It is February. Mucky, murky weather and not many signs of spring; dirty boots and muddy paws. It is cold or windy, often both, and some days the lights never go off. It is the time of year most of us hate and most of us are grouchy. If things are not going our way we blame anything else, we can. Being British it is usually the weather. After that it is other people, sometimes our nearest and dearest which can be tricky! Sometimes it is unreasonable customers or suppliers who put prices up or do not deliver as they should.
However, the real problem is often ourselves. When did you last have a long hard look at your own performance and your own working methods?
What a nasty question! I am inviting you to do some self appraisal. I think this is the most effective sort: it is done with the best possible motives, there is no conflict about the facts backing the arguments and the boss is gentle! Or should be! It is only worth doing if you really want to improve and there are no horrible forms to complete.
It is a great deal to think about and too much for one Thought – but I will come back to it in the future! For the time being why not start somewhere easy? Do your working methods make you as effective as you would like to be?
The answer is going to be “No” because none of us is ever satisfied that we get enough done. And at the heart of it all is time management – how can I get better results out of each hour?
Let’s look at some basic questions:
- Do you prioritise what you should be doing this month, week or day? Time is scarce. There is always infinite work and finite time so if we focus on the wrong things inevitably we will not get everything done. When did you last take an overview? Doing the most important thing, right now always yields great results.
- Do you plan your time? Or are you guilty sometimes of just letting things happen doing the thing that is on the top of the pile? The key is to be doing the right thing at the right moment (whenever that is). This is often complicated by other people’s demands on you or needing to collect data that is not always forthcoming as quickly as you want. Back to that overview – look at the big picture and translate it into a detailed plan and To Do list.
- Do you understand your own biorhythms? Are you a morning person or a night owl? Are there down times in your day when the only safe thing to do is have a coffee! Thinking what these times might be can mean you use your most productive time so well you increase your effectiveness 100%. But do build in a little bit of slack. You are not going to be in top gear the whole time – realistically work at 80% so that there is always a bit of energy to draw on when there is a real crisis.
- How much of your time do you control? And how much do other people control via meetings or supplying you with data? If time is in your control, make sure you plan to use it wisely. If others are in the initiative can you influence them? A subtle comment like “I have a free hour then” just frames their expectations.
- How much time do you devote to doing your business and how much time to running your business? This will depend on what you do and how much help you have but there must be a balance. You also need to cost your own time – it has a value and you need to know what it is. Yes, you might be able to do a task but you are an expensive resource and it might be more economical to hire someone else to do it. A skilled person who can do something you cannot or do not like to do, is often a good investment – it will get done and done in less time at a better quality than you might have delivered and most probably cheaper.
- Do you use the time like a rare commodity? It is the one resource that you will never get again. One of the wisest pieces of advice in getting the best results from time is to group activities together. They say women can multi task and that men cannot. In fact, the research tells us something different. Women can switch activities quicker than men can. However, the important issue is that it takes us all time and energy to switch activities so group similar tasks together whether it is making phone calls, sending emails or planning activities. You will get more done. A second wise piece of advice is to work in short sharp bursts – 30 to 40 minutes of one activity generates the best results. After that we get bored and slow down. So, spend your time the way you spend your money, wisely.
- If you are not doing something, avoiding it like the plague, ask yourself why. If you are persistently avoiding doing something there is a reason. It might be that you have not broken it down into its constituent bits; do not know what you want to achieve; or it is too much to do at one time. Look at clarifying what you want to achieve; do something just to get started; or do it for just 15 minutes a day. All of these techniques can break through your block. If all else fails promise yourself a reward when you have done it!
- Organise your work sensibly. Know what you are doing today and have good systems for bringing forward work for tomorrow, next week, next month; next year. Allocate tasks for the future and you will not be diverted by them at the wrong time.
When you have answered the questions, it may lead you to thinking about systems that will help you. However, do remember to do the diagnosis before prescribing the medication.
None of this is original. You know most, if not all, of it but we forget; we slide into bad habits; we manage ourselves poorly; we relax when we should be productive. So, have a look at the way you work. It affects you and what you model affects those around you.
These are just a few ideas about personal productivity. We are a hugely creative species so be creative, it does not have to be expensive.
If this has been interesting, please share it. If you are thinking of working with a mentor, please chat with me about what you are hoping to achieve. If you need someone to help you analyse your working practices and tailor specific tips to make you more effective I might be the right person for you or I can help you find someone who is. In the meantime, life is good; let’s live it to the full and be the best we can be.