Continuous Improvement blogTime Management

The supply of time is totally inelastic. No matter how high the demand the supply will not go up. Moreover, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday’s time is gone forever and will never come back. Time is therefore always in exceedingly short supply.

- Peter Drucker

Who knows where the time goes?

- Fairport Convention

This is one of my mother’s favourite sayings, and we all probably think this more frequently the older we get.

More commonly it’s frequently related to me from people I work alongside. The idea of being too busy and not having time to complete a task, too much work to fit in the day, actions being missed or working ever longer hours to keep up. This reality made me look a bit further into Time Management, produce a short training session of my observations, and now this blog.

The bad news is that time flies. The good news is that you’re the pilot.

- Michael Altshuler

The single most relevant statement I’ve heard on time management happened a few months ago on a training course. A delegate was bemoaning this eternal ‘busy’ state of their working day and the facilitator said,

Time management is a decision not a technique.

- Anon

If we analyse this statement, it’s so forceful and multi layered:

  • You are the reason for your current state
  • You need to decide to manage your time
  • You can be the solution for your future state
  • There is no silver bullet, you need to do it

I think it’s unusual in the current work environment that we don’t reach for mitigation, it’s the stage in the semester, we have sickness, we have vacancies, training was poor, ‘they’ don’t help us, and so on. This statement plants the onus squarely at our door.

Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.

-M. Scott Peck

A common reason for this ‘swamped’ feeling is frequently our inability to say no. No drives so many negative connotations in our self-conscious, you could be thought of as awkward, lazy, not a team player, and if it’s your boss that’s asking well that’s another ball game. I think this is what Peck is getting at in the above quote, we must value ourselves, our wellbeing as a starting point. understand our parameters, recognise when it’s ‘too much’ and try responding with ‘yes but……. I’ll need to move this or no but….. I can do this’. Let people know what you can do and start to negotiate.

Visualise this - an empty 2 litre bottle and someone handing you 2.5 litres of water to put in it. I’m sure in this example you’d have no hesitation to say; not sure this is going to work, we can expect spillage, what do you want me to do with the extra? How often do we do this with workload?

Don’t make the same decision twice. Spend time and thought to make a solid decision the first time so that you don’t revisit the issue unnecessarily.

- Bill Gates

I recently discovered the Eisenhower Matrix, a task management concept that I find really helps prioritise work and the decision process of what to do and when. This simple tool encourages you to plot your tasks along the axis of importance and urgency. The outcomes are 4 quadrants of tasks; Do Now, Delegate, Schedule and Delete.

Simply taking the time to plan and prioritise tasks in this way ensures we achieve the critical, plan the essentials and delete the noise.

Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.

- Napoleon Hill

Another aspect of the Eisenhower Matrix is it encourages decisions against criteria and therefore removes procrastination. A short period of planning and analysis reveals the task road map and then you can start working secure in the knowledge you are working on the correct thing and your other tasks are planned for or covered.

Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time allocated for its completion.

This is a real truism. To demonstrate I’d like to recount my daughter’s (legendary) room tidying. To set the scene she has a modest average sized, square shaped room. She is 17. Tidying this room on a bad day should take maybe 1 hour if we include hoovering and dusting.

Her current record is 48 hours! It’s a chore she does at the weekend and, without focus and application, it can take the full weekend. She’ll pick up a nailfile from the floor, sit on the bed, file her nails, happy with the outcome, paint them, happy with the outcome, try on an outfit to match them, which reminds her of a Big Bang episode she saw, finds it on Netflix, watches rest of the series, meanwhile the nailfile has been discarded to the floor again!

Work without a prioritised plan can be a bit like that sometimes, we meander down a path of tasks that interest us irrespective of priority, or respond to loudest shouts, all having the effect of stealing our time.

Using the Eisenhower Matrix in line with Standard Work will mitigate this. Standard Work in this case being the regular things we need to do every day, week or month to ensure success. There could be operations meetings, 1-2-1’s, project time, reporting, information analysis etc. The key is they are regular and critical to success and therefore can be planned out in advance, in outlook for example.

Time Is On My Side

- The Rolling Stones

This is where we all want to be. It’s not easy. Seldom is our whole working day totally in our control. However, prioritising our tasks, delegating, and deleting, saying ‘yes but’ and ‘no but’ to work on what can be achieved, working with focus and application on priorities, and planning your key repetitive tasks will provide some control as a start.

Then it’s just a case of keep at it and continuous improvement.