“Effectiveness is a habit and that you can improve through practice.” - Peter F. Drucker
We all have the same amount of time so why does it seem that some people are able to get more out of their day. Believe it or not, they have learnt the skill of how to properly manage their time to build their effectiveness. You too can learn this valuable skill and no matter how long you’ve been in the workplace, it’s never too late to learn.
After getting to know my clients, one of the first things I ask them is ‘where do you want to be?’ One way I sometimes ask this is ‘What would be different say in two years’ time from now?’
Setting goals, or knowing which direction you are going is fundamental in clarifying your ideas, focusing your efforts, use your time and resources productively, and increase your chances of achieving what you want in life. To make sure your goals are clear and reachable, each one should be SMART which is:
- Specific (clear and concise).
- Measurable (the ability to track your progress).
- Achievable (challenging yet attainable).
- Relevant (set goals that are relevant to your overall plan).
- Time bound (goals should have a target finish time attached).
The Power of Focus
Tim Cook, the COO of Apple said “We are the most focused company that I know of or have read of or have any knowledge of. We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose.” Like Apple’s success, you too can achieve amazing results on focusing your efforts and doing a good job on those things you decided to do and eliminating unimportant opportunities.
Keeping the amount of goals you have to less than three increases the likelihood that you will reach them all with excellence. Statistics show that those who have more than four goals are likely to achieve only 1 or 2 of them. If you have over 11 goals, you are unlikely to reach any.
Learning to say ‘NO’ is a skill many successful people have mastered. Take billionaire Warren Buffett, for example. With all the demands on him, Buffett learned a long time ago that his most valuable resource is his time. He has mastered the art and practice of setting boundaries for himself. The mega-mogul once said, "The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.
Executive coaching guru, Dr. Marshal Goldsmith says that one of the greatest lessons Peter Drucker taught him is:
“We spend a lot of time helping leaders learn what to do. We do not spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop. Half of the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.”
As a coach, I have found that much of my work is helping leaders work out what they need to stop doing in order to focus on their most important priorities.
You may also want to start by looking at your schedule or to-do-list every day and for simplicity try to get down five tasks you need to accomplish. Using the principle you can probably eliminate the majority of the items on your list. It may feel unnatural at first but overtime this will condition you to scale up effort on the most important tasks.
Learning How You Spend Time Will Help You Save Time
When it comes to managing your time, you may need to find out where your time actually goes. You may believe that you only send 30 minutes on emails, but in reality that task might be eating-up an hour of your day. The easiest way to keep track of your time is to download an app like RescueTime, Toggl or my app Calendar to track everything you do in a week. You can then find out what’s stealing your time and make the appropriate adjustments.I've found that setting a time limit to each task prevents me from getting distracted or procrastinating. if I don’t complete the task on time, I can still work on it without eating into the time reserved for something else.
Virtual meetings - thanks to rapidly advancing technology, we have more and more choice on ways to run a meeting. Of course, to say that online meetings can simply replace all face-to-face meetings is unrealistic.
Batching similar tasks together such as emails and phone calls. I know effective managers who schedule a specific time to handle these tasks such as late morning and towards the end of the day.
I also plan my week to avoid wasting time waiting. If I do find that I have a delay, I make the best of it. For example, whist waiting I’ll read an inspirational book, listen to a podcast, or make those important calls.
Delegation and outsourcing can get a bit difficult for some but are real time-savers since it lessens your workload - which means you have more time to spend on more important tasks. Either hand over responsibilities to team members who are qualified or hire an experienced freelancer. Time training will be worth-it in the end.
Leaving a buffer-time between tasks and meetings can help performance. Jumping immediately from one task or meeting to the next may seem like a good use of your time, but it actually has the opposite effect. We need time to clear our minds and recharge. After all, the human brain can only focus for about 90-minutes at a time. Without that break it’s more difficult to stay focused and motivated. Scheduling buffer-time also can prevent running late to your next meeting.
The Power of Planning
A lot of successful leaders spend time thinking on how they will achieve their priorities. Spending time planning keeps you focused on your goals as well as giving you the opportunity to build contingency for a possible crisis and help you work out how to avoid interruptions.
One of the worst things that you can do is wake-up without a plan for the day. Before leaving work for the day, spend the last 15-minutes organizing your office and composing a list of your most important items for tomorrow. During your morning routine write down the 3 or 4 most urgent and important matters that need to be addressed today and work on those when you’re most productive.
Spend your mornings on your most important tasks (MIT’s). Mark Twain once said, "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." Gross? Sure. But, the point that Twain was making that you should take care your biggest and most-challenging tasks in the morning, aka your most important tasks (MITs) of the day.
There are a couple reasons why this is such an effective time management trick. For starters, you usually have the most amount of energy in the morning. So it’s better to tackle these tasks when you’re not drained. Also, you can use that feeling of accomplishment to get through the rest of the day.
Be Energized and Inspired
There is a reason why successful leaders exercise regally. Even a short burst of fun cardio activity works wonders, especially in the morning. This is because exercise releases endorphins, serotonin, and other happy chemicals in your brain. According to renowned psychologist Shawn Achor, the reason why exercise is so key to your morning routine is that it literally trains your brain to believe "my behavior matters," which then carries (positively) into other activities throughout the day. And for procrastinators, exercising when you least feel like it is when it does the most good.
I use inspirational sources like a TED Talk or biography. It’s a simple way to reignite that fire to get me motivated and back-on-track.
Change your schedule. If you’re reading this article then it’s obviously because you want to discover some useful time management skills. If you’re struggling with being effective, the solution may be as simple as changing your schedule around. For example, instead of sleeping-in until 6:30am, wake-up an hour earlier. Personally, I find 5:15am to be the most productive time of the day since it gives me time to exercise, plan-out my day, go through my emails, and even work on side projects without being disturbed.
*Victor Burrill is an internationally certified coach, leadership trainer and is Chairman of the Business Executive Network Vietnam.
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