Friday, February 21, 2014

Tick Tock Goes the Clock

A few simple steps to help you get control of your time 

By Kristina Newell

Like most of us, you're finding there isn't enough time in your day to get everything done that needs to get done.  Everyone says you need to manage your time better.  Well that's great advice, but you have no time to even figure out how to manage your time.  Or say you actually did find the time to squeeze in that time management seminar, but as soon as you got back to the office you see the pile of work that you neglected while you were away.  Well so much for the small fortune you spent on that training since you find that you're right back in the same hole struggling to find a way out of this endless cycle. What's a person to do?

Well you could go spend $200 on a fancy planner that helps you to prioritize your tasks by labeling them with an A, B or C only to realize that gee you ended up with 182 As, 5 Bs and 1 C.  Now what?  Or you could take the advice that you should just shut your office door for 2 hours a day, at the same time each day, and don't talk to anyone, don't look at email...just hunker down and get work done.  Honestly, how realistic is that?  Especially considering that so much of the business we conduct today focuses on interpersonal relationships, networking and communicating through technology.  And who the heck has the same schedule day in and day out these days?

The heart of the matter is that most of us don't know where our time is being spent.  There are so many unexpected interruptions and unscheduled things that happen during our day that before you know it it's 5 o'clock and you need to leave because you have a 1 hour commute and your kid's daycare will charge you $10 for every 15 minutes your late.

How can you get a handle on how you spend your time?  There are a few simple exercises that you can perform that will help you to understand where you're spending your time which will in turn help you to create a plan to have more productive days.  And the nice thing is you aren't necessarily changing EVERYTHING about your day or schedule, it's more about recognizing certain behaviors or actions that may be leading you to feel overwhelmed and less productive than you'd like to be.  The only caveat to this, is yes, you will need to take a short amount of time to perform this exercise.  However the great part of it is, you might just identify at least one or two ways to make a significant improvement in how you control your time.

Over the next month, chose a few days to track your time in 15 minute intervals.  Within each 15 minute interval, write down EVERYTHING you do, whatever it may be such as checking email, going to the vending machine, conducting an ad hoc meeting.  Don't judge yourself, just simply collect the data.

Once the data is collected, take a good look at it.  What stands out as activities that didn't need to be done or are of low value?  What could have been delegated?  What were true interruptions that could be stopped by setting boundaries?  And conversely, what activities are of high strategic value or importance?  Are there activities you don't schedule time for but you should, such as unscheduled visits with peers or customers?

It's here where an important point needs to be made. There is nothing wrong with having an unscheduled conversation with a peer while you're filling up your coffee cup. This goes against conventional wisdom, but sometimes those unexpected interruptions can be rather fruitful.  Although these types of meetings can't be scheduled ahead of time, by simply being cognizant of the fact that these interactions are taking 30 to 60 minutes of your day is worth noting.  By understanding that 60 minutes of your day is spent on "interruptions", this would mean that you should not schedule 60 minutes of a less important activity into your day.  If no interruptions happen on a given day, then heck, you've got an extra 60 minutes to do something else!!

Given the work you've done so far, estimate the time you spend on essential activities and non-essential activities, and the average number of hours you spend at work in a day. Are you pushing the boundaries of work-life balance? Are you satisfied with how many hours you're working now, or do you see an opportunity to make some changes?

Now make a list of changes on how you can spend your time to do more high-value activities, be more productive, get better results, and perhaps even REDUCE how long you are at the office.  Start designing what your ideal schedule would look like on your most stressful day of the week.  Which meeting would you attend or not attend?  Do you need time to spend alone?  How much time do you need to set aside to meet with co-workers, your team or for unscheduled interruptions?

How different does this schedule look to the one that you're currently living with now?  How can you make this schedule real?  Much of it comes down to the simple realization of how and where you currently spend your time and making some simple adjustments to your day. 

However, you may still see a lot on your plate that needs to get done.  How do you manage all of it?  Well, you can't change the way you spend your day unless you're willing to set boundaries, assert yourself and make requests which are not easy tasks.  These sorts of changes do take effort and time to become comfortable doing, and typically can't be addressed in one simple article such as this.  If you find yourself in this situation, the best recommendation is to indeed seek outside help by means of a coach to assist you in navigating through these tricky waters.

Need help getting better control of your time and setting boundaries?  We're here to help.  Contact The Trinity Business Group today for more information!