For almost a century, the phrase ‘time is money’ has been common business parlance, alongside the term ‘time management.’ However, although it may sound controversial, I think that latter term is somewhat misleading. Can time really be managed or controlled? After all, you cannot put a spare hour of your time in a cupboard and bring it out the following day when you need it. When it is gone, it is gone. In reality, the key is actually all about the skill of self-management in the way we use our time.
The key skills necessary to ‘self-manage’ include planning and organisation – particularly if you are responsible for not just your own time, but that of the members of the team you lead. One of the most basic, but often mismanaged techniques, is that of a ‘to-do list.’
‘To-do lists’ are typically generated for many agents by their software system. There are merits to this approach as the system ensures nothing slips through the net, but it is often an approach that creates a ‘tail wagging the dog’ scenario. I have real concerns about Negotiators who see their daily objective as simply being to finish their ‘to-do list’ rather than to focus on achieving key business generation objectives. The ‘to-do list’ should be a means to an end, not an end in itself.
Planning: take steps on Monday to ensure that Tuesday is terrific!
However, effective ‘to-do lists’ work. According to one survey, 70 per cent of people in business use them to manage their priorities. But when it comes to running a successful ‘to-do list’, what are the things ‘to do’ and not ‘to do’
1. Keep it real. Don’t overload the list. Be sensible as to what is a priority. Try to stick to things which genuinely have a bearing on business results.
2. Never underestimate. It is best practice to overestimate how much time each item on your list will take. That way, you will occasionally be able celebrate finishing everything early.
3. Consider the order. Every task will carry a degree of importance – prioritise each according to its importance and urgency. Tackle those first before getting bogged down with less weighty matters.
4. Bite-size chunks. Rather than trying to tackle a huge job in one go, it is typically better to break things down into smaller tasks. For example, if you want to design a new marketing campaign, manageable elements would be to consider the objective, to decide the budget, to come up with the key message or call to action, and so forth.
5. Take a break. Don’t leave it until the list is completed before having a rest. Build a few breaks into your list, maybe even a small reward here and there. This is both motivational and practical as recharged energy levels will help you tackle the tasks more effectively when you return.
Another planning technique that has proven helpful from a physical and mental point of view to is to plan for tomorrow, today. In other words, take steps on a Monday to ensure Tuesday is terrific. Late in the day, as thoughts turn to tomorrow, is a great time to prioritise the next day’s duties and tasks. Build in some flexibility for surprises – the day will never run absolutely according to plan. With your ‘to-do list’ in place and recorded in writing or on your laptop/tablet, you can leave it behind as you know it will be waiting for you first thing the following morning. This leads to a better quality evening, higher level of relaxation while you are away from the workplace and probably a better night’s sleep – all conducive to that aforementioned terrific Tuesday!
FINALLY, WATCH OUT FOR THE WASTERS!
Time wasters do not always come in human form, although those colleagues who sidle up at your busiest moment and ask, “Do you have a minute?” will often steal 20 from you. If you want to keep control of your time, the correct answer to that question when you are concentrating on a priority task is “Sure, how about we grab a minute in an hour or so when I have finished this?” or “Absolutely. Would 4.30pm suit you?”
The non-human version of such time wasters include procrastination when there is an unpalatable job to be done, a messy workspace, attempting too much and thereby making mistakes, underestimation of how long something will take and so forth.
Time is your most precious commodity. You might want to consider these ‘time wasters’ as ‘time stealers’ – people and issues that take your most precious commodity away from you. Thinking of them in those terms might just help you be more brutal in the way you treat them.
As the famous saying goes… “The bad news is that time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”
Julian O’Dell is founder of TM Training & Development