Some years ago everybody in business talked about the importance of productivity and time management! Now they talk about it again. Even McKinsey Quarterly publishes an article about it. But don’t be fooled – there is no such thing as Time Management.
Time is not something you can manage. Time is a resource. In fact it is the most democratic resource in the universe. And it never gets empty. There is enough for everybody – rich and poor. Time does not go – it comes. You do not have to do anything to get more time – just sit down and relax – and it comes to you. How much? Depends on how long you live!
So, you can not manage time. What you can manage is your activities. Activities you do when time passes by. So it should all be about Activity Management.
I learned that when I was engaged as a sales manager for the Norwegian branch of the Danish consultant company, Time Manager International, many years ago. Do you remember those small binders with a green calendar part and the red activity part? I guess you do if you’re old enough.
It was not the green calendar pages that was the most important part, but the dark red activity part. That was where the secret of productivity was. To have a worklist where you divided your responsibilities – both for work and private life – into nine -9- main sections. Then you got these decided into project with tasks under them again. If you know something about GTD work principles you will get the point.
The green part, the calendar, was all about time and scheduling. There the time was a budget where you allocated – reserved – time for you projects and tasks. So time is all about budgeting time – not managing it. What you manage is your tasks.
But to be productive and Get Things Done – you will always have to make priorities for your tasks. And understand the difference of “important” and “urgent”. Because what is important for someone else, does not mean it is important to you. And just the same with urgent.
In my definition “important” is all about goals. Business Goals and Personal Goals. If you don’t know where you’re heading then you will never get there. And you will not understand what you need to do to get there.
Without goals you are a shrimp! A shrimp? Yes, a shrimp. They swim backwards and never know where they will end up. All they know is where they have been! So, don’t be a shrimp – know your goal, find out how to get there – and go on swimming with your eyes in the right direction.
But just as a naval navigator, a ship captain, you will have to navigate and calculate the speed you need and the time you will need for every distance of the journey. That is where your calendar comes in. But what you manage is the activity, not the time.
Myself, I try to have clear goals both personal and professional. And that is quite easy. It’s just like every new year when you decide some personal goals for next year. Take off 10 kilos from my waist, stop smoking, start running, get 5 new top customers, over achieve my revenue goals etc.
So what you then have to do is decide when these things are going to be achieved. Would it be half a year, three months or what? You decide and put it into your calendar. Next is to set up the tasks you have to do to get there – and decide when to do what and in which order.
Then at every quarter-end do a review of the quarter passed and plan for the quarter ahead. Repeat the same review every moth end. Review the passed and plan the next. And so on both weekly and daily. That is what we call Activity Management!
Myself, I have a weekly review every friday just before end of work day. I sum up everything that I did and achieved (or not achieved) in the week behind and plan and prioritize for the week ahead.
For this I use a To-Do planner that I synchronize between my desktops and handheld devices. What I use and how I use it is for another article. I have tested them all.
How I use my time resources is another story. The perfect use of my time would be 8 hour work time, 8 hour private time and 8 hour sleep. But as I travel a lot – and work a lot – my democratic 24 hours time resource is often divided into a lot of smaller parts and stumble around.
Sometimes work time and private time is not clearly separated and could bring a lot of problems like for instance a burn out – which I have experienced three times in my life. This happens when you are very engaged in what you do – you love your job – you are your job – you live and breath your job. People who get burned out are usually those who burn most for what they are doing.
Multitasking was a buzzword some years ago. And lot of people brag about how good they are to multitask. They are able to do many things in parallel simultaneously. Women often say that men are not able to do multitasking while they can have a lot of things cooking at the same time. Well, then you will have to be a champion of Activity Management.
Now, new research shows that multitasking is not as productive and efficient as we have believed it to be. First you do a little of this task, and then jump over to do a little of that task, and you end of whit a lot of task that is not quite finished and often with low quality.
I learned from a danish production manager that if you – at the production line – don’t do your part of the job 100 %, but only 80 %, before it is sent on to the next person, then the next in line will have to do your remaining 20 % as well as his own 100 %. And he will not have the needed competence to do that and never get time to finish his work before the product has to move on.
Finally we end up with a product with lower quality than expected delivered later than planned for and in worst case end up with a product that no one asked for, made by people who was not qualified for it. You get the point.
Do not multitask. Become a single-tasker. Plan what to do. Plan when to do it. Plan how to do it. And focus on the task you have prioritized to achieve your goal. Say no when colleagues ask you to do their unfinished job. If you say yes they will go on asking you – and you’ll soon be out of focus doing the wrong tasks at the wrong time and at the wrong quality.
Clean your desk and keep only the stuff you need for this special task within your sight. Work on it until its done. Undisturbed and at finished the right time.
One trick: Do not open you inbox until you have done your five most important things today. Remember that “urgent” is not “important”. Urgent only means that someone – or you – has not done their job in time, because they did not focus and prioritize.
Another trick: Shut off you phone until the task is done. If you have a cell office you can close the door and tape a “do-not-disturb” sign on the outside of the door.
And at last: Do not get fooled by time management consultant that want to teach you how to plan your time. Plan your activities – and do it yourself!
Get at it – NOW!