If I have to listen to one more person tell me that “you can’t manage time, you can only manage yourself” like they’re explaining something profound to me, I’m going to find a way to single-handedly shut down YouTube. If I have to listen to the same person asking me inane rhetorical questions like “are you stressed, busy and juggling, with too much to do and not enough time?” I will personally call their mothers and ask them to tell them off for me.
In this world of meme culture where quotes that are misattributed and out of context are presented to us as wisdom, it’s hard to find the genuinely useful thoughts and tools in the haystack.
Given our theme this month of goal setting, it would be remiss of me not to consider the application of achieving goals in our daily life, beyond the world of communications we’ve been exploring. Ultimately of course, we achieve our goals step-by-step, day-by-day through sometimes small, and sometimes large, chunks of time, action and dedication.
And when it comes to finding the time to focus on those significant outcomes, there are all sorts of time management systems with all sorts of funky names from ‘priority management’ to ‘first things first’ to ‘the time multiplier’ or ‘the focus funnel’ but to cut through the smoke and mirrors there are only four basic rules of getting more stuff done in our limited time:
1. PURGE AND ORGANISE
The one book in this space I found genuinely useful was Cyril Peupion’s ‘Work Smarter: Live Better’. I followed his advice. It made a difference, starting with organising your physical, online and email files in order to clear your physical and mental clutter. It took hours, days even, to clean through my hanging files, work out what needed doing with each piece of paper that I couldn’t just throw, do the same with my online documents and finally create a dozen sub-files to my inbox so each email that needed keeping could be found quickly, but according to Peupion we can lose up to 6 WEEKS a year looking for stuff and while I can’t validate that statistic, I can tell you that I can lay my hands on whatever I need whenever I need it these days. It was worth every minute and I try to stay on top of it regularly.
A second piece here would be to look for opportunities to automate processes. Upfront effort for long term time saving results. I’m stating the obvious I know, but if there are any current processes that are incredibly manual for you, are there any sub-aspects of the process that can be simplified or automated?
2. ONE TOUCH
There are many variations on this theme but the idea is that for any email, document or directive that passes your desk, you make an immediate choice on whether to DUMP IT, DO IT, DECIDE ON IT or DELEGATE IT.
a. Can I read it and dump it almost immediately or do I need to keep it, in which case where does it go?
b. Do it right now: Relevant if it’s quick and easy
c. Decide on it: How important is it? Schedule time to think about it, plan it, start it
d. Delegate it: Can someone else take this on and learn or grow from the experience
3. THINK QUARTERLY, PLAN WEEKLY, ACT DAILY
Also based on Peupion’s work but certainly reinforced elsewhere, the idea is to set strategic goals and priorities quarterly – far enough ahead to impact the annual, bigger-picture goals, a small enough time frame to break down some shorter term milestones and see some tangible results.
Planning weekly fits in with how the human mind naturally works. Most people can visualise their calendar appointments for up to a week ahead and not much further. A week allows flexibility for urgent meetings or other short-notice requirements but also the inherent focus found in setting a deadline. Leave some elbow room and plan in your alone time, planning time and relationship building time. The important but not urgent stuff.
4. COMMIT TO STAYING FOCUSED
In our Self-Leadership program we explore 3 key self-management areas: Know Yourself, Grow Yourself and Flow Yourself. The ‘know yourself’ section is based on a series of extremely insightful self- and 360-assessments. The ‘flow yourself’ section is very much based on deeply understanding and implementing some of the tools above. The ‘grow yourself’ section is based on a powerful and little known self-coaching model that is beyond the scope of this blog to get into except to say it requires weekly time to yourself to increase your self-awareness, understand your internal processes and reactions and find the right tools to support you in experimenting with different thinking and behaviours going forward. And what we mean by ‘going forward’, is over the next week. This is a weekly period of time for yourself to grow your self-leadership and in turn, help you lead others by example.
The bottom line is that there are no simple solutions. There is often simply too much to do and too little time. Declutter, get as focused as you can, stay as focused as you can on the end goal and do your best to get some big stuff done daily while understanding you’re not an automaton, you’re a human being. Stuff gets in the way. Sometimes genuinely important stuff, sometimes distraction. Stop expecting perfection but keep moving in the right direction.