Posted on 15/01/2013, 10:49
It’s a sweeping statement, but the reason why most businesses don’t reach their full potential is due to how the key people in the business spend their time. This can be summed up by the following quotation from Franklin Field who said: The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words “I did not have time”!
We often ask new clients to (“honestly”) monitor their time for two weeks and they usually find they spend too much time on the things that aren’t important and not enough time on the things that are important.
The thing to remember about Time Management is that although you can choose how to spend or waste your time, it is your biggest asset and the one thing you can’t buy more of. Therefore it’s vital to ask yourself “where and how can I improve?” because Time Management can make a big difference to your results.
Time Management is really about managing yourself. It’s about making a commitment to be more organised, maintain your focus and use your time to your best advantage.
Here are a few tips to help you manage yourself and your time proactively. If you do this you will be able to better lead yourself to enable you to then lead others. And remember, Time Management is an art and not a science and the ideas below are a selection of best practice methods that you can adapt to suit you the individual.
The first step in managing your time effectively is to work out what’s important to you and what you want out of life; begin with the end in mind and identify your goals, setting clear priorities and making conscious plans for what you want. Revisiting and reviewing your life and business plans frequently will help you to understand if you are track to achieve your goals.
Then use plans to achieve your goals. Planning is all about setting the direction for where you want to go, putting you in control and making you accountable and responsible for your results. The better you get at planning and executing your plans the more pro-active you will be and the better your results will be. And when we talk about plans we mean written plans! Once your plans are written down they become real, tangible and ‘do-able’.
Your plans should always contain SMART goals. When you set each goal evaluate it and then make any changes necessary to ensure it meets the criteria for a SMART goal:
S = Specific What will you do? Why do it at this time? How will you achieve it?
M = Measurable If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it!
A = Attainable A goal needs to stretch you but still needs to be achievable
R = Realistic ”Realistic, in this case, means “do-able”
T = Timely Set a time-frame and make it measurable, attainable and realistic
Then communicate your plans by sharing them with someone else. This builds up your own commitment and gets support and feedback from others who can ‘hold you to account’. Good weekly written plans provide a framework of direction, ease stress and provide a method of tracking and measuring your progress towards your goals.
To become effective planners you must bridge the gap between daily stuff and long term stuff. So how should you spend your time? Make sure you are doing the right things rather than being busy. The table below shows the type of activities that you might be involved in and their importance and urgency set out in four quadrants.
As a business owner and leader you should plan to spend most of your time in quadrant 2 (“Important / Not Urgent”) working on and planning the things that are really important to your success and the success of your business.
You will always have to spend some time on tasks in quadrant 1 (“Important / Urgent) because these things happen. However you should lessen the impact of quadrant 1 activities by the actions you take in quadrant 2. For example if you are always getting the same urgent problems then thinking about workarounds and changes to your processes can reduce the time you have to spend on them.
Most people spend most of their time in quadrants 3 and 4 but you should try to spend as little time as possible in these quadrants. Trying to do everything on your own is a common mistake – delegate or say no to tasks in quadrant 3 (“Not Important / Urgent” ) that are routine, require no skills, are time consuming or that someone else is keen to take on.
Successful delegation will motivate your staff while giving you more time to concentrate on your role as a business leader. And doing “stuff” because things are urgent is a common mistake so focus on matters that are important to youand say no, without apologising to matters that are important to other people. Learning to say ‘no’ may take practice and patience and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone, however you’ll quickly see the improvement in your personal effectiveness.
Regarding activities in quadrant 4 (“Not Important / Not Urgent”), try not to spend any time in this area!
Once you understand that your time should be spent on achieving what is in quadrant 2 you can begin to start the planning process. When putting together your plan you should ensure you give consideration to all the aspects of your life, making sure the balance is right between your private, public and professional lives. Give consideration to all the roles you have and use your plans to provide you with the focus to achieve your goals.
It is important to ‘plan weeks’ and ‘manage days’. To plan a week you should look at your long term aims and ask yourself this question: What is the one thing that if I did well and consistently, that I’m not doing at the moment, would make the biggest difference to the results?
Think about the answer to this question as it will define your quadrant 2 activities. Take guidance from your colleagues and develop your goals for the weekly period. Write your goals for the week down and then produce the list of tasks (or tactics) that will allow you to achieve each goal. After doing this spend time scheduling in your diary the tasks to achieve the goals set.
Then proactively manage days. Managing time needs to become a ritual; it requires consistent focus, attention and action to maintain focus on the priorities throughout the day. Daily management of plans creates efficiency so time-frame your activities in the right order, not for the ease in which they can be done but for the results that they will bring. Manage each day hour by hour so you don’t let the hours manage you.
Create a ‘to do’ list but make sure you keep your daily list short and manageable (five items or less). Put the most important tasks on the list and check items off as you complete them as this will keep you motivated during the day. Review your list every day because days change and so should their tasks. And always remember, the most important thing is to keep the most important thing the most important thing!
Start each day by prioritising the tasks for that day. If you have twenty tasks how many of them do you really have to accomplish? Always schedule and do your three most important tasks first. Having defined your top priorities work steadily on those and eliminate everything else.
So, you have identified what you want out of business and life, developed your plans, set SMART goals, focused on the most important things, are managing your days and are creating a short but prioritised To Do list. Now what Time Management tools should you be using? To be honest it doesn’t matter. Technology makes it easy to work wherever you are but fidgeting with ultra-cool applications or gadgets that you’re not fully familiar with can actually eat up more time than they save you. You need a good planner which is portable and can be with you most of the time. This can be paper or electronic but you need to be able to easily refer to it and adjust it when the human side of life throws a curve ball at you. It needs to remind you of the details that you wish to action from your detailed thinking – elephants have good memories but busy humans have much more going on in their lives and will forget! In summary, find and use the simplest tools to get the job done.
And remember to reward yourself. Time management is not entirely about work, it also involves scheduling some downtime to relax and recharge your batteries. Plan rewards once your tasks are completed. This could mean taking a coffee break as soon as you’ve finished reading the engineering specifications report or planning a holiday once the new product has been launched. Take time to reinforce success, this will keep you going when the going gets tough.
Finally, ask yourself “Who is my most important client?”
Your business is your most important client!
Clients will come and go but your business is your future, it demands your attention and must not be “fitted-in when you have time”.
We said that Time Management can make a big difference to your results so seize the opportunity and improve your results!
Written by Mike Wenham
Director Pro-actions Group
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