Get Things Done
One of the most common things I get asked about by leaders who approach me to enhance their team and their business, is 'how can I help my team be more effective with their time?' Now sometimes that can be a bit of a red flag, because I've come across leaders in the past whose idea of leadership is squeezing every single drop of work from their people, irrespective of the impact this has on their wellbeing, but assuming that's not your aim as a leader, or you're looking for tips for yourself, hopefully you'll find a few below that'll get you started!
Start from the vision - Pretty much everything you do should be aligned to your vision or the vision of your organisation. If it's not, either you're spending your time on the wrong things, or you have the wrong vision, so it's worth taking a look at this as a starting point. What are you trying to achieve? What impact do you want you and your business to have on the world? Once you're absolutely clear about that, you're able to measure each individual activity against that. Is this activity advancing me towards the vision? If it is, get it done. If it's not, why are you spending time on it? And I appreciate that nobody's vision directly mentions doing the washing, but there are some things that just need done. Be honest with yourself - is this task that I REALLY need to do, or am I using that as an excuse?
Work out how long things take - This is a major part of agile project management; estimating the time and resources required to complete a given piece of work. It's an important step in the process and in the early days, you'll likely be terrible at this. I know that I historically underestimated how long things took to get done, and so even when I followed this process, I was shooting myself in the foot and running out of time but stick with this and you'll get better. Every task you complete helps you get better at estimating the time you'll need for the next one, so go back and review how much time you took vs how much you allocated and use the knowledge next time out!
Get it in your calendar - Arguably this is the simplest and most profound change that anyone can make in terms of their productivity. Once you know what you need to do, when it needs done and you have a good idea of how long it'll take - get it in your calendar! Allocate a specific time for it and be strict with that time. This isn't a break or a luxury - it's work. So when something else comes up, you can't give that timeslot away again, unless you're able to move it elsewhere. I've seen a lot of leaders whose diaries are rammed with meetings (one executive I coached was triple booked - he had 3 hours worth of meetings in his diary for every hour in his week!) When are they going to do the work? When will they prepare for those meetings? When will they do the actions that come out of the meetings? Don't be a meeting hero, there are no prizes for that. It's YOUR time - so manage it accordingly.
Task grouping - I first discovered this concept back in my student days, studying computing science and hearing about batch processing. In essence, it means taking similar activities and grouping them together, meaning that you're able to do them more efficiently and effectively because your mind isn't jumping in and out of different tasks. Rather than dipping in to check your emails repeatedly throughout the day, can you diarise specific time to do this at the start, middle and end of the day, so that you're not distracted and can turn off your notifications? Can you set an out of office response that lets people know when you'll do it? Maybe that's not suitable for the type of work you do, but perhaps it's something you can try? Do all of your planning together. All of your creative writing. All of your travel planning and booking. Group similar tasks together and save yourself time.
Colour code your calendar - This is a tip that I recommend a lot; it's a game-changer for some people, whereas others try it and can't see the benefits, but I would encourage everyone to give it a go! I used to use Outlook in the corporate world whereas I use Google Calendar now, but they both work fine and I've maintained the same colour scheme. Red is coaching, pink is delivery, blue is planning and preparation, yellow is business development (that used to be 121s and coaching of my team but now I'm riding solo!), orange is football, purple is travel, green is personal and self development, grey is time that's locked as a placeholder for something I'm anticipating coming in. I can take a glance at any given week and see how it's shaping up. For a start, am I busy? Too busy? Not busy enough? How much coaching am I doing vs delivery? How about business development - is there enough time being committed to this to ensure that I maintain a healthy pipeline of work in the coming weeks and months? Am I committing to my own development - sharpening the saw? Colours jump off the screen and make these patterns really easy to identify! You might choose to categorise on different business priorities, or different projects you're assigned to - do whatever makes sense for you!!
What time will I need to prepare? - As soon I know I have a session to deliver, I always diarise this and then work backwards and build in time for design, preparation, reading - whatever might be needed (blue!). If I have a session to deliver that's not been written, how long will it take to write and how far ahead of the session will I need to do it? Calculate it and get it in diary! That way you're never caught on the hop which is a great anxiety reducer.
Do the worst thing first - Brian Tracy's Eat That Frog covers this in plenty detail, but effectively, you should tackle the worst thing that is facing you, first thing in your day. If you had to eat a live frog with a fork and knife every morning at 9am, the rest of the day's tasks would seem pretty sweet in comparison. What's the frog you're avoiding eating? The little black cloud hanging over you? Do it first thing and watch how it affects your mood! A similar principle is Bill Hart's By Noon Effect or the Day Before Vacation Miracle. It's the reason I go to the gym or for a walk at 6am. My resilience is high and I'm rested. When I used to try and do those at the end of the day, I seldom made it. Try this one and watch how much better you feel!
There are many more things i could have included here. The Pomodoro Technique, a bit of Pareto in terms of knowing when good enough is good enough, maybe the Eisenhower Matrix for determining how to handle tasks in general. There are a lot of tools and techniques that can help, but there should be a few things there to get your started. Give them a go and let me know how you get on!