I am often asked what is the key to effective time management?
I respond with a simple statement … build a time management blueprint.
The next question is, yes you guessed it, what is a time management blueprint?
Time Management Blueprint
To create a time management blue print you need to consider two aspects.
Ask two questions:
- How do I think … about time management?
- What strategies do I need to adopt … to be effective in managing my time?
Attending to one aspect without the other will leave you in time management limbo, struggling to be effective in managing your time.
How I think?
When most people think about how to improve their time management, they make the mistake of assuming it is about deciding what tool(s) to use.
Moving straight to focusing on what tool to use will land you in hot water, likely facing all sorts of challenges.
You need to begin by understanding how you think about time management?
Consider the mindsets I have listed below, in doing so:
- Reflect on how each mindset differs?
- Consider what the mindset implies about a person’s approach to managing their time?
- I need to be perfect mindset
- If you want it done, do it yourself mindset
- I am a doer, not a problem solver mindset
- I must take responsibility for everything mindset
- Everything is critical mindset
- There is never enough time mindset
- Effort equals performance mindset
- I have to prove myself mindset
- … I could go on but I am sure you get the picture
What you think will shape and influence how you approach managing your time.
You can view the mindset as representing your work philosophy, a philosophy that shapes and influences how your manage your time.
It is important to understand:
- Your mindset reflects your values, beliefs, perceptions and attitudes.
- These can be conscious, assumptions you are aware of.
- These can be unconscious, automatic assumptions you make but do not reflect on.
Assume you have a “I must prove myself mindset”. If so, it will likely not matter which tool you choose, you will still find yourself not managing time as you would like. It is highly likely you may find yourself always feeling as if you are working harder and harder.
This is because you will likely be driven by a mindset that means you need to prove yourself all day, week and month. What you do, produce, create or deliver will likely never be sufficient for you to prove yourself. You may find yourself on an endless pursuit to prove yourself. Always working harder and harder.
Step one: Understand your time management mindset:
- Reflect on and understand your values, beliefs, perceptions and attitudes.
- Understand what they imply for your time management.
- Give your current mindset a short phrase to describe it.
- Actively choose the mindset you wish to cultivate.
- Compare the differences, and what they imply for time management.
In doing so, be aware:
- The reflection process may be challenging.
- It may be confronting to acknowledge the mindset you have adopted.
- It is not uncommon to adopting a mindset by default, because it is simply the way you have always thought.
- That evolving your mindset will take time.
- Mindset change is achieved through practice; adopting and acting on the mindset over and over again.
What I do?
Step two is focus on the ‘how’ of time management, the strategies you use to decide what activities you do.
It includes the skills, models, tools, strategies and knowledge you need to effectively manage what you use your time doing.
It means we must talk prioritisation, importantly prioritisation that is anchored to impact and value.
To this end, I would like to explain a model.
The FOUR D’s model
You can use it to:
- Prioritise what activities to focus on and when to focus on them.
- Identify the activities that deliver most value from the use of your time.
The four D’s represent four categories of activities:
- Do It activities
- Delegate It activities
- Defer It activities
- Drop It activities
Assign all your activities to one of the categories:
- Do It: activities that are critical and essential for delivery today or activities that have a delivery date of today.
- Delegate It: activities that are may be due today but are not critical or essential and can be given to another person, team or area to do.
- Defer It: activities with a delivery date in the future, or longer term activities e.g. strategic planning, forecasting, relationship building
- Drop It: distractions and lower value items such as email & (unimportant) phone calls, time wasting activities and activities that have negligible value
In assigning the activities:
- Reflect on their level of importance and their level of urgency. We often fall into the trap of treating everything as important and urgent. However in reality we know this is not true. Importance varies and urgency varies.
- Determine if you truly need to be the one doing / delivering on an activity. Ask does it make better sense, is it more effective to ask another person, team or area to take responsibility for an activity. Again we can often fall into the trap of thinking we need to do everything ourselves.
- If you place an item in the Defer It category, take the next step of ensuring you assign time in the future for this activity. Particularly if it is strategic planning, forecasting, relationship building or time to activities where you are reviewing how well things are working. Booking in dedicated time to do these will ensure your focus is not hijacked by Do It activities.
- In the Do It category, ensure each item can realistically be delivered today.
- Having done that review the importance and urgency of each item; rank the items.
- Ensure you trade off importance based on the value that will be delivered from activity.
- Ensure you trade off urgency as to whether delivery today is time critical.
- Focus on delivering the top three priorities. These are your today priorities.
- If one of these items is for some reason removed from the list, add a new item, however remain at three key priorities.
Why three items?
- It will give you focus.
- It will give you a sense of do-ability; you will know the three items can be delivered.
- It will ensure at the end of the day you will feel a sense of accomplishment.
- It will provide a clear measure of how you used your time.
- It will allow you to confirm you have delivered value.
Mindset and Strategy
Effective time management is the sum of:
- Understanding how you think and
- Knowing what strategy to select.
Each element is essential, like a glove is to hand.
In closing, I encourage you to:
- Become familiar with your time management mindset.
- Understand what your mindset implies for how you manage your time
- Assign all of your activities to a D category; do it, defer it, delegate it, drop it
- Organise the time you allocate to activities based on priorities
- Use urgent and importance as your priority filters
- Limit yourself to three priorities in your Do It category each day
I hope this has been useful. Best of luck on your time management journey.