Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Do it now or do it tomorrow, but not later today

When we ask, or indeed when the management at one of our clients asks their staff what subject area they would like coaching on, the most regular response is ‘Time Management’. It seems that most of us have a pretty low regard of our ability to manage time, often in both our business and personal lives. In fact, even people who genuinely seem to be highly effective in the area still believe they are not doing as well as they could. While they are perhaps being overly critical of themselves, it is also probably true, because as human beings by the very nature of how we engaged with time, it is all but impossible to perfectly optimise it’s usage. For heaven’s sake Doctor Who has a time machine and he still runs everywhere!

 We have developed a number of coaching sessions with regard to time management. Some are half day events at which we look at a number of different methodologies using exercises to help attendees identify how they currently manage their time and what different approaches and processes might be overlaid on how they work. Other sessions last less than an hour, at which we (in the spirit of time management) speed through the ‘Top 50 Tips for Better Time Management’, asking delegates at the end to share with each other which 5 of the 50 they plan to adopt. At a subsequent follow-up session, individuals share with their colleagues what has worked and not worked for them, creating an environment where people learn from each other’s experiences.

Rarely at such sessions are we not asked the killer question. I know would ask it under similar circumstances – “What is your approach to time management – how do you do it?”  Interestingly providing an insight into what we do seems often to achieve as good a level of adoption as the actual coaching sessions themselves. We explain that rather than any elaborate process of prioritisation and execution, we have a mantra that we try to adopt as often as possible;

Do it now or do it tomorrow, but not later today

So let’s breakdown the three elements;

‘Do it now’. This covers two core types of tasks – emergencies and simple/quick activities. If the office is on fire (or the commercial equivalent) you have to stop what you are doing and get on with addressing the issue – you have no choice. Alternatively if the task is so simple or small why would you bother scheduling it or even making a note of it, just do it there and then and move on. As a rule of thumb, ‘small’ for me means less than five minutes. One important consideration with regard to ‘Do it now’ is interruptions. If you are interrupted during a significant task you may choose to pause what you were doing and address the interruption now, but the important thing is to avoid interrupting yourself. Once you have decided to work on something significant, stay focussed and do not consider what else you might be doing until you have finished, then is the time to look at the next task and make the do now or do it tomorrow decision.

‘Do it tomorrow’. Most peoples’ days are pretty full and constantly adding to your list for that day can be somewhat demoralising. However, adding it to your to-do list for tomorrow acknowledges that it needs to be done, means that you have scheduled it and you can then forget about it and get on with today’s work. The other huge advantage of ‘do it tomorrow’ is that tasks change. How often have you worked on something to find that you then get new information or the job itself is redefined, wasting the effort you have already put in? Allowing the task to percolate for a day gives it a chance to settle down and have clarity. Also sometimes taking such an approach means you do not have to complete the task because it becomes unnecessary and not needed – even on occasion it gets done by someone else.

‘But not later today’. The people who seem to be the most effective time managers have a plan of action for what they need to get done. Using the cliché, ‘they plan the work and then work the plan’. This means that they stay focussed on what they know they need to do that day and more often than not they nail it. The best way to not achieve what you have planned is by letting it expand, by trying to tag new things onto what you have already committed to yourself to get done. Adding more and more tasks to your to-do list for today imparts a sense of being out of control and even overwhelmed, the knock-on effect being that actually you do not even complete what you had planned, let alone the new additional tasks.

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