This week 42 years ago, I joined the Army as a boy soldier. It was something I had wanted to do since I was 8 years old. So when I joined I was determined to be the best. Unfortunately, within the first six weeks, I realised I was the worst and I could not understand why.
However, after 6 weeks of hell, we were given 48 hours leave, which gave me some time to think about where it was all going wrong. I had a light bulb moment – my timing was out of the window and, with that in mind, I set about getting a grip by observing those who were good at time; good at being on time, and getting the job done.
I have been very lucky in both my careers to work for, and with, the best in time management and each tip is something I have observed from them which I endorse and recommend.
I am sure you already do some of these tips, but perhaps there are few you might not have considered before and I hope you find them helpful – good luck!
- Appointments: Call ahead to make sure people are on schedule if you have an appointment with them and if they cancel appointments with you, have alternative plans for that time slot.
- Poor time management habits: Write down the habit you want to change and write down your goal in finished form, making results measurable. List problems you create with the habit whilst also listing the benefits of changing the habit. Start changing the habit at the earliest opportunity and exaggerate the positive traits you want to develop. Use affirmations and visually rehearse your new behaviour then reward yourself.
- Commuting: Organise commuting time; share rides and rehearse speeches and interviews. Practice presentations; map the best routes; use flexi time at work and try to stay relaxed. I play Leadership CDs from the USA ‘Success’ Magazine.
- Decision making: Set goals; clarify your values; avoid paralysis of analysis and decide something!
- Interruptions: Stand up when interrupted. My wife Joyce puts her finger on the word she was reading if I interrupt her – this is highly effective – as I know I have limited amount of time to speak!
- Perfectionism: Recognise that below average to a perfectionist is often perfectly acceptable to others.
- Write a to-do list every day: Always write your plans in pencil. I put an exclamation mark against the jobs I must do today.
- Psychological tension: Ensure you get quality sleep (at least 7 hours), eat right, meditate, and keep your perspective.
- Traffic jams: Play CDs, carry reading material with you and do some creative thinking.
- Telephone interruptions: Do not ask open-ended questions. Unless someone leaves a voice mail, I do not get back to them. My view is that if they have not left a message it cannot be that important. However, if I spot my boss’s name on my call history I always get back to her because I know it will be important.
- When faced with a new task, ask yourself if it is either urgent or important? If it’s both urgent and important then do it as soon as you can.
- Manage expectations: You may need to explain to others that the end result might be different from initial expectations. Better to “bite the bullet” early on and enlist help rather than give people a nasty surprise when you pass the point of no return.
- Choose your moments carefully: It is all about timing. During my time in the Army I asked an officer how he was always able to get what he needed from our Commanding Officer when often I could not. He said it was all about timing. He always picked his moments when he knew the CO would be most receptive. I tried it and it worked a treat.
- Planning: Spend ten minutes either at the end or at the beginning of each day, planning your day. At the end of the day review your success by asking: ‘What have I done today to move towards my goals?’
- Appointments: Recognise those meetings that are often cancelled or postponed and double check – again have something lined up that your precious time can fill.
- Set realistic deadlines: A deadline is meant to be helpful and not a major cause of stress. If someone asks me when I am likely to complete a task, I add 10% to the dates or times that gives me additional capacity and, of course, I look good if I get it done within the deadline.
- Rewards: Reward yourself when you meet your deadlines
- Highlight key points: Highlight key points on documents to speed up rereading
- Clock watching: If you work in an office, position a clock in your office so it is visible to you and to visitors
- Meetings: Pick up the phone to indicate the end of the meeting
- Physical tension: Drink alcohol in moderation. If you wake up with a hangover it will slow you down. I stopped drinking alcohol completely in 1984 and both my performance in work and my athletics improved remarkably – I wish I had done it earlier.
- Tactics: Do not sit down if you are followed into your office. Keep all chance meetings short by standing as it will then be easier to get away
- Magazine and newspaper articles: remove those you wish to keep and file them for reference. I keep mine in a plastic A4 box and save them for when I am travelling on the train
- Think before you interrupt anyone: Their time is as valuable as yours
- Telephone interruptions: I have a routine that I only check my phone four times a day – when I get up, 11am, 2pm and when I finish for the day. People who regularly phone you will soon recognise this routine. Unless someone leaves a voice mail I do not get back to them (unless of course they are my boss or my HR Business Partner)
- When making a phone call, have something else at hand to work on in case you are kept waiting
- My colleagues know I often prefer an email to a long telephone conversation if it is about requesting an answer to a complex problem. Getting the email with the question fully explained means you are reading it when you have the time; you are able to give a considered and informed response; and you have a record you can refer to and reflect on.
- Take something with you: Joyce checks when I am going upstairs to our study that I am taking something with me so often I will have something ready on the stairs and pick it up as I go along.
- Multi-tasking: What are you doing while you are waiting for your laptop to power up?
- Slow down to speed up: I was recently trying to do too much too quickly and put the wrong password into our internet banking which meant I was locked out. Very embarrassing, and it took days to get back on again. I should have slowed down
- Pressing: I have two weeks’ worth of kit pressed so I am never caught out. I do the bulk at the weekend which means I can crack on with urgent work early in the morning or if I am back late because of a long journey
- Recognising when you are at your most productive: We all have our peak times. Do you know yours? I am at my most productive very early in the morning but start losing it after 6pm so any major thinking or looking at complex reports are done in the morning.
- Turn up early: Good Time Management means less stress. It is much better to turn up 30 minutes early for a meeting than try to get there just in time. You can always check your emails while you are waiting to go into your meeting.
- Have a purpose: If it is not going to make a difference to your job, the people you support or your organisation then don’t do it
- Sweat the small stuff: Identify a potential problem, issue or concern when it is small and deal with it. I guarantee (from experience) that you will spend more time on it when it becomes a big deal!
- Coaching: Ten minutes of coaching will save you an hour of supervision. Coaching is all about getting people to come up with their own ideas.
- Go for a walk: Go for a walk when you have a difficult problem to resolve. This gives the time to reflect you will not get sitting at your desk. It will get things into perspective, I promise.
- 5 before 11: I write down five jobs to do before 11am so if I achieve nothing else for the rest of the day I have achieved at least five ticks on my list
- Get your kit together for the coming week: I know this may sound sad, but I know what I am going to be wearing each day – it saves me time in the mornings.
- The way you begin a call affects the way you end it: You can start a phone call by saying “Hi Susan, I only have 5 minutes to talk, but I wanted to let you know that……”
Do you have any other tips for time management? Let me know by posting below or send me a tweet.