put your top four tasks in priority order and COMPLETE the first one on the list BEFORE starting anything else."
Most people find this very difficult! Why? Great questions, which requires a long answer and here is not the place -- the short answer is motivation - they don't see enough benefit in completing the task to stick at it.
I can assure you though, that if you complete your Top 4 early in the week you will feel great. Even just completing task 1 on Monday has a huge impact. Try it.
This time management technique is not as easy as it sounds. Two factors seem to make it difficult for some people. The first is deciding on only four tasks. The second is staying focused on completing the tasks.
Deciding on the Top 4 -- if this is difficult for you then you need to get much clearer about what your key outcomes/goals are in your life, your work and your projects. The bottom line is that some things are more important that others and you need to know what they are.
Completing the task -- if this is dificult you need to explore the motivation behind what you are doing or not doing. What is happening for you that means you ALLOW yourself to get off-task. Has the task become boring? Is something else more exciting?
Is the task hard for you? To stay on task you need to connect with the benefit of the outcome you will get -- and this should be significant as you have decided it is in your Top 4. Keep this benefit(s) in mind to keep you on task.
If this approach seems to resonate with you TRY IT.
Clear the Decks - Collect and Process all your incomplete tasks This time management technique is from Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen. GTD is a very comprehensive system (see our GTD page for more details). This technique is only one aspect, but we have foind people get huge benefits from doing it.
The benefits come from downloading all your incomplete tasks from your head. This seems to give people a huge sense of relief and they usually feel lighter and more energetic. Why? Because your brain gets a rest. All the incompletes are physically collected instead of being kept in your brain. When task, ideas, reminders are ONLY in your brain, your brain stays on ALL the time. No wonder people don't have any energy!
To implemenet this time management technique, you need to set aside at least half a day - no interruptions (yes, it may need to be an evening or a weekend - whatever you need). Gather everything from your mind and your physcial environment. Your desk, your email, your email inbox, and most importantly your head. Write down EVERY task or project that is in your head.
Everything from bread and milk to an overseas holiday -- from mowning the lawn to renovating the house. Anything that is in your head needs to come out. You can write these on indivdual sheets of paper or post it notes, which seems right for you.
Now you process everything -- which means you either decide on a next action and write it on your next actions list (don't actually do it or you will never finish processing) or dump it (throw it in the bin) or delegate it (give the job to someone else - if you need to follow-up put it on a follow-up or waiting list) or put it off (it's not for now, so put it on a later/someday/maybe list).
After doing this your office and desk will be clean, you inbox processed and your mind clear.
Apply the 80-20 rule to everything
The 80-20 rule is a great time management technique because it gets you focused on the 20% of actions that will give you the 80% impact or output. To implement the 80-20 rule you take a few minutes before you start doing any task or project to stop, think and ask yourself "is this task in the 20% (ie has high impact) or in the 80% (low impact).
This seems like a simple rule and a logical one, but in our our experience it is not so simple or logical to implemenet. You need to do some "baseline" observation and thinking to get clear on what is in the 20% and what is in the 80%.
By baseline we mean look at what is happening now or has happened in the past. Use that information to identify the actions that got you the best results. You might be surprised. For example in running a business or selling you could apply this and work out who are the 20% of customers that place 80% of the orders. What about to 20% of customer that have 80% of the problems.
Another baseline might be the 20% of products that represent 80% of the sales, and so on it goes. Now that you have identified some baseline 80/20 rule data, look at ways you can apply that to current and future behaviour.
Perhaps you should "fire some customers"?! Perhaps your good customers come from one (or a similar source or process or industry). The same thinknig applies to internal process, people management and operational functions.
Now here is the tricky bit. The 80% never goes away! So it requires constant application of the 80/20 to be effective. Our readers and clients have found that the 80% of "distraction stuff" changes, but something is always trying to distract you from the actions that will create the results you want.
Try this time management technique and see how you go. In our experience everyone who tries it gains benefit -- some though don't maintain using the 80/20 rule as long as others!
Determine your capacity and stop overloading yourself The fourth in our series of time management techniques is about making sure you do not overload yourself. This is about undestanding you capacity - where capacity means volume of work (not your ability).
The most consisent factor we see with people who have lost control of their time is that they overcommit, to others and/or themselves, about the amount of work they can get done.
How much work can you get done in a hour, a week, a day? Do you really know? Are you any good at estimating the time it takes to do a task? In our experience most people are extremely bad at estimating time.
So get a handle on it now. A great starting point is to track your time so you know where you spend it currently. At very least estimate the time you think it will take to do a task before you start it and, when finished, compare the actual time with your estimate.
Next, write down everything you thought that you should, could, might or will get done this week. Estimate the time each requires, add them up and see how many hours you were going to work this week! Who needs sleep anyway! More than 50% of the people we work with have twice as much as they can do (even if their time estimates were accurate). No wonder so many people feel like they are always falling behind.
Now agree to completing tasks (with others or yourself) based on whether it fits in to you capacity. Can you fit it in and is it important? If Yes, make the agreement to do it. If not, say NO. Our clients and readers give us the feedback that when they know their capacity it makes it much easier to say No, because they truely know it cannot be done. And usually they are pleasantly surprised by the response from other people, who are impressed by your discipline or just happy to get a straight, honest repsonse.
Suggested Activity: Time Management Quiz
Try the time management quiz and see how your rate on procrastination and other time management skills.
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