A strategy for the best use of your time
The timing of this article is perfect! Soon, many will return to their company office and can benefit greatly using the following information. Those of us who work from a home office can use this information to win back some time as well!
A little background I have been on a quest for many years to use Peter Drucker’s advice on efficiency and effectiveness.
“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things”Peter Drucker
While some see efficiency and effectiveness as opposing ways to operate, I take a different view. I believe you can be both efficient and effective when it comes to how you use your time. Time is everything to your job and life and can be used well or wasted. Better to use it to your benefit!
It’s easy to recognize the things that chew up your time but changing them is another matter altogether. That is why I originally came up with the idea of approaching my time use strategically. To develop a simple strategy from which I could create some useful tactics to attack my waste of time. This is war after all! A war between accomplishment and failure. A war between getting things done, or not! Time is your most valuable resource, it is irreplaceable. While there are numerous time-management systems available, I think it is best to customize the solution to you personally, and not use some off the shelf system or technique.
What does a strategy and tactics for your time look like? I will share mine, from which you can adapt the parts that work, and create the rest to best suit your needs.
A word on strategy. Strategy comes first, tactics follow. Without a deliberate strategy, you are at the mercy of almost anything and everything, with little control of your time. I knew from strategic planning that tactics must serve a deliberate strategy otherwise, chaos reigns.
We often attempt to execute what some may call tactics that do not serve a true strategy. These so-called tactics are nothing more than tasks added to the hundred other things you must do each day.
Your strategy does not have to be elaborate; it only needs to provide an outcome and guardrails to keep you on track. I wrote my strategy as somewhat of a mission statement for my time management:
“To remain conscious of and control my time by eliminating unnecessary distractions to become as productive as possible while reducing the stress in my life. At the end of each month, I will review my progress and make the necessary adjustments to further enhance my efficiency (doing things right) and effectiveness (doing the right things).”
This simple strategy forever changed the direction of my career. It pointed me in the direction of massive personal productivity, and greatly reduced the enormous stress my lack of planning had caused.
With my strategy defined, I came up with several tactics to make it work.
Following is a list of tactics with an explanation of each.
Let everyone, especially your boss (if you have one,) know you are implementing this strategy. In fact, you can give them a copy and go over it with them to avoid headaches later. Who wouldn’t appreciate your effort to become a more efficient and effective employee?
Block out time on your shared calendar for uninterrupted times to focus on important tasks. If you don’t have a shared calendar, let those that matter know ahead of time that a portion of the day Is tied up for an important project.
3. Say no or deflect
When someone asks you to do another project and your schedule is full, learn to say no. You are not there to rescue others from their lack of planning and you only have so much time in a day.
Should the boss ask you to take on another task when your schedule is full, ask him/her what project they want you to push back or delay, so you can fit it in. Let them make the decision. Saying yes and taking on the project when you are already overloaded, will not only add stress, but make you less efficient, and less effective for the company. Quality will likely suffer as well.
Saying “no” is a particularly important skill to develop to enhance your effectiveness for the company while reducing stress. You can work on this skill by practicing it whenever it makes sense.
When someone drops in, learn how to say nicely you do not have time and are focused elsewhere, effectively saying no. If a meeting goes off course, find a way to politely let them know you have work to do, effectively saying no again. Practice finding ways to help people stop wasting your time. Politely!
If you want to be truly productive, and move toward your goals, you must have uninterrupted time in which you can focus.
Did you know, according to the American Psychological Association, attempting to do two things at once, “task-switching,” reduces productivity by 40 percent, because it takes time to reconnect with what you were working on when interrupted even if you caused the interruption yourself.
Most of us lose at least 28 percent of our productive working time that’s more than two hours each day because of interruptions and recovery time! And I believe that is a very conservative estimate of time lost. The point is to take interruptions seriously as they steal your time.
A major time consumer most days are interruptions from either technology or other people. Seeing interruptions for what they are and thinking about them differently can allow you to take actions you may not have considered. Learn to give yourself the gift of precious time.
You can choose to close your email program and set preplanned time aside for email. I set aside 15 to 30 minutes at 11:30 and 4:00 on most days. These are natural times for me since they are right before lunch and late in the afternoon as I wind down for the day. I found most emails can wait a few hours. If it is important, they will get hold of you somehow.
You can put your mobile phone on silent, and your office phone on do-not-disturb for time to focus on a task. Most phone systems let you add a temporary away or unavailable message, so why not use it? It is usually a simple matter to establish a system so that the most vital calls like emergency calls from family members can still get through.
Forge an agreement in the office, including your home office, for the sake of personal productivity, it is acceptable to close and place a do-not-disturb (DND) sign on the office door for periods of uninterrupted time. A conference or other room can work as well if they are available.
If you can, go to another location. For many of my writing projects, I often take my laptop to the library, a park, or a coffee shop.
Make a “Must-Do” list of 2 to 4 items each day to help you focus. For more on this system, see How to Increase the Rate of Success in Your Life.
A few tips to work as efficiently and effectively as possible include
- Take a break every hour or so to stay fresh.
- Log daily interruptions for a week or two to understand why they happen and to devise a plan to control them. Simply record who, what, when, where, and how they happen.
- Block out two uninterrupted times each day on your calendar, so you can put a concentrated effort into your most important task.
- Develop the habit of starting and stopping work on time.
- Don’t be a jerk! Remember, relationships are important and are what life is made of. Learn to both guard your time and be kind.
What other ideas can you add that would work for you? How you manage distractions and interruptions will depend on the kind of work you do and the kind of company you work for. You can find more ideas online about stopping or limiting interruptions in different kinds of workplaces.
It takes a serious and conscious effort to make the best use of your time. Life is full of random opportunities for distraction. It’s a skill that gets better with practice and is worth the effort. If you do not plan our work and work your plan, you are at the mercy of countless things that will derail you.
Those you work for will notice your efforts and reward you if you are successful.
Be thoughtful and deliberate about where you place your effort and spend your time. Learn from others, explore, and choose the ideas and methods that work best for you.