Become better organised in five-minutes
Five organisational hacks to improve your time management
Those of you of a particular age and with specific interests may remember the John Cleese move, Clockwise. This 1997 film told the story of Brian Stimpson who was an obsessively punctual comprehensive school headmaster who sets out to give an important speech at the annual Headmasters’ Conference.
As you may remember, not all went well with hilarious results.
However, time-management is a very relevant and ever present concern for many professionals and entrepreneurs. Of course, it’s not about becoming obsessively focused on time, as portrayed by John Cleese, but it is about being ‘aware’ of time.
Let’s face it we’re all surrounded by people, tasks and events that want to steal time from us. Often our response to these pressures has been to seek ‘time management’ advice from a range of sources. If like me you’ve been on such a quest you may well have spent a lot of money and time, of following-up on the latest ‘time saving’ or ‘time organising’ strategy or device.
Apps on our ‘phones, complex ring-binder organisational systems, list management and task organisational software which actually take so much time to learn and apply. Not that any of these systems don’t work, it’s just that the investment of money and time to fully engage with a specific approach can defeat the whole object of the exercise.
Why do you need to manage your time?
- Time is a limited commodity. There are only so many minutes in an hour, so many minutes in an hour and so many hours in a day. Once we have used those minutes, those hours, those day’s they are gone!
- Worrying about time is a waste of time. How many times have you given yourself a serious-talking-to for wasting time. In fact you may have been so annoyed with yourself you’ve spent a lot of demotivating time in ‘regret’.
- It’s about being more relaxed. If we feel we have created ‘space’ to complete a specific task then we can feel much calmer and hence more focused on what we are doing and not on what he didn’t do or still need to do.
- Time flies. Yes, for many reasons time seems to evaporate. In some cases this rapid passage of time is about being ‘in the flow’; in other cases it is because we have allowed ‘deadlines’ to do what they are always do. Gang-Up and hold your time to ransom.
- You ‘magically’ create more time. Ok, so time management is not strictly time-creation, but it does make it easier to see where you are wasting time and hence become more productive.
- Productivity is the key. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘time is money’. In the business and professional worlds this is a kind of truism. Effective use of time results in achieving goals and targets, which can be directly related to the idea of ‘productivity’ and is intimately linked to the concepts of ‘success’ and ‘achievement’
Prevarication is a word I’m not totally happy with. For most people who are having issues with time management they would feel that they are not prevaricating, they are working very hard.
The question has to be, ‘working hard at what’?
Just like Snow Whites Seven Friends can we be accused of being ‘busy doing nothing’? so can we.
Let’s be honest here, when we are busy ‘doing things’ are our efforts being directed towards clearly defined ‘outcome’.
Let’s consider the term ‘Creative Avoidance’.
Is this a better description of what is going on?
We start a task with every intention of getting on with it, but ‘first’ we’ll check our emails, then we ‘need’ to follow the link that takes us to our Facebook Group, which takes us eventually to a set of videos of cute animals doing cute things…. before we know it we’ve lost a lot of time. So we decide to have a cup of coffee to refocus us. We take that break, but find more emails have arrived…. and the cycle starts again.
Zephoria, the Digital Marketing Company reported in 2018 that the average time users spent on Facebook was 20 minutes per visit! They also noted that every 60 seconds 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded.
And that’s just one social media distraction!
In terms of emails, a business essential (perhaps), it has been suggested that the cost of time wasted on spam, unnecessary and poorly written email communications amounts to $7,550 per employee per year. As much as 60% or less of time at work is productive work.
Five Organisational Hacks
- The DDD Approach to emails and other communications
- The Three Task trick
- The Daily Preview
- The Daily Review
- The Future History
Breaking with convention and starting with the last first.
Have an empowering, fully sensory idea of where you are aiming to get to. As explored in my book, The Secret To Your Future History, it is not simply having a goal or a target, it is about having created your future movie so that it is a close to how you would describe a ‘memory’. Visualisation on its own does not work for most people, but creating empowering Future Histories by seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking about the future goal as if it has happened does.
The phrase comes from something Muhammed Ali, the Heavyweight Boxer, is reported as saying about his ability to predict the outcome of his fights to the ‘round’ and often the ‘minute’ in the round. He had a ‘future history’.
With such a Future History it becomes much easier to create meaningful steps towards that final goal and find the emotional drive to ‘keep at it’. Everything you do is then set within a frame-work of what you want to achieve. So if your goal is about having financial freedom to travel and be with your family, then the motivational steps that lead you there are the things you can focus on. The motivational steps are linked to you being ‘productive’ with your time in order to ‘produce’ the future you want.
Just as the title suggests, find time to review the day.
There’s a ‘trick’ to this review process however.
Before you finish your days work, use the square breathing technique (see below) to bring you to a point of stillness. Then run in your mind a movie of the day you have just ended. Take time to note the tasks completed, your successes and the things you have left outstanding.
Ask yourself the question as to whether you have been working ON your business or IN your business?
Are there any steps towards your Future History you need to revise.
Then JOURNAL your thoughts.
Just as the title suggests, find time to preview the day.
Before you start work use the square breathing technique (see below) to bring you to a point of stillness.
Now read your journal entry from the previous days Daily Review and create a movie about the day ahead. See, Hear, Feel and Think about the tasks you need to undertake that day; the resources and information you need to hand and the ‘deadlines’ that will influence your order of working.
Then JOURNAL your action reflections, action steps, and questions you need answering before starting any of the daily tasks.
The journalling process is really important in both of these approaches. The more fluid you are with your journalling, the more things you start to write allows for better organisation.
You are clearing your mind and putting down on paper the things that are often simply held ‘in the head’; things that reduce focus and effectiveness.
The Three Task Trick
Each day set yourself Three Tasks that you are setting out to complete, if you can, or set-up for completion if you are waiting on someone or something else. The latter, of course, will be reflected in your journal as information you are waiting for or questions you need answered.
Do not be tempted to create endless lists of tasks which need to be completed ‘sometime this week’.
Clearly define three tasks for each day.
This means that you will need to prioritise the steps towards any ‘future history’.
If you complete the three tasks in that day, congratulate yourself and then start to plan for other tasks.
If you do not complete a specific task, this will get added to the top of the list the next day (which means the bottom of that days list is moved to the following day).
The reality with any list of tasks is that we are often overly ambitious and ‘plan’ to complete more than is, in reality, possible. We then ‘beat ourselves up’ for not completing them.
So, by setting three key tasks per day we increase our potential for ‘self congratulation’ and, more importantly, focus on specific rather than getting lost on a swirling, never ending lists of ‘things to do’.
This technique works hand in hand with the previous three and relies upon the use of a single journal for your work. Avoid the temptation to have numerous lists, numerous journals for your work. Keep everything together and make your life easier.
The DDD Approach
Often the first practical task of the working day is to deal with emails, messages and anything that has popped-up from any one of the dozens of sources around us.
The DDD approach was developed for emails, but works well for all sorts of mail, internal memos and external catalogues.
DDD stands for DEAL, DUMP or DELEGATE
It’s all about making a firm decision about what is important and what needs to be that is in line with your tasks, steps and goals.
So when you read, shall we say, an email make the following decisions…
Is it something that will take a few minutes to DEAL with?
A quick response, maybe a simple acknowledgment or diary check and entry is something that you can deal with immediately.
Is is it something that you can DUMP?
Be honest here we all save emails and information that we promise we will read later and, well they sit there in some folder or worse still clutters-up our inbox.
If it’s not relevant DUMP it.
In fact go through your emails and anything older than a month that’s not been placed in a specific folder (or is not worth of being in a specific folder), delete them.
A ‘specific folder’ doesn’t mean one you’ve created and called ‘to deal with’. Create folders (or labels) in your email client with very clear titles.
Ok, so now you’ve dealt with those things that need an immediate response and dumped anything that will only serve to distract you so now, the final D. Delegate!
If you are a team leader or manager then make the decision as to ‘who’ is best placed to deal with this item. If you delegate it make a note of who you’re sending it to; what action you’d like them to take and a timescale for their feedback to you.
Now I can hear what some of you are saying…
“But I work on my own, so who do I delegate to? The cat?”
Well in that case the D for delegate becomes D for Defer!
If the email, mail or information you are reading is not immediately relevant than defer it to a specific later time. Yes, you’ve guessed it, put the details of the what, how and when into your journal.
Being busy is not necessarily being productive. These tips really do help you focus on what needs to be done in the time you have. After reading this you may come to the rather obvious conclusion that the only ‘tools’ or ‘gadgets’ you need to make these hacks work is a Journal and a Calendar.
So do away with those paper stuffed organisers, the lists upon lists in different places all you need is a clear vision, a journal and a calendar. Oh, and these five hacks that are as much mind hacks as they are life hacks since they are about developing effective habits.
This is a really powerful technique for focussing the mind. It is based upon mindfulness practice.
Sit comfortably and focus on your breathing. Specifically…
Breathe in for the count of four
Hold your breath for the count of four
Breathe out for the count of four
Hold for the count of four
Breathe in for the count of four …. and repeat.
This achieves a couple of things.
Firstly it gives the chattering monkey mind something to do, that is count
Secondly it creates space and pace in your breathing which allows for stillness and hence focus to develop.
Square breathing is a technique you can use before you start any task; before you give a presentation or attend a meeting as well as before any task requiring creativity, planning and reflection.
So I promised better organisation in five minutes.
Well each of the five activities can be learned in five minutes. It’s up to you to make them habits