The other day, Amar asked me to write a blog on Time Management. I like writing, I like time management and being efficient and quite honestly, I also like when someone is interested in my opinion on a subject. And if they’re interested enough to request a blog post, then how can I resist?
Amar is one of our regular Makeover Monday contributors and Tableau enthusiasts who also happens to be one of the leaders of a thriving community of students at Saint Joseph’s university in Philadelphia. He helps others become better at Tableau through regular meetups and support sessions. Amar recently scored himself a really cool job and if he wants to learn about time management, then let’s talk about time management…
What is time management?
Well, I don’t really call it time management, my description is a combination of ‘focusing on the things that are important’, ‘finishing what you start’, ‘being extremely organised’ and ‘getting shit done’. What those look like will probably differ for different people, but I’ll describe to you how I do things, because some of that could be useful for you. And if it helps you ‘focus on the things that are important’, ‘finish what you start’, ‘be extremely organised’ or to ‘get shit done’, then writing this blog was totally worth it.
Let’s start with
Focusing on the things that are important
How many times have I heard from people ‘I just don’t have the time for it’. We all have 24 hours in a day. Some people get an extraordinary amount of stuff done. Others don’t. Some people build businesses that change how we live our lives, others don’t. We all have the same amount of hours in a day. It’s what we do with that time that makes the difference.
It’s your choice
You don’t ‘not have time’, you just choose different priorities. And there’s nothing wrong with that in principle. But if you want to achieve certain things, you need to align your priorities accordingly.
If you want to move to the next level in your job or career, you need to make time for the things that will get you there. Excuses won’t. Doing the bare minimum of what’s required in your job won’t. Being dedicated, passionate, enthusiastic, motivated and showing initiative will. Dressing the part, behaving the part, and demonstrating you’re up to the tasks – those attributes will help you get to where you want to be.
If your boss doesn’t run on the principles of hope and isn’t desperately looking just about anywhere for the next leader, then you will likely have to demonstrate to him or her that you can do the job before you actually get a chance to do the job.
If you want to become an Olympic level athlete, you will have to align your life to that goal. You will have to train hard, be dedicated, diligent and relentlessly strive to achieve your goals. You also probably should have started that when you were 4 years old.
If you want to learn a new language, start playing the piano or make sure your house renovations stay within the allocated schedule, you have to make time for that. Dedicate time to the things that are important and don’t let anything get in the way of that. Within reason of course, if your kid falls off a tree, don’t ignore that ;-).
Too many times do I hear from people ‘I would do xyz, but I have 2 kids to entertain and a dog to walk and I’m really busy at work’.
Okay, then don’t try and do xyz. But don’t make excuses or complain about it. If you want to change something, do it. If you don’t, then don’t. Complaining doesn’t get you anywhere.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, how about something a little less confrontational?
Finish what you start
Not much frustrates me more than things being left unfinished. Yes, sometimes we get interrupted and something urgent comes up that results in our original work being left in limbo. But that shouldn’t be the default.
The OHIO principle applies – Only Handle It Once, i.e. when you pick up an item or a task to do something with/to it, then finish the job so it doesn’t have to be handled again (and again).
- in the home (Fold all the washing AND pack it away. Empty ALL the dishes from the dishwashers . Take out the rubbish AND put a new bag in the bin. Clear the kitchen bench AND wipe it down),
- in sports (do your training AND your stretches. Ride your bike AND clean it afterwards),
- and at work (write that document AND review it so that the next person only adds those aspects you simply couldn’t. Visualize your data AND format your dashboard. Attend the meeting AND pay attention).
Doing things half-assed isn’t very satisfying and often ends up being a bigger waste of time than putting in the extra effort to do things properly in the first place.
Being extremely organised
Quite the claim, Eva, isn’t it? Yes, but I’m not one for false humility and you’re clearly here because you’re interested…
I don’t know if I’ve always been extremely organised, because the messy state of my bedroom as a child would clearly suggest otherwise, but I’ve always been able to keep all the ‘balls in the air’ that life threw my way and didn’t really struggle to meet the demands of school or work. That doesn’t mean I don’t procrastinate or that I always prioritise all the right things or that I had straight As all the way through, but I think I’ve always been eager to do the things that were asked of me. So I did.
What helped me along the way was to plan and write lists and it is probably telling that my friend and I, during primary school, spent hours playing travel agents with a bunch of staplers, old paper and a typewriter…
Why would I try to memorize lots and lots of different things when I could just write them down? Now, I’m all for giving your brain a workout, but not when it comes to grocery shopping or packing my suitcase.
I write lists for pretty much everything and I use an app called ‘Wunderlist‘, because the less paper the better. I have shopping lists, birthday present lists (for those moments when you have the perfect present idea but it’s not the person’s birthday…), travel pack lists, a list for places I want to visit, etc. . I use them all the time, and I can share them with others, add pictures to items, and so on. Super handy, simple, free.
A place for everything
Okay, an admission first: I haven’t perfected this one yet, but I’m well on my way and it helps me keep my sanity.
In our apartment everything has a place (or is supposed to…). I’ve managed to do this very well for my closet and yes, I’m proud of that, because for as long as I remember, I made a mess of my closet. No more. Everything has a place and I’m diligent about keeping it that way. I can see everything I own and I never ‘have nothing to wear’. Being organised with my closet saves me lots of time every morning and it saves me money because it is very clear that I don’t need any more clothes for quite some time…
Having your stuff organised well around you not only looks nice and keeps you from spending lots of money, but it also helps clear your head because you don’t need to worry about objects in your house and subsequently will be less stressed by those things.
My outlook calendar is how I structure my days at work. Every meeting, of course, is in there. But instead of following a to-do list and ticking things off, I put my tasks into my calendar as well. Blasphemy! Eva, you just told us to write lists for everything!
Yes, but a To-do list for your work tasks doesn’t tell you anything about a task’s duration and probably doesn’t show priorities or importance. Plus, how can you add information or electronic documents to it easily?
That’s why I diarize everything. For example, next week I need to talk to a few colleagues about a contract, it shouldn’t take more than 10 min, so I have blocked a 30min slot to cover the discussion and me updating the document. I also need to update a meeting in Sydney with an agenda, so there’s another 30min slot for drafting the agenda, writing the email and sending it off.
Yes, this means my days are ‘scheduled’ from start to finish, but it also ensures I can get stuff done with enough time allocated to each task. And I allow time for thinking, not just execution, in case you’re wondering how an agenda and email can take me 30min :-).
Does it work? Mostly. There are always unexpected things that crop up, but then I just reshuffle and move things I missed to the next available time. I also colour-code my appointments to give myself a quick overview of the different areas of focus for the week.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
We all have different paces at which we live our lives and for each of us individually that stuff changes throughout the week, the month, the year. I’ll be the first to admit that yes, I do cram a lot into my life. But maybe it’s my fear to not have done everything I wanted by the time I die. So I fill up this life in case I don’t get another shot at it.
I like it that way, I like the structure of my days, knowing what I’m doing, where and when and I feel satisfied at the end of the day when I’ve achived a bunch of things and challenged myself intellectually and physically.
To get everything done, I have to be prepared for the day. It makes live much much easier. What does that look like? Well, my days start the night before, when I
- choose what to wear the next day and get all the clothes ready
- choose what to eat the next day and prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner (I leave the house at 8am on off days and 6:15am on training days, and return at 7.30pm, so I don’t really eat at home during the week)
- check the training schedule for the next day and prepare the necessary gear/bag
Nothing ground-breaking, but as is so often the case, these are concepts that have been around for a long time. Because they work.
A big calendar
I don’t just look ahead to the next day or the next week, but keep in mind the rest of the year. With work events and business travel, there are already trips lined up all the way to October. They are all written into my calendar on the wall so I know where I’ gonna be and when. And everyone else can see it too, if they look… 🙂
Mapping stuff out
Literally, but sometimes just in my head. If we need groceries, I’ll have a list (see above) and then I just go get them after work. I’ll think of the most sensible way to drive so I’m not going back and forth across town for some tomatoes and paper towels, I’ll go to the supermarket and get the stuff on the list. Nothing extra. I don’t wander the non-food aisles at Aldi or stray into the scented candles section at DM – just get in there, buy what I need and get out without causing further damage. That keeps money in my pocket, means I still have enough room to have a ‘place for everything’ (see above) and prevents me from wasting time.
Amd if I feel like window shopping or just wandering the stores aimlessly for some reason, I’ll make time for it on the weekend, no distractions and no ‘we’re closing soon’ warnings.
Getting shit done
On the one hand it’s a matter of just getting on with it, but on the other hand it’s not that simple.
We all have tasks we enjoy doing and others we hate doing. Some people enjoy tax returns enough to make a career out of it, others get a kick out of visualizing data. It’s easy to work on the tasks that give us joy but making time for the stuff we don’t seems much harder. So we procrastinate and the work doesn’t go away and every day we think about it and about how we don’t like it but still have to do it.
But not doing those unwanted tasks is like not shutting the draws around the house and continuously bumping your shin on them. It’s annoying, it doesn’t feel nice and it reminds us that something is unfinished.
The annoying tasks
When I have to do something I don’t like to do, I attack it first thing in the morning, because it makes me feel even more accomplished for having done it. Such a relief and satisfaction!
My recommendation is to tackle those tasks first thing, get them out of the way and out of your mind. Schedule them in your diary and let nothing get in the way. And it’s very likely that they aren’t even as bad as you imagine.
For me, doing my expense report is annoying and I’d rather visit the dentist than fill in that sheet. I don’t even know why and my reaction seems so unreasonable, but I really don’t like it. Thankfully and because I’m pretty organised, I have my receipts and everything ready to go, so once I sit down to do my expenses, it is usually much quicker and less painful than I thought.
Put it in your diary and get it done.
Just about any task
Let’s assume it’s Monday morning and after a busy weekend of training and meeting up with friends and family, I actually have no cycling, swimming or running to do, it’s my off day and I don’t have to leave the house until 8am. Given my usual routine I will likely still wake up at 5.30am, I just can’t change that. But now I have a lot of extra time that morning, so what do I do?
There’s likely a pile of clothes to be washed and even if I don’t need any of them tomorrow, I’ll still get the laundry done because done is done and I won’t have to think about it any further. Before leaving the house I can wash 1 load, put it on the line and start a second load.
I can also get the dishwasher emptied and loaded again, tidy up my desk if needed, water the plants, make the bed, pay some bills, etc.
Yes, none of these are necessarily time-critical and have to be done right now, but done is done and that’s all that matters.
Why not do things right now when I can?
At work that might be a different matter because if I simply attend to every request, I’ll never move far on the high priority items, so some stuff has to wait. But once I have finished the high priority/urgend tasks, I can attend to the other emails, data vizzes, blog posts, etc.
I try to get as much done whenever I can, so it never really becomes urgent in the first place. That way I have more time to plan and execute tasks well, rather than rushing around at the end trying to finish something 2min before it’s due.
This works at university as well, by the way. Yes, I was one of those ‘annoying’ people who started their assignments when they were handed out rather than the day before they were due. Why should I create unnecessary stress for myself? Yes, I may have missed out on a few drunken nights out (no big loss…) but the habits I created serve me well ever day.
Another admission: I am talent-free when it comes to handyman skills. I can do stuff if someone shows me how, but I don’t have anywhere near the natural skills that my brother has, for example. But I do love a bit of DIY and fixing things.
When I’m staying at a hotel and the shower head spits water into all directions you can bet that I’m twisting it until it’s fixed. Tightening the hose? Easy!
Drawers wobbly and not rolling smoothly? I’m taking that thing apart if I can and putting things in order.
If powertools are required I’ll request assistance from dad, because I’d rather not cut my hand off or drop some heavy machine on my toes.
My approach, similar to just doing things when they come up, is to fix things when they’re broken. If I can. When I don’t have the tools or supplies then yes, things may take a little longer, but if all that is required is a screw driver to tighten something or a folded piece of paper to straighten out a table, then I’ll do it right there and then.
And you could too – it’s fun and satisfying, I promise.
So what now?
How can you apply the things you’ve read to your life to help with your time management skills?
I suggest you pick a couple of things and try them out. But first, it’s important to get an overview of what’s currently happening in your life.
- what are some of your long-standing commitments that are non negotiable?
- what parts of your day, week, month and year are occupied by family, work, hobbies?
- what are some habits that you would consider time wasters?
(could be anything from Netflix marathons, to hours of video games, playing Candy Crush or watching The Batchelor). Be honest with yourself.
My list of suggestions has a clear theme and yes, I don’t watch TV a lot and when I do, it’s usually a movie and not an advert-filled brainless junk programme. I detest daytime TV and think TVs are one of the worst distractions and shouldn’t feature so prominently in our lives and living rooms. Rant over.
- what do you spend time on that you could do more efficiently?
If it’s household chores, maybe apply my favourite trick: Gamification. Race against the clock and set a timer for 15min. How much can you get done in those 15min?
Get your kids involved. This one is inspired by my mum: Get the laundry basket with all those socks, tip it out and have everyone pair up the socks as quickly as possible. The person with the most pairs wins. Sounds lame? Try it before you judge and see your sock pile go from messy to tidy in less than a minute…
- just start and see how you go. Don’t try to fix everything at once. Set yourself a target and go from there, e.g. you might like to try the diary approach for scheduling everything. If you like it, use it for a few weeks before you tackle the next change. This way you can embed new habits over time.
If you still don’t know what to do but have some concrete challenges to address or specific questions, please just let me know. In writing this post I’ve taken my perspective and tried to generalise it so it becomes applicable to others. It might still not address what you’re looking for, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have suggestions (or opinions 🙂 ) that could help…
I look forward to reading your comments.