Category Archives: Time Management

Are you proactive or reactive?

Have you noticed how busy everyone is?

When you walk down the street or sit somewhere for a coffee, look around, and you’ll see most people engaged with their devices. Mobile phones and tablets are wonderful tools that keep us in touch with what’s happening in the world, and with our contacts nearer home.

We’re all busy. When you’re trying to get someone’s attention with an email or another piece of marketing material, the gurus will tell you that you have to try seven or more times before you should expect a result.

If you follow Twitter, or you’ve tried to do so, the sheer volume of comment can be overwhelming, and the same can be said of Facebook. Keeping up to date with the minutiae of your friends’ lives would leave you with no time to do anything else!

Even if you don’t use social media, it’s really easy to spend all day just reading and responding to emails.

The danger with this is that you are only ever reacting to inbound information – or noise – and not being proactive and moving towards your objective.
You do have an objective for today, don’t you?That sounds like such a big thing. The objective. It’s rather a grandiose term and perhaps a little intimidating, isn’t it?

Let me simplify it.

At the start of each day, ask yourself: “What am I going to achieve today?’

How you answer this will set your objective for the day. It’s not complicated, but it is important – important enough to write down and remember it.

When you’re taking a break – perhaps when you go to get a coffee, or perhaps at lunch, take a look at the objective and measure how much progress you’ve made towards it.

Repeat the exercise at the end of the day.

You’ll be amazed at how much more you get done when you stick to the task you’ve set yourself!

Perfection can be the enemy of progress

There are times when perfection must be achieved but also times when it is the enemy of progress.

If you have a product or service in development that is not yet perfect and you continue the development until you reach what you regard as perfection, you may just find the market has been taken from you by an inferior product. They call it “first mover” advantage or first to market advantage.

There is also a strong probability that the product (or service) is not quite what the customer’s want or need. You’ve used your knowledge and experience to build this, but if you don’t have customer feedback it is easy to go down the wrong road.

That’s an obvious example, but the same principles can easily be applied to your internal projects. I was responsible for the roll-out of a new IT hardware system. We were a relatively small company, and were not using IT professionals – it was mostly down to me. I had a plan for the roll-out but as with any plan, things did not work quite as expected! In this case, a printer that had worked perfectly in one environment decided not to work with the new system.

In the perfect world, I would have setup the printer and everything else in a test environment before deployment. I’d have found and resolved the problem. That would have taken an impractical amount of time (I had a day job, this was a set of additional responsibilities) and money.

In the real world, we deployed the new system and the printer failed. We could have reverted to the old system (that was my ultimate backup plan) but managed to find a workaround that let us operate. We had the new system running within the day, the operations and the customers were not hampered and the business could benefit from the new faster hardware.

If you’ve got a backup plan, and failure won’t affect the customer, roll out the project and fix it when you know what’s wrong.  If you’ve got a new product, get it to market in beta or prototype form. Don’t wait for perfection!

Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear 

The other day as I was driving home, a car in the nearside lane pulled out as I was alongside it. I don’t know how they missed me!

I was reminded of the legend you often see in car door or wing mirrors: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”

The same is true of deadlines; they are always closer than you think.

If you plan to complete something that will take five days work and you want to complete it in 6 months time it is very easy to think “Ok, I’ve got plenty of time to do that” and do nothing.

Before you know it the deadline is only 3 months away. Apparently, half the available time has disappeared but progress on the project is still zero.

If you factor in the other commitments on your time – the things that you have to do every week, and every month – the time you have available for this project can be very limited indeed!

Take your six-month deadline and deduct from that any holidays – personal or public. That’s a couple of weeks. Then take away your normal committed hours – for the sake of ease let’s assume you have one day a fortnight available for the project.

Six months is 30 weeks or 150 days, but you are on holiday for 10 days and busy for 135 days.

Your available time at the outset is 5 days to complete a 5-day project, so you don’t have a moment to lose!

Completing a project on time and on the budget – whether that is a time or an expenditure budget – requires, first of all, a sensible assessment of the available resources. If you really don’t have the 5 days, you are not going to complete the project. You may have to reduce other commitments to make the time/free up the resources.

A really useful second step – especially with more complex projects – is to have milestones that have their own deadlines. You can review progress on an interim basis and adjust the project plan based on those reviews, either by additional resource or by extending the timetable.

Here is your personal time machine

How often do you hear the phrase “I don’t have time to do XYZ?”

I hear it all the time.

I often hear someone being praised for working hard, and usually, that’s connected to the number of hours they put in.

What is much more interesting is how productive someone is – how much do they get done.

How productive are you?

To become more productive, focus on the things that are distracting you and minimise them.

Do you need to be in every meeting?
If you are not driving the meeting, trust your team to discuss issues without you and move things forward. The team will appreciate the opportunity to expand their knowledge, the trust that you are showing them and will probably come to the same conclusions even if you are not there.

How often do you need to check your emails?
Email is one of the big distractions in today’s world. It’s so easy when the email alert pings for you stop writing that proposal (or newsletter, or report) and go read the latest email.
How often do you get an email that requires an instant reply? Never! If you checked your email only once a day would the world fall apart? Why not try that – set a time each day and don’t read emails in between.

Could you turn off the phone for a couple of hours?
When you are in that important meeting that you are driving, you will have your phone turned off or at the very least on silent. What happens if someone calls during the meeting? If it’s important, they will leave a message – and it will probably be “Can you call me when you are free?”

Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can be valuable business tools but they don’t require your attention every minute or every hour of every day – unless they are your business!

Are you working below your pay grade?

In the world of independent business people, there’s a phenomenon known as the “busy fool” where instead of selling, marketing or delivering their services the speaker/coach/trainer/consultant is taking on duties that are not within their skill set. A frequently cited example is where time is spent on record keeping or accounting when that is one of the easiest to outsource.

For me, there a direct comparison to an observation I make in larger businesses.

I often find clients are really busy and don’t have time to think about, let alone implement, some of the improvements we have identified for the business. Sometimes that’s why the business hasn’t moved on in the past few years – the team have reached capacity (or at least the managing director/owner has) and new initiatives are few and far between.

I’m a great believer in analysing the workload that crosses your desk. How much of that are things that you should not be doing – how much of it is things that are “below your pay grade” or if you are an independent, not in your core skill set?

As I have written before, many of these things can be delegated out outsourced, but you have to make the decision to “let go” and I know that many people find that hard.

I don’t – in fact, I once delegated responsibility to someone who didn’t work for me or even work in the same organisation

Another way to think about the tasks that consume your time is to rank them by potential consequences. For each task, ask the question

“What’s the consequence if this doesn’t get done – or done on time?”

You may just find there are some tasks or responsibilities that are making you a busy fool!


Put your problems in context

It is really easy to become very concerned with a problem that in the end is just a little problem.

You uncover the issue, and it nags at you. There’s a voice inside your head crying “fix me” and you find it difficult to focus on other things and get things done.

My son has been living and working in Tanzania for a few years now. He’s Head of Physics in a private school and it is a very different world to the one we know. There is very limited internet, restricted water supply during the dry season and frequent power cuts. On the more positive front, he is on the doorstep of some of the most famous safari parks in the world and occasionally has monkeys in the garden!

One phrase that has come from his experience is “first world problem” which is used as a response to a complaint about something minor. We might say “there’s nothing worth watching on TV tonight” and the response would be “first world problem. You have a TV, power supply….!”

So does the problem you are obsessed with really matter?

Is the coffee machine broken? Perhaps the printer is not working as it should be.
There’s a problem with the sandwiches? (That was always my favourite. A business I ran provided subsidized lunches. They were the subject of so many complaints it was almost a relief to get rid of the perk when we had to save some money)

Is it affecting your customers?

If the answer is no, that makes it a bit like a “first world problem.” It might be an irritation, perhaps it is hampering your efficiency but in the end, you are working around it and the customer never knows.

If the answer is yes, then you are right to obsess over it and get it fixed. It affects your customer – so it really matters.