Time Management Techniques. How to choose your battles.

16 Feb 2016

Time Management Techniques. Prioritize to focus on the right things.

There are two kinds of people – those who are perennially busy and have no time, and those who seem to have time and are happy to take on more.

What’s the difference? The difference is in the way they manage time and the time management techniques that they use.

People who use their time well know their priorities, know their work, and use their resources.

People who use their time poorly tend to confuse priorities, fail to optimize their work, and do not ask for help when they need it.

Becoming a better time manager involves three core life skills that need to be learnt and practised every day in order to attain mastery, just like in any other skill.

What are those 3 areas?

  1. Understand yourself
  2. Understand your work
  3. Understand your team and other resources

Let’s look at those three things in a little more detail.

How do you ‘know yourself?’ It sounds abstract but in fact, it’s not. Here’s how you can break it down:

1. Identify the work that contributes to your values and goals: Most people spend a lot of time doing low value things because they can’t differentiate between what adds value to their goals and what doesn’t. Get clear about what matters to you. Choose work that fits that. Leave out the rest or make it low priority.

2. Identify your most productive time: Each one of us has a time in the day when we are most productive. It can be early in the morning or just before lunch or for some people, late in the night. Identify your most creative time band and allot that for crucial work. Make it a routine. How you live your days is a microcosm of how you live your life.

3. Multi-tasking does not work at all times: Our culture glorifies ‘busy’ and makes an art out of multi-tasking. But quite often, 20% of the activities generate 80% of the value. Take time to focus on one crucial task at a time and you can leave the multi-tasking to less important tasks.

4. Get your act together: Do you get distracted by social media? Do you gossip a lot? Do you keep eating through the day? Replace these productivity killers with new habits. Read an article instead of browsing social media or chatting. Eat a fruit instead of a Mars bar.

5. Take Breaks: Your best bursts of creativity and productivity happen in 90-minute surges. Do not overwork beyond a point. Take a break and come back refreshed.

6. Invest in self-care: Take care of your body, skin and hair. A healthy body fosters a healthy, resourceful mind, one that is predisposed to better time management.

7. Be proactive: Get started on the big ticket items. Don’t let the perfectionist in you sabotage your progress. Don’t wait for permission. There is no best time, best method or best result for any activity. It’s not possible to know everything before you start. Jump off the cliff and grow wings on the way down.

Here are some techniques to know your work better so you can manage it better:

8. Begin with the end in mind: Be clear on what your goals are and the time frame in which they are to be achieved. Crystallising work into pillars of goals narrows focus and improves productivity and time management.

9. Performance anatomy: Take time to review performance to find out what you’re doing well (and need to do more of) and what you’re doing badly (and need to do less of.) Good performance anatomy can clarify strengths and improve time utilization.

10. Choose your battles: We all encounter difficult people at work. If we respond to all of them we will never achieve what we set out to do. Use two filters to choose your battles – reason and kindness. If someone is being unreasonable and/or unkind, step in and put them in their place gently. Otherwise, if it’s hot air that is not affecting your work, learn to ignore.

11. Learn new time management techniques: Develop a quadrant two focus, as per what Stephen Covey describes in his best seller, 7 habits of highly effective people.

12. Plan your activities for the day in the morning or the night before: Spend 15 minutes every morning or the night before to create a list of must-do activities. Don’t make it a laundry list. Just choose what needs to get done today.

13. Manage email, don’t let it manage you: Checking emails the first thing in the day is the worst thing that you can do. If you start responding to email in the morning, then you are wasting the best of your day for tactical stuff. Assign time in the day when you will check email, may be just before lunch or just after lunch and stick to it. Don’t worry about seemingly urgent emails. You don’t need to respond to every emergency. Also remember the rule – bad planning on someone else’s end doesn’t translate into an emergency at your end.

14. Embrace technology for better productivity: Find interesting apps that can help you automate your routine tasks. The aim should be to automate or improvise on the routine items so that you can complete them in 50% of the time.

Know your resources. Leverage your team and other resources.

15. Delegate effectively: Ask yourself if it is your job or can someone else do it better at their capability level? If you’re a control freak who needs to approve everything, you will lose a lot of time and energy. Let go of some stuff. Give them direction and then allow them to make mistakes and learn. Otherwise you’re building a one-man show, not a culture of leadership and self-reliance.

16. Keep meetings short: Start every meeting with a clear agenda and stick to it. Do not schedule meetings during lunch hours or after 5 pm.

17. Ask for help: You don’t have the answer to everything. It’s OK to not know something. Ask for help. Maybe someone else has a faster solution to the problem than you.

What we call time management seems to really boil down to management of self, work, and others. So it’s really a life skill rather than a tactical skill. That’s why people who manage their time well are not just productive but sensible, kind and understanding. Let’s aim to be that way!

About the Author:

Sandhya Reddy is a leadership & transformation coach based in Bangalore, India. She is the Founder and Principal Coach at Chapter Two Coaching, a coaching consultancy that enables everyone from CEOs to work-from-home parents to achieve their goals by replacing self-imposed limitations with enabling stories.

Many of us in our thirties experience a disquieting realization: what brought us to middle-management may not take us to senior-management. This is true. To chart a new career path, one needs to think and do things differently. This is where Sandhya can help. She is a coach. Life coaching, executive coaching, business coaching, personality development, leadership coaching… they are all part of her forte. Her Executive coaching programs helps tomorrow’s leaders set new goals, make new plans to achieve those goals, get that elusive promotion through a blend of knowledge, action and image-building, enhance influence among the leadership team, be more productive, get more out of one’s team, and be known in the company as an indispensable performer and future leader.


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