Time Management

Time Management is a paradox. You're not going to get any more time, you also can't make it go any faster or slower. Really it's about managing everything other than time.

Time Management

Why It’s Self-Management Not Time Management

Time Management is always a hot topic. However many classes we run on it they always seem to be booked up. It’s an age old problem, compounded by the fact that we all have smart phones now so work bleeds into our family life in a way it never did before. But it’s still the case that time can never be stretched, can never be increased and that’s why it’s a hopeless aim to think you can manage time, instead you need to switch your mindset to a state where you acknowledge that all you can do is manage your self and your use of time - so it’s important to start thinking in terms of self management rather than time management.

In this masterclass we’re going to give you techniques that will maximise your effectiveness. By the end of it you will have a series of techniques that you can use on an ongoing basis to revolutionise your level of productivity and, therefore, the time you get to play or relax too. You will feel ready to take control of your self and your usage of time and you will be equipped to do so. So, without further ado, let’s get cracking…

What Challenges Our Effectiveness?

When we speak about time management, or self management as we shall refer to it from now on, people often get defensive and defeated. “It won’t work for me” they say. Or “It’s different for me”, “you don’t understand the level of work that I’m expected to get through”. I’ll let you into a secret, almost everyone says that to me. Your situation is not unique. And rather than make you upset that should be a relief to you, because if everyone says that to me, if everyone believes they are special with the volume of work they’re expected to undertake, when in reality your not special then it means that the techniques that we’re going to give you are much more likely to work. They are techniques we have told hundreds of people and improved their lives, at work and at home, immeasurably.

In this video we’re going to look at some of the challenges to our productivity. It’s always good to highlight why things might be going wrong now, why effectiveness might be a challenge before we attempt to rectify the situation as it enables us to acknowledge the reality of imposing new techniques on our working and home practices and we are then more able to deal with them when they arise. By the end of this video you will have a clear understanding of what’s stopping you get through the volume of work you would like to get through, you will feel less at sea amid the challenges to daily effectiveness and you will be prepared to face those challenges when they arise, whether that’s today or on into the future. Challenges to productivity occur daily, it’s your decision as to how to deal with them. Being forewarned, so prepared in advance, is the single most effective way of heading them off.

So, what are some challenges to our productivity? Open your notebooks and write down the challenges that face you regularly, and those that turn up only once in a while, write down everything that gets in the way of you producing the volume of work you would like to, or that gets in the way of you having valuable relaxation time at home with your family or on your own. Pause the video and do it now.

Right, you should have some challenges written down now. I’m sure you have several but we’ll go through ours now and perhaps you can add to your list. The first challenge many will say is meetings taking up too much time, then people interrupting us, changing priorities of leadership, management duties as opposed to actually doing the job, always dealing with firefighting stuff, email, phone calls, technical difficulties, feeling lost as to where we are on our to do list, experiencing paralysis in the face of an ever-increasing to do list and then tiredness perhaps, lack of motivation. If you have more that we haven’t mentioned and needs addressing then, as always, please do get in touch and we’ll update the video content.

So let’s go through them in turn: meetings taking up too much time meetings are a real genuine threat to productivity. People tend to invite whoever they feel can contribute of benefit from being at a meeting but many people don’t feel as though they can say ‘no, I don’t think I’ll come to that meeting, you get on without me and let me know the outcome.’ I’m not saying this is always possible, and we have to pull our weight in the decision making that goes on but at least question whether your presence is really required. Don’t blindly submit to the will of others to have you there. If you are a leader then freeing your team up to make decisions without you is the best time or self management technique you can develop, so give it a go straight away. . If it’s your leader asking you to join the meeting you can still question your presence. “Do I definitely need to be in on this? I’m working on X and don’t want to come away from it unnecessarily if possible.’ Many people don’t even question what a meeting is about, they’ll just accept any invitations that come their way, quietly seething throughout it all as they realise this could have happened effectively without them and they could be working on other priorities. Once you’re in a meeting, it’s difficult to get out, to excuse yourself, so before you get in there try hard to avoid them.

Another way meetings really affect our productivity is by their placement throughout the day. If you are in and out of them throughout the day then you can never really settle to a big chunk of work. We’re going to talk about chunking in another video. Chunking is a wonderful tool that rapidly improves your productivity. If you can schedule your day so that meetings always in occur in a chunk, leaving larger time slots available for work then that’s better for productivity. If no one takes control of meeting scheduling, they’ll just destroy everyone’s time. If you’re having this issue then you can guarantee others are too. If you raise the issue and gain consensus about when is best for scheduling meetings (mornings or afternoons, or certain days perhaps), then you’ll be everyone’s hero forever.

People interrupting us was the next challenge we mentioned. If you manage a team then I’m afraid this is part of your job. Your role is to support your team and when they need help you need to be able to provide it for them. So sometimes a shift in mindset about this being a valid part of your job is required. Rather than seeing them as an interruption to be got rid of as quickly as possible, if you can see each interruption as a coaching and developing opportunity, which in turn will reduce the amount of interruptions you will get in the future, then it will help you become less frustrated by these and view them with the longer term aim of coaching your team. But just because it’s part of your job it doesn’t mean you can’t control it. Have a word with your team and work out how this can be achieved without it being so ad hoc. Perhaps they can leave you undisturbed for a few hours a day? We go into this more with chunking and Deep work - both tackled in different videos in this section. You need to be able to help them, coach and develop them but you don’t have to be at their beck and call. Who knows what they might achieve on their own if you’re less available?

The next challenge was the changing priorities of leadership. Unfortunately this is one challenge that’s less controllable by you. However, we’re back to the advice I gave in the meetings section again - you don’t just have to accept everything that comes your way without questioning anything. You can enquire more so that you can make effective decisions. Say things like, “so just to check, am I not working on X now, and focusing on this as my main priority?” Or “I was making good progress with X, will this not be required at all now, or is it just that you want that on the back burner.” Leadership have to accept that you can’t work on everything all at once and asking questions like this makes sure a decision is made by them of the priority level of your workload. It will also stop you fretting as much. Any deadlines you are given by leadership can also be questioned - politely of course. “So it says X needs doing by Friday here? Is that a definite deadline as I have been working a lot on Y and would like to wrap that up if possible before I move on to X. I’m trying to be as affective as I can and it’d be much more effective if I complete Y before I move onto X, but that might mean that X isn’t ready until the middle of next week, is that okay?” So push back, but do so politely and with respect. All bosses are concerned about their team’s effectiveness so if you mention the negative effect a change in priorities is having then you might find yourself with a bit more leeway. You will also sound as though you are in control of your workload and managing it efficiently.

The next challenge was that management duties as opposed to actually doing the job can get in the way of productivity. I’m also going to include the next two - emails and phone calls - in this section too though as they all have the same solution. These all rely on chunking to maximise effectiveness. Multitasking, in any way, leads to a loss of effectiveness. Chunk wherever possible to achieve maximum productivity. Check out our Tyranny of Email masterclass if you’re finding yourself staring at me in disbelief as I suggest you can control the effect your email inbox has on your productivity. Management duties can be chunked into an appropriate part of the week or day or month. It takes some thinking about in terms of what needs to be done when, and when best suits those involved but by thinking about it and scheduling in regular sessions where you work on those duties means you will always be on top of them, rather than letting them build up so that they become and urgent priority. We talk about the need to be working on things like this all the time throughout the year in the 10 Top Tips video so don’t worry about it just yet.

Technical difficulties were the next challenge on our list. In this case you need to work out whether this is a recurring technical challenge or a one off. If it’s a one off obviously then you ask IT to deal with it, or find a way of dealing with it that gets you back on track asap and crack on. If it’s a recurring issue then you or IT need to deal with it in a systematic way, changing the way things are done perhaps. Don’t keep experiencing the same issue again and again without addressing the underlying issue. If you do that it’s a complete waste of your time every time you encounter it. Having said that if it occurs again and again you can prepare a list of items you can work on while tech is down and when it occurs you switch to that list so that you don’t lose valuable productivity time. Thinking about what you can work on at the time when your tech fails isn’t the right time. You need to be prepared before that so that when it fails you can switch right into it and crack on.

So the next challenges to our productivity are those being lost as to where we are on our to do list, or experiencing paralysis in the face of an ever-increasing to do list. Again chunking really helps with this as you are constantly moving forwards with every single area on your to do list so you have an awareness at all times about what’s coming next, nothing becomes too urgent a priority and, should you encounter a sudden crisis everything is more or less where it should be, so if you have to divert time to crisis control nothing is going to end up too far behind. What also helps in this instance is having a NOT to do list as well as a to do list. Whereas your to do list is being constantly added to your not to do list should be more strategic. So we’re talking about putting things soon this list that prevent you working at your out effective. I talk about how to create your not to do list in our 10 tips for maximum effectiveness video.

The final challenge is internal, and that’s our own tiredness or lack of motivation. Here prevention is better than cure and again we talk about this in our 10 tips for maximum effectiveness video. It’s really important you do what Stephen Covey recommends and that you ‘sharpen the saw’ regularly. By this Covey means that you take the time needed to refresh your brain, to relax, to hone your fitness and your working skills too so that when you are working you can be the most effective version of you, not someone who is beset with the need for a day off, or a week off and slogging through each task, each day, each week, just desperately struggling on towards the next small portion of time off you can manage. Sometimes the best thing you can do to boost your productivity is to have a day off, or take a nap. It’s counter-intuitive, I know, but well worth the time investment if you are really finding the work an uphill struggle.

So, the main challenges that reduce our productivity are all controllable to an extent. I’m not saying that all of them are completely controllable, but they are to a much greater degree than we often acknowledge. We can only control those things we can control, but often people don’t even do that, leading to a complete loss of control in their working patterns and behaviours. Don’t be like those people, constantly moaning about how busy you are but not doing anything proactive about it, take control of what you can and actively carry out behaviours that maximise your efforts. That way you can relax more when you are not working as you know your workload is under control.

What I want you to do now is an exercise that my colleague Alan taught me. Look back at the challenges you wrote down in your notebook. Write down each one that you feel is a challenge that affects you directly. Leave a few lines between each. Then what I want you to do is to write down what you could do to counteract that challenge, to lessen its effect on you productivity. Then I want you to cross out the challenge itself. The mere act of crossing out the challenge lessens the control over you that it has, but what you are left with is a series of behaviours or actions that you must do to make sure that challenge doesn’t control you. If you focus on taking those actions then you will not end up in the situation where you feel out of control of your workload.

Do it right now, before you move on to watch the individual videos with the different techniques in. If you struggle with any, just leave them until you have watched all the videos in this section. If you have a challenge that we haven’t addressed, or that you’re struggling to find a solution for, then please do get in touch. We’ll help you deal with it and we’ll include it in our masterclass too, because if you’re struggling with it, others are likely to be too.

Chunking: the Best Diary Management Tool

Chunking is one of the easiest fundamental changes that you can make to the way work on a day to day basis that will have the most effect on your productivity. Chunking, I have to say, changed my life when I first started doing it a few years ago. Before then I felt, like many others, as though I was constantly chasing my tail, that I was part of the hamster wheel of life, just coping with the stresses of it pretty well with all my leadership techniques. Chunking has meant that I keep on top of everything on a rolling basis, keeping all the plates spinning, all the balls up the air, whatever analogy you want to use. It also means that if something really urgent happens I can devote the necessary time to it to make it right and deal with it properly, knowing that all the other areas of my life will cope fine for the amount of time I have to leave them, as they have all been moved on week by week for the previous month or months or whatever.

By the end of this video you will understand what it means to chunk, you will have the knowledge you need to apply chunking to your diary and practises and you will be in a position to keep all your plates spinning all the time.

But first let’s talk about what chunking is. Chunking is a method of working in which you work on all the areas of your responsibility in appropriate chunks of time throughout the week or month. So, for example, the chunks I need to work on are: admin, coaching or training, this kind of stuff or 1-2-1 sessions, sales, account management, financial management of the business and strategy or strategic stuff , oh and email checking and dealing with. Yours may include team leader responsibilities, technical training, doing the main bit of your job, marketing, networking, writing, training your team etc etc.

The idea is that you work out what percentage of your day/week/month you need to spend on each category to keep it ticking over and then you plan that into your diary. You don’t think, “well ideally I need two days on strategy and then 2 half days per week to keep it ticking over", you literally just concentrate of what you would need to keep it ticking over as if you were completely up to date right now.

Some things need working on every day or every week but some others might only need working on once a month or once a quarter. Have a think about it all and keep it to as few categories as you can. For instance admin covers a huge area, I don’t list it all separately in my calendar, I just know what I need to be doing every week or every month to keep the admin part of my role going.

When I first did my chunking plan I decided I needed half a day on general admin, half on financial admin, 3 half days on training and coaching (doing the do), 4 half days developing business, and one half day on strategic things. That equals 10 half days or a full working week.

I planned in my email checking to first thing, lunchtime and before I left the office for the day. I then planned admin in for Monday morning and Friday morning, training and coaching in for Monday afternoons, Tuesday and Thursday mornings and business development for Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and all day Wednesday. That left Friday afternoon for strategic stuff. I drew out a planner and stuck it up in front of my desk so when I was on the phone booking any meetings it was right there in front of my eyes. I also planned it into my online calendar. Colour coding everything, to remind me whenever I was entering anything into my calendar.

I know some of you are watching this thinking, there’s no way I could do that, everyone enters stuff in my diary all over the place., I’m at the beck and call of everyone. Well for a start the idea is that this works for you something like 80% of the time. This is enough to keep you on track without making everyone else jump through your hoops regardless of their own needs and requirements. It also allows space for the customers to dictate what suits them - though not blindly or entirely, and it allows for those urgent crises that you absolutely have to attend to.

When I’m booking in with a client I will say things like, ‘I usually do coaching on a Monday afternoon, does that work for you?” If they ay no, I try for a Tuesday or Thursday morning as they are my other coaching slots. If none of those work then I fit them in where it suites us both, outside of those times. If it’s to see a potential customer I’ll say, ‘how does Wednesday suit you?’ It’s just about taking the lead and asking first rather than letting others dictate the content of your day. If it doesn’t work, fine, but at least you tried. If you do end up doing something other than your chunk with that afternoon, don’t try and shuffle around your days, just stick to what you have booked in. What goes around generally comes around and it will work itself out. When I feel as though I’m not working effectively it’s usually because I have let my chunking go.

The final note I want to make re chunking is that when other people have access to your calendar to book in meetings, or they are likely to invite you to meetings, what you need to do is communicate what you are truing to achieve to them and see if your chunking can be accommodated. Other members of my team know what my plan is and they try to accommodate me. Where we have regular meetings we make sure they align with our chunking plan. When my co-director tries to book a strategic meeting outside of Friday afternoon I bounce it back to him asking (politely of course) if there’s any reason why this can’t be done on a Friday afternoon? It usually can and is therefore re-scheduled. Be bold but courteous. If you don’t ask you don’t get. Other people might not be chunking their diaries but there’s no reason for you not to be and if they’re more flexible than you with their time then you might as well benefit, or you can tell them about what you’re doing and hope that they do the same and make the most of their effectiveness too.

So what you need to do now is write down all the categories of work you do and book them into a chunking plan. Do it from next week. If some things that you already have scheduled don’t quite fit, don’t worry about them, just leave them as they are. They are the 20% that don’t quite fit. Don’t worry, just do what you can. When I first started chunking I planned it out, tried it for a month and then reviewed. If some things aren’t working too well then you can readjust. Don’t give up, just tweak it a bit and keep going. It’ll soon become habit and you’ll find you are such more in control than you ever have been.

So, get that chunking done before you move on to the next thing on your list.

10 Tips for Maximum Effectiveness

In this video we’re going to give you quick fire tips to increase your effectiveness. Some of the tips are explored more deeply in other videos, others are only spoken about here. If you only have a few minutes and you want to make great inroads into your effectiveness then start here.

By the end of this video you’ll have some techniques you can start using immediately, you’ll feel fired up to change how you do things NOW and you’ll be in a position to start making positive changes for good.

So lets’ go.

Tip one: chunk - it’s explored in a separate video. It’s the tool of giants. Get it done, stick to it and watch as your to do list gets whittled away and you bask in the lusciousness of well-deserved time off.

Tip 2 - work in quadrant 2 as much as you can so you shrink quadrant 1. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then it’s Stephen Covey’s 4 quadrants technique - a super easy way to ensure you are working on the strategically important stuff as well as the urgent stuff that demands your attention now. Combined with chunking these are the two most powerful techniques of self or time management. Covey’s technique works like this. There are two axes, urgent and important and these create 4 quadrants when they cross at the centre. Top left box is the urgent and important box. Here are your crises and problems, things that demand immediate attention. If you are working in this box too much you will never progress strategically and you will experience burn out. Write the things that you absolutely have to get done today in this box. Do it now in your notebook.

The top right hand box is for things that are important but not urgent. This is the most important box. You should be working on things that belong in this box as much as you possibly can. Things that belong in this box are strategy, planning, delegating, taking a holiday, having a lunch break, getting fresh air, exercise, eating healthily, seeing family and friends, doing a hobby, business development, training yourself and your team, reading. These things should be ongoing all the time so that they never get neglected. If you neglect any of these items they might end up in quadrant one being a crisis or an emergency. If you neglect business development your pipeline may run dry. If you neglect diet and exercise you might become ill and need urgent attention. If you neglect time off you might burn out, if you neglect your family life you might end up having serious issues in your marriage. Spend time here and be effective ‘sharpening your saw’, being and becoming your best self as well as setting a great example for those around you to follow.

The bottom boxes are relatively unimportant in terms of your focus. Bottom left is urgent but not important. This means that it demands your attention urgently but it really shouldn’t. This are your email alerts that swing across your field of vision, your pings for every message received on your phone or laptop, your phone ringing. It goes without saying that sometimes these will be important - if a family member is unwell for instance - but 99% of the time they needlessly destroy your effectiveness. Turn off all alerts. You know where to find everything when the time is right for you to look at them. Don’t let them eat away at your effectiveness.

Quadrant 4 is for things that are neither urgent or important. These are things like Facebook, or candy crush perhaps. Although if you use these for relaxation and to keep in touch with people across the globe then perhaps they don’t belong in here. Over the years I’ve had people put a huge variety of things in here, such as right move, when they moved house a year ago and have no intention of doing so again, or the 10 o clock news, when it merely gives them something to rant about and they already watched the news already twice that day. Your ‘waste of time or energy is yours alone’ it might not be a waste of time for others but for you it is. If it goes in this box then it’s best you get rid of it altogether.

Tip 2 is to work in quadrant 2 as much as you can. If you do this you’ll find that you shrink quadrant 1.

Tip 3 is box breathing. You can’t work effectively if your mind is all over the place. Box breathing is a very simple way of telling your brain that all is well and that there is no immediate danger. If your brain is thinking that there is a potential of danger then it stops supplying your frontal cortex with as much blood making rational thinking more difficult or even impossible. If you ever experience brain fog then this is what’s happening. During box breathing you reassure your brain that all is well, that you’re not under attack and that it’s okay to think rationally. In box breathing we breathe in for 3, hold for 3, breather out for 3 and hold for 3, breathe in for 3, hold for 3, breathe out for 3 and hold for 3. Do this 3 or 4 times 5 times per day. If you do this you will remain in a state of calm efficiency throughout the day. It’s a great technique for calming down when you feel very stressed but if you do it 5 times a day you shouldn’t ever get to that level.

Tip 4 is to engage in regular deep work sessions. Plan some sessions into your diary where you can work in a state of total focus. I go into deep work in a separate video. So if you haven’t watched that already then make sure you do so. Deep work is the key to moving your business forward continually, even through times of extreme busyness. Make sure you have at least 2 decent size deep work sessions per week.

Tip 5 is to set goals but then cross them out. It sounds strange but it works because it’s the system to get you to your goals that will make the difference to your effectiveness, not having the goal itself. Set yourself a system of goals too with a few big ultimate goals, some victory goals on the way to each one of these ultimate goals and some stepping stone goals that will get you from week to week making progress all the time. So stepping stone goals feed into victory goals, and victory goals mark milestones on the way to your ultimate goals. There is a separate video where we talk through this so make sure you watch it. The ultimate and victory goals are the goals that you cross out. Write down each one. Leave a few lines between each. Then what I want you to do is to write down what you need to do to reach that goal. Then I want you to cross out the goal itself. The act of crossing out the goal means you focus on the actions themselves rather than the goal ahead. You are left with is a series of behaviours or actions that you must do each day. If you focus on taking those actions then you will achieve your goal. As Scott Adams said “goals are for idiots, systems are for winners.”

Tip 6 is use the pomodoro technique. Everyone finds it hard to slog away at a task hour after hour. It’s hard mentally and physically, even if you’re sitting at a desk. The pomodoro technique takes advantage of the fact that most people can only concentrate fully for about 45 minutes at a time. The pomodoro timer times slots of 45 minutes followed by 10 minute or so breaks where you get up and do something different, but then make sure you get on with the main task again after 10 minutes. This way you chip away at your task chunk by chunk and get through it without killing yourself.

Tip 7 is to have a not to do list. Everyone has a to do list but not everyone has a not to do list. A not to do list os really important strategically. Whereas a to do list gets topped up every day, a not to do list generally remains pretty static with things that you mustn’t do on it as rules to avoid, so it might have a rule like “Do not check emails until the first deep work session of the day has been completed”. That’s one of mine. Or “do not say yes until you have checked the consequences’ - another one of mine. These two have come from experience. If I don’t do deep work first thing, I’ll be distracted by the content of emails and won’t progress strategically as far. If I say yes without having checked the consequences then I may end up over committing and running myself ragged doing what I said I’d do. It’s better to tell people you need first to check your commitments fully before you agree as you don’t want to let anyone down or over commit. Most people are very understanding. So on your not to do list, go things that you keep thinking, “oh blimey, I should know not to do that as it always causes problems later…’ or ‘makes me feel like that’.

Tip 8 is to have a gratitude diary. It sounds a bit hippy but what it does is help you reset at the beginning of every day. It also massively helps with goal achievement. At the beginning of your day write down 3 things that you’re grateful for. One should be be personal and one to do with work and an other one. They don’t have to be massive, they can be pretty small, like having warm feet, or the sun being out, or that you slept well. The point is that you set your day off positively because we do have a wonderful life and whatever we’re dealing with there are lots of things to be grateful for. Then after you have written 3 things you’re grateful for you need to write 3 things that would make today great. These can be your stepping stone goals that work towards your victory goals. Write 3 goals that you absolutely will achieve today. 3 things that are within your control. So it might be to get that report down, to do exercise and to drink 2 litres of fluid.

At the end of the day you can write 3 things that have made your day amazing and 3 things that you could have done better, Not in a judgemental beat yourself up way but in a review way. Hmm, I could have run faster on my run after work as I wasn’t as tired as I thought I’d be at the end of it, or I could have finished that report off much sooner if I hadn’t got distracted so much. The purpose of the review is really to pick up trends over time. So if you are finding yourself writing about distractions a lot then perhaps that’s something you could look at, or if you are often thinking that you coal gave run faster it means you are more likely to set off a bit faster as you have noticed it’s a pattern.

Tip 9 is to have a tech free day every now and again. Don’t worry, people will cope. Like they did in the old days. Plan it in, tell people and then hunker down and enjoy your massively increased productivity or your massively enhanced relaxation - whatever you use your tech free day for, just enjoy it. We forget how freeing it is to be phoneless. Also, as part of this tip if you have a tech free list of things that need doing then if you find yourself without tech one day when you are working you can slip onto that list and crack through it without having to rack your brains about what you can do without tech.

Tip 10, our final tip is perhaps the most important. It’s absolutely vital, to ensure your ongoing effectiveness that yo have regular time off, regular relaxation. So this means, lunch breaks, odd days off and holidays. Plan them in at the beginning of the year so that you know you have got the rest time coming up. Don’t wait until you feel tired because there will be things in the diary that means you’re unable to have a full week off. Your body and your brain need to relax properly in order to work most effectively. Respect this and plan it in ahead of time.

So just to recap the tips are: chunk your time, work in quadrant 2 as much as possible, practise box breathing, engage in regular deep work sessions, cross your goals out, use the pomodoro technique, have a not to do list and a gratitude diary, plan a tech free day every now and again and plan lunch and days off and holidays at the beginning of the year. If you do any of these you will increase your effectiveness, if you do all of these you will be exceptionally effective and retain your mental and physical well being too.

© Quarterdeck Ltd • Registered Address: 24 Holborn Viaduct, London, England, EC1A 2BN • Company No. 09296060