Keith McCarthy gives you tips and tools on how to manage your time and increase your personal effectiveness.
I am always surprised at the level of interest and enthusiasm in the personal effectiveness module on our three day management skills programme. Personal effectiveness, often disguised as time management, appears to be a growing challenge for managers. So much to do and so little time to do it! I was sitting with a senior manager last week doing some coaching and the core of his issue, after much discussion, was his ‘capacity for speed’, ‘procrastination’ and his ‘inability to prioritise’. And there we are again, personal effectiveness. My aim with this brief article is to highlight some tips, tools and techniques for helping you to increase your personal effectiveness.
There are a couple of things worth mentioning at the outset of this article. There is a significant difference between activities (being busy) and being productive. Productivity is spending your time on value adding activities that deliver results. Being busy does not necessarily equate to the same thing. Someone can be very busy, but not that productive. Discipline and attitude are also important. Personal effectiveness means being disciplined in your approach and having the right attitude to work and your behaviour.
Tip 1: Energy
I started writing this article this morning at about 8am. This wasn’t accidental. After a decent night’s sleep, people are at their freshest for the first 3-4 hours of any day. However, people use this time ineffectively. Some of it is eaten up getting ready for work, getting out of the house and commuting to work. They arrive at the work place, complete their to-do list, have a coffee, have a chat, check their emails and so on. Here we are wasting time on low energy tasks during our high energy time. This early period in the day is the time for starting to write that report or article or getting a project plan started. Things that require thought, concentration and energy. Low energy times are just before lunch and especially for the hour or so after lunch as you digest your food. Plan your daily activities and tasks around your energy!
Tip 2: Take control of email
Email, for all its good, has taken control of so many people. They live it and breathe it. It is time to get a grip! Firstly, when people send an email they generally (not in all cases) don’t want a response immediately. They don’t know where you are or what you are up to so an immediate response is probably not necessary – that is what the phone is for. Take control of your email with these tips:
Check it periodically rather than have it minimised on your screen. People are easily distracted by emails that come in while they are in the middle of something. Check it, perhaps 4-5 times per day, at times of low energy in particular.
Use the rules function: The rules function in most email systems is easy to use. It will pre-sort your email by name, subject, priority etc. as it comes into your mailbox. This minimises the number of emails in your main inbox and can help with prioritising emails, particular those from important people or events.
Apply a 4 point discipline to all emails: Forward it, Reply to it, File it or Bin it. Minimise the amount of times you read an email by applying one of these four disciplines. Remember if there is an action from it put this on your to-do list.
Tip 3: To do or not to do
A to-do list can add real value to getting things done, provided it is used in the correct way. A to-do list for each day should be prepared the previous evening before heading for home. We don’t want to waste precious energy in the morning on this low energy task. To-do list activities should be categorised into four headings:
- Urgent and important
- Urgent but not important
- Not urgent but important
- Not urgent and not important
This will help prioritise all tasks. In addition, break larger tasks into smaller chunks for completion by a certain date. For example, rather than writing a ‘complete report’,break the task into time allocated chunks: Report – 2 hours. Achieve your two hours and then stop. In addition, when planning the previous evening look at what is scheduled for the day in terms of meetings etc. and plan your activities around these pre-scheduled events.
Tip 4: Managing distractions
During the course of any day we can be distracted by any number of things, for example phone calls and callers to the office. Let’s focus on these two. Most managers have the ability to filter phone calls using voice mail. If so, update your voicemail message daily (this takes 20 seconds) so people know that you are in the office but not available. Manage the calls by calling people back at times that suit you. Remember, it is important to always return calls as this creates an expectation that you do return calls and that you are reliable in this regard. This stops people ringing back two or three times.
Visitors to your office can be good – if you want them to be there. Take control of people coming in – it is not a bus stop after all! Try these steps:
- Allocate protected time to certain people during the course of the week. This means meeting some of your staff at allocated times in the week, Monday morning perhaps.
- Tell people you are busy if they call but give them a time either to come back or a time that you will come back to them.
- Establish ground rules: When your door is closed you are busy (except in an emergency), but when it is open you are free for a visit.
- Remove encouragements to stay – for example, move chairs away from your desk or place a box on them to stop people sitting down.
Tip 5: Time logs
If you have made it to this point in the article you obviously have an interest in improving your personal effectiveness. You might wonder why this isn’t the first tip. My rationale is that if people read this as the first tip they may be less likely to complete the task or the article for that matter. Keeping a time sheet for a short period can be a useful activity in helping to understand where you are currently spending your time. If you were working as an accountant or a lawyer the majority of your time is billable to clients – therefore time sheets are necessary. It is worth considering, if your organisation were billing for your time what value would they get for the hours you are there? What are you spending your billable hours on? As an exercise for two separate weeks keep a time log of how you are spending your time. Measure from the minute you get in to when you leave and include all distractions etc. This tool can be very effective for measuring where you lose time, when you are most effective and what is absorbing your time on a daily/weekly basis.
Personal effectiveness in many cases is a personal choice driven by discipline and attitude! The choice is yours. If you need help and have identified a need, why not start off with Tip 5 and go from there!
For more information check out Personal Effectiveness online course.