Time Management

Planning is the key

The key to really good time management is disciplined planning. The advantage of planning your time in advance is that it allows prioritisation of tasks and correct focus of activities. Another reason, often overlooked, is that it allows your brain to mentally prepare for the tasks coming up. This is especially good when you can plan with one or more days’ notice.  

Don’t start your day until you complete your time plan. The most important time of your day is the time you schedule to schedule time. 

By clearly stating the upcoming things that are important, you will find yourself better prepared and ready to deal with those tasks when the time comes.

Find your best time of the day

Do your most demanding creative mental work during your peak performance time. If you are a morning person, do it then. If you are a night owl save it for that time. Save the less challenging and low productivity tasks for when you are less inclined or low on energy. 

Design your ideal day and week 

One of the best ways to be more productive is to design in advance what your ideal week or ideal day would look like. Use what works best for you; whether it be Excel, notebook, diary or electronically. Make sure you put in your essential activities (e.g. regular weekly events) then decide how you are going to allocate the rest of your time to achieve your goals. 

Prioritise your tasks

Andrew Carnegie, the American Steel Baron of the 1800’s reportedly paid US$1 Million dollars for the idea of using a prioritised to-do list. The discipline of writing down all the tasks that need to be done and most importantly, prioritising them into A, B, C and D Grade priorities massively increased the productivity of his company. 

Here are a few tips for really using a to-do list well. For maximum productivity start your daily to-do list the night before, so you can sleep on it, then add to it as required during the day. It should take no more than 10 min to do. Always write tomorrow’s new to-do list, starting off with yesterday’s leftovers. Many people do not bother with the prioritising and just do the fun or easy tasks, thinking that they are “productive”. The key is to work on the priority ‘A’ tasks first. 

If you have activities of equal priority, start with those you dislike the most first. That will remove the procrastination factor from your day’s work. Once the unpleasant work is done, everything else is easier. 

Put returning calls, emails and messages at the very top of your daily priority list and do them in blocks rather than randomly throughout your day.  Don’t automatically give people your attention unless its absolutely crucial. Leave detailed messages and times that you are available to take return calls. Don’t let incoming email distract you. Turn your email off and allocate regular times through the day to access it e.g. mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon and end of the day. 

It’s important to not overdo planning and prioritising your time. Use strategic opportunism in your daily work. Often chance encounters, unexpected visits or unplanned phone calls present small, but significant, opportunities to move a few steps closer to your goal.  Most of those events cannot be planned. If they are dealing with important issues, pursue them. If not, move on.  

Overcome procrastination

Unpleasant tasks tend to get left on the to-do list and ignored or left to last. These important tasks might get rolled over to the next day because they aren’t urgent. The key is to break these unpleasant tasks into smaller, more manageable bite size chunks and remember to reward yourself after each bite is completed. As Brian Tracy says, “How do you eat an elephant? - one bite at a time”.

Be decisive

Don’t wait for all the information – as Bill Gates says, “If you wait for all the information to make a business case – you have waited too long”. Just go with what you know and trust your gut. Remember the 80/20 Principle – 80% of the information is gleaned in 20% of the time.

If you are still having trouble getting things done set your final deadline and get some help from a coach or buddy. You can either reward yourself upon completion or get someone else to name a non-reward if you don’t get it done. 

Have integrity

Make a commitment to doing what you say you are going to do – on time, every time. Each time you deceive yourself or others you become less productive as you spend time feeling remorseful and making up excuses/reasons. Remember, in the end only results count, not excuses/reasons.

Get organised and be systematic

E-Calendars can be integrated across personal devices; from your smartphone through to your pc, laptop and tablet – streamlining the process and ensuring you always have access. If you prefer writing in a diary or notebook, do what works best for you. 

Arrange your work area for maximum productivity. Organise your files, whether it be paper or electronic with your most important topics. Have an efficient filing system. 

Don’t undersell yourself

If you are an $80/hr person then consider delegating or outsourcing tasks that cost less than the hourly rate you would like to earn. There are plenty of people willing to mow lawns, do laundry or do bookwork for < $25 per hour, so let them do it and don’t worry about ‘saving money’. Worry about finding more quality and high paying work for yourself to do so that you can earn your true hourly rate.

The key to delegating, includes having positive expectations of a great outcome, not dumping work on someone with no follow-up and not getting caught up on ‘doing it yourself’ - because no one can do it as well as you can. To begin delegating use a Delegating Sheet with all the job description, details, methodology and outcome you would like plus the format of the result. This will be the basis for the systems you would like the person to use. 

Encourage your people to take charge. You get what you expect so expect the best. Learn from your mistakes.  No one will ever do it as well as you but at least you can do some more productive activities now. 

Do not allow people on your team to “delegate up” to you. Develop them, guide them, empower, and energise them, but do not do their work for them. Ask them “what would you do in this situation” when they bring you problems.  Get them to solve the problem first and bring you solutions.

Mastering meetings

Learn how to lead effective meetings. Poorly run meetings cost you and everyone else an enormous amount of valuable time. Ensure that the bulk of what is discussed in a meeting is relevant to most of the people there, otherwise consider having some shorter meetings with fewer people. All attendees should bring a note pad to the meeting and be capable of contributing and all should receive follow up actions. If not, then they are wasting their time being there – they can receive a copy of the meeting Minutes.

There are few excuses for not starting and finishing on time, not having clear meeting outcomes and agendas, not keeping discussions on track, not minimising disruptions, or not handling conflict effectively. It is a skill issue. Improve yours and you will free up time for everybody. 

Make sure you generate an Action Plan from each meeting and start the next meeting by quickly reviewing the Action Plan and holding people accountable.

Learn to say ‘No’

Some people have a great deal of difficulty saying “no” to requests for help. If you are agreeable to the point that you are not getting your most important work done, you have a problem that needs correcting. Aside from the toll it takes on your time, you are probably being perceived not only as “nice” but also as “disorganised” and potentially “unreliable”.

Learn to say “no” to anything that you know is beneath your level of skill or your level of responsibility. In learning to say “no,” practice saying it as soon as possible, for delaying a “no” only makes matters worse for everybody. Practice and perfect this necessary skill.

Give it your full attention

Concentrating on one thing at a time ensures maximum productivity. Being ‘present’ with the task at hand ensures that it gets done in the fastest possible time, with maximum effort. 

Know your outcome

Start every project or activity by asking, “What is my objective?” or “What outcome am I looking for?” Time spent clarifying your goal from the activity and preparing a detailed outline is time extremely well spent. Ask yourself “What am I trying to say here?” or “What are my main points?” This time investment will help ensure a higher quality of work output.

Reduce time wasting 

Avoid being distracted from important tasks.  This is just wasting time to avoid dealing with tasks you do not like. Block out distractions like Facebook and other forms of social media unless you use these tools to generate business. 

Top time saving tips

  • Eliminate unnecessary travel – can you phone, video or teleconference instead?

  • Travel off peak – start/finish earlier or later than peak hour.

  • Delegate – find someone who can do some of your important work for you.

  • Spend less time doing the same job as you become more skilled. 

  • Arrive early for flights and meetings – fill in time with reading or calls.

  • Learn how to use the time saving features on all the technology you use.

  • Eliminate Double ups – do it right the first time, finish it.

  • Keep a Monthly Summary worksheet, store it electronically, write it down and put it on your wall - use it!


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Jamie Simpson