Time management has become an obsession. In our fast-paced modern era, time has become the rarest and most precious resource we have. But can we really manage it ?
Do you know a lot of people who do not seem to lack time these days? Probably not. We walk fast, our activities keep multiplying while we are trying to optimize our lives and we often have the impression that we will never manage to check all the items off our to-do lists.
According to Jordan Cohen, a productivity expert, time management is not an appropriate wording, and we should rather talk about productivity. "It's not about time, but how productive you can be."
A manager recently told me, "Time is the only thing I can not control." Indeed, time is inevitable and we can not do anything to stop it. As it is not possible to add hours in a day, the real question here is: How to make the most of your time?
Since we must accept that time can not be "managed", what can we do to remedy what Leslie Perlow calls "time starvation"?
Here are the four tips that will help you get the most out of your day.
Learn how to say no
A classic time management tip. Given that there is a limited amount of time in a day, the first step to avoid being completely overloaded is to know how to say no. Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen, who have spent the last three years studying how knowledge workers can become more productive, are categorical: we must eliminate or delegate tasks that are not important and replace them with ones of greater value.
In their article Make Time For The Work That Matters featured in the Harvard Business Review, Cohen and Birkinshaw designed a simple process to help you filter through your not so important tasks to increase productivity:
- Identify low-value-added tasks
The first step is to make a list of all your activities. Once you're done, you'll have to analyze their level of importance. The goal here is to identify the low-value-added tasks, so that you don't spend time working on something that will not bring any value to you or your firm.
- Decide to give up, to delegate or to redesign them
The second step is to sort these activities into three categories:
- Quick kills: This refers to the things you can stop doing now with no negative effects
- Off-load opportunities: This refers to the the tasks that can be delegated with minimal effort
- Long-term redesign: This refers to the work that needs to be restructured or overhauled
This will allow you to identify the activities you shouldn't commit to.
- Off-load tasks
The third step is to delegate and reassign your unimportant tasks to your subordinates/colleagues. This step is very important because it will allow you to focus and contribute all of your efforts on value added activities and allow your team members to become more involved thus, increasing productivity.
- Allocate the freed time to other tasks
The fourth step is to determine how to make the most out of the time you just saved. This step is crucial for identifying the important things you don't usually have the time for.
In order to be effective, Jordan and Julian recommend writing down the important activities you're supposed to be working on but aren't and to keep track of the activities you're working on to determine whether you're spending your time efficiently.
- Commit to your plan
The last step is to get the management involved. If you want to be effective at managing your time then this can't be a one-off process. You should make this a recurrent exercice or set-up weekly meetings to discuss the level of importance of each of your activities to make sure you're not spending your time working on low valued adding tasks.
The first tip was to help you improve your time management process by getting rid of your unimportant tasks. Another way of becoming more efficient at managing your time is to prioritize your activities.
Sometimes we can get carried away by focusing our time on tasks that are urgent but not important, which doesn't seem like we're making the most out of our time. But have no fear! The Eisenhower Matrix is here.
I know what you're thinking, what the h**** is an Eisenhower Matrix?
Long story short, the Eisenhower Matrix is a time management classic that can help you identify your real priorities to ensure you achieve what is most important to you. It also allows you to understand the difference between what is important and what is urgent.
So, how does it work? Well, it's pretty simple, you can start prioritizing by following these steps:
Take a piece of paper, and separate it into four quadrants and label them:
- Do First(Top left quadrant)
- Schedule(Top right quadrant)
- Delegate (Bottom left quadrant)
- Don't Do (Bottom right quadrant)
The next step is to fill each quadrant with all the activities, projects or tasks that you have to complete and/or anything that is time consuming.
- Do First
These activities are both of important and urgent nature. They are the ones that should be completed immediately.
It's impossible to predict the urgent & unexpected tasks that could mess up your schedule, the solution is to try to identify the activities you could have anticipated and program the activities that are similar beforehand.
These are the activities that are important but not urgent. Most of the time, these activities are unfortunately pushed back when emergencies occur.
It is important to plan and set deadlines to ensure their execution. Deadlines (even if they are your sole responsibility) help to prioritize these activities and avoid getting caught up in the whirlwind of other distractions. According to Claessens et al (2009), "managing your time and making important activities "urgent" in a certain way (by giving them deadlines to meet) are therefore factors of success to ensure their achievement".
Another way would be to give yourself a lot of time to complete these important activities otherwise they may become urgent, making your list of important & urgent things to do even longer.
These are the activities that are urgent but not important. For example, taking urgent calls or colleagues asking you for help at at work. These activities can prevent you from reaching your goals and as a result hinder your productivity.
To enhance your productivity, you should consider delegating them to someone else or rescheduling them to a period that's less hectic. Another solution would be to learn how to say no (politely) so that you can concentrate on your most important activities.
- Don't Do
These are the tasks that are non-urgent and not important. For example, sorting your emails, checking social media or browsing the web. They are to avoided at all costs, unless they help you unwind. If surfing the internet allows you to relax and educate yourself, so much the better.
However, be aware of the time spent on these activities and make sure they do not take over your schedule.
What you can do is combine activities of the same nature to optimize their achievement.
Here's PDF template that will help you prioritize your activities thanks to the Eisenhower Matrix.⁂