Six Top Tips for Managing Your Time

In this article, Simon Brown shares a few tips for consideration when seeking to utilise your time – both at work and outside of work.

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They say that time waits for no wo/man! And time often seems to fly past so fast!

And of course, every week there are only 168 hours, of which around 50 of those are when we are asleep.

So how are you spending those other 118 or so hours? If you are at work in a full-time role that is another 35-40 hours taken up.

Even more, if you are travelling to your place of work - at least 1-2 hours per day. Then there’s time to set aside for eating - unless you are a fast foodie, eating on the go - that adds another 20 hours a week - and avoids indigestion!

So, this leaves about 40, a maximum of 50 hours, to use as you choose -and even this social time, this free time could involve caring for others, or doing household chores.

Do we have time for ourselves, time for our personal development?

Well, here are just a few tips for consideration when seeking to utilise our time – both at work and outside of work.

1. Prioritise. Prioritise. Prioritise

Because time is so precious it's vital to define and separate what’s important from what’s not important. And to recognise what is more urgent and beneficial for you too.

Eisenhower created a good way to help us with managing our time effectively. This is called the Urgency and Importance Matrix. This is where at the beginning of the day for today, or the end of the day in readiness for tomorrow, you can make a list of everything that is on your mind to do, then place it into one of 4 boxes.

• Box #1 is for things that are both urgent and important. (*Do)

You must do them and do them today. Providing good customer service or meeting a client at an agreed time would be examples of this. As would keeping a medical appointment or helping family members with an urgent need. If the task would take you less than 5 minutes to complete - do it right now.

• Box #2 is for things that are not urgent but are important. (*Schedule)

These are things that don’t need to be done today or in the next few days but are important to set aside time for, to plan for. An example of this would be planning and saving for a holiday, or important event, setting time aside for a hobby or interest that means a lot to you or putting a date in your calendar to learn a new skill.

• Box #3 is for things that are urgent but not important. (*Delegate)

Usually, someone else is requesting you by email or phone and asking you to do something for them. It’s not high on your priority list and it doesn’t do much for you or rate high on your agenda, but it's kind to help if you can and it's polite not to ignore these requests. Sometimes you can negotiate with the requester by asking when you actually need this. Often, they don’t need the help or product today and the timing can be put back a while. Alternatively, if you have someone in your team looking for experience you may choose to delegate the tasks to them as part of their learning process. However, do first ensure that they are ready and willing to take on this task.

• Box # 4 is for things that are neither urgent nor important! (*Drop)

Examples of this would be junk mail in your post box or email box, or unsolicited phone calls. It's not worth your time, you don’t need it and certainly don’t need it now.

So, dump it, delete it, ignore it.

2. Meetings, Bloody Meetings

No Agenda? The Three P’s: Purpose - Process - Payoff.

It was the actor John Cleese (Basil Fawlty in the TV Comedy “ Fawlty Towers” ) who produced a management video about how organisations, particularly those with office-based workers spend far too much time in meetings. He called them Meetings Bloody Meetings – and described them as the place where we take minutes (notes on the agenda) and waste hours!

Often too much time of the day is spent in unstructured, long, unproductive and indecisive meetings. At worst, this leaves little time to act or do anything or any “real” work. At the end of the day, we may look back and say “What did I do today? Well, I was in back-to-back meetings some of which were not even relevant to me“. So, here are a couple of pointers to help you choose how you spend your time in meetings or not in meetings:

• Ask whether the meeting is relevant for you to attend. One thing that helps you to decide is what subject is on the agenda, and what is the topic heading of the meeting. If there is no agenda - consider this: No Agenda = No Attenda!!!
• Does the meeting with an agenda have a clear structure? Is there a clear purpose for the meeting? Is there a clear process for conducting the meeting, and is there a defined and desired payoff from the meeting – actions to take, and decisions we can then work from? Again, if the answer is no - ask the meeting chairperson if you are needed for this meeting.

3. Back-To-Back or Find a Gap

Book a meeting with yourself.

As already indicated above it can soon happen that your work calendar or even your social calendar gets fully booked. Especially if other people are scheduling things into your diary on Microsoft Office or similar. A couple of ways to give yourself space to come up for air in your day include:

• Schedule lunchtime into your calendar. You need to eat - but not on the run.
• Book a meeting with yourself on the calendar. This gives you thinking time, time to reflect, or even time to act on the matters arising from the last meeting. There are Microsoft tools such as Cortana which can prompt you to book thinking and reflection time in your calendar and create gaps of 15-30 minutes between meetings with other people.

4. Maximise Your Concentration

Scientific Research shows that we can only concentrate fully for a maximum of 40-50 minutes without a break or change of pace or focus. This is especially true when working closely on computer screens.

Years ago when in my first career role back in the 1980’s I was employed as a trainer on how to use ICL computers our union APEX advised us not to have training sessions on screen lasting more than 50 minutes, and to schedule a 10-minute break before continuing. Problems with eyesight and having a headache or migraine were warned if we exceeded these guidelines. So, therefore we had to think creatively about building in a drinks break or just stepping away from the screen for a short while. A quiz or a Q&A session was a creative way to keep people engaged but to change the pace of the need for high concentration on the screen.

When I became a Learning and Development Facilitator, we organised webinars/virtual meetings that lasted no longer than one and a half hours with polls and other interactive exercises such as round-the-table input, to change the pace. And later when I was a Recruitment Manager, I soon learned not to interview candidates back-to-back, but to build time between interviews to take notes, reflect, and have natural breaks of at least 15 minutes. And I found that doing any more than 5 interviews a day was exhausting and without taking due care and attention or notes or breaks, it could be confusing to recall which candidate had said what, as all the interviews seemed to merge into each other.

The best recruitment practice in my view, in order to do a proper assessment and to provide a fair, and quality experience for each candidate is to schedule no more than 4 interviews a day – two in the morning and two in the afternoon - with sufficient breaks in between.

5. Find Time for Personal Development and Growth

Yes, this is where putting yourself first comes in. Growth requires effort and making the effort requires time.

In our busy lives, we can fall into the syndrome of giving all of our time to others and not carving out sufficient time for ourselves. Me time.

Whether that be for mindfulness meditation, doing keep fit exercises, reading a book, or getting a coach or a mentor to help you and act as a sounding board or guide for your learning. Don’t put this last on your list.

It’s quite amazing how having a meeting with a mentor for just one hour every month can make a difference. Someone to listen, share relevant and timely knowledge, provide nuggets of advice and to open doors for you to their network of contacts - all this can be done by finding the time to meet your mentor. In fact, 76% of mentees surveyed by McKinsey in 2017 said that mentoring helped them develop their careers, and get a promotion or a new role.

6. Plan Ahead

Set achievable goals.

Plan your work and plan your time before jumping into the task (follow the sequence of Deming’s work process cycle: P= Plan, D= Do, C= Check, A= Adjust).

Another tool which can be used for this is applying the 1-3-5 rule (by Alex Cavoulacos):

Each day plan to do 1 big task, 3 medium tasks and 5 small tasks. Make a list and follow it through.

In the context of mentoring the clear time management advice is as follows:

• First, have an introductory meeting to explore whether there is a good match between mentor and mentee (can the mentor offer what the mentee has asked for/needs?)
• Second, and only if the answer is YES, plan together to set aside time in your calendar and schedule in advance at least two or three meetings between mentee and mentor - one each month ideally on a regular, easy-to-remember basis and commit to time.

This two-step check enables you to plan your time to give yourself at least one hour per month - out of the 672 hours in the average month - for mentoring. And to make full use of this time, ensure you (ideally owned and led by the mentee):

• A, have an agenda of topics to discuss and
• B, agree on SMART goals to work towards.

Otherwise, it will just be a nice chat without a clear focus or purpose.

So, using some of the time management tips above you can find the time and plan for your mentoring meetings – because you are worth it and deserve to give yourself the time each month, each year to learn and grow.

This article was guest written by Simon Brown. February 2024.

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