Creating Balance: 3 Essential Rules For Maximizing Your Use Of Time
Time Management is impossible!!! The fact is this – you cannot “manage” time, time is constant. Everyone has the same 168 hours a week; even Oprah, Bill Gates, and the Dalai Lama. For the same reason, you can’t “manage” priorities, you just have them. One task is always going to be more important, more urgent or both. Maximizing your use of time really means managing your tasks to get things done within a specified amount of time. Appropriate task management is what you need as it allows you to feel more comfortable in all areas of your life.
However, task management is about managing ourselves and developing certain critical skills.
“Getting Things Done” author David Allen describes it in the following way:
“Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is: Totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.”
Anything in your life that causes you to overreact or underreact will control you. Your ability to generate power is, therefore, directly proportional to your ability to relax.
The following are 3 absolutely essential rules for managing tasks, staying relaxed and focused and increasing your overall effectiveness:
1. Create a System: Horizontal and Vertical Management
We all have a mental and physical inbox. What this refers to is anything that has entered our psychological or physical world. The moment that entity enters your world, it is not where it should be. The goal is to first process it and put it into your personal system. In other words, get it out of your head!!! If you don’t, it will be “on your mind” simply because it wasn’t processed or put where it should be. When you can’t sleep at night, it’s usually because something is “on your mind” in that you want it to be different than it currently is, whether it is a task, a relationship or some other area that didn’t meet your expectation. Whatever it is, it needs to be processed.
Processing everything that comes into your world is HORIZONTAL MANAGEMENT. In other words, they are either going to range from something that needs to be dealt with right now or later.
You can deal with URGENT requests by politely asking – Is it possible to give me a deadline?” The answer to this question may range from the end of today to tomorrow. Asking this question is not being rude, it is simply asking a simple question so that you could determine where to fit it into YOUR schedule. Let’s face it, if you get five “URGENT” requests at the same time, how can you possibly do all of them? If you try to do this, a mental institution will happily house you for free. Don’t assume that “urgent” means “immediately.” They all may be important but distinguish between an urgent crisis and an urgent request. Also, the importance of the person who is asking will also obviously help you to make a determination on which task you will do first.
When you have organized the tasks according to relative urgency and importance, doing each task now requires VERTICAL MANAGEMENT. In other words:
- Clarify what the outcome is for that task
- Give it a deadline
- Break the task down into steps
- Define a deadline for each step
Deadlines simply give you focus and ”switches the light on” at the end of the tunnel. Deadlines should be also reasonable but keep in mind that they are also necessary. In addition to this, you will know from experience that the less time you have to do something, it is more likely to get done.
This “system” also decreases the need to multitask. Even though multitasking is sometimes necessary, it can only be effective for brief periods of time and usually with tasks that are habitual or routine. Our brain is actually not capable of giving 100% attention to more than one thing at a time. We cannot expect to be productive and safe when we talk on our cell phone while driving, read an e-mail on your computer while you are talking to an important client on the phone, or respond to instant messages on your laptop while attending a meeting.
“The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone” – Lady Stella Reading.
2. Decrease Your “Activation Energy”
If you have ever studied Chemistry, you may remember the term Activation Energy. For those who didn’t, Activation Energy is the term given to the minimum amount of energy required for a chemical reaction to occur. I’m using this as an analogy in describing the energy required for a person to move from one place to another or from one task to the next. If we could put a system in place to lower the energy required to move, then it stands to reason that we are actually more likely to get it done. For example; if you wanted to go to the gym after work, putting gym clothes in the trunk of your car would help to make it easier to make the decision to go. In other words, the Activation Energy required would be lower. If your desk in your workspace is a mess, it may take more time to find the items you are looking for. The activation energy required would be higher, therefore, you may end up putting it off. Can you change something here to make your activation energy lower? Of course!!!!
The goal with activation energy is to keep it low. One can do this by simply adjusting workspaces and areas in your personal life that makes it easier for you to act – in other words, to move from point A to point B. You can then apply this to the 3rd essential rule….
3. Protect Your Peak Productivity Periods
In the book “Time Traps: Proven Strategies for Swamped Salespeople” by Todd Duncan, the author stated that it would be a good idea to “build a dam” (boundary that safeguards against the entry of water at any given time and maintains a predictable, manageable current”). The idea behind this is that we should regulate input and dictate our output. We are certainly not in control of everything that comes into our mental and physical inbox, but we can, to some extent, regulate what we “pressure” ourselves to do. You may not be able to control everything around you but here are some ideas:
- Assess your strengths and weaknesses (Identify your rhythm and the times you are at your best): Note when your “high-energy” and “low-energy” times occur and schedule your day accordingly. People have different daily rhythms, times of day when they are most effective. Important work or activities that need creativity and intelligence should be scheduled for the time when you are most alert. Routine or mundane tasks should be carried out during periods of low energy.
- Procrastination: Waiting for the right mood? Waiting for the right time? Procrastination keeps you from completing high priority activities and jeopardizes your long-term goals as well. It can be due to the following: Lack of clear goals, overestimating the difficulty of the tasks, overestimating the time required to complete the tasks. To solve this problem, break down the task, delegate or simply “jump in” (remember: Action precedes motivation). Once you “jump in,” the motivation will come.
- Paperwork: Handle paper once!!! Respond to it, file it, pass it along, or toss it out. For quick responses, communicate in person, by e-mail, or on the telephone. Avoid sending back a paper with the comment “let’s discuss this.” Instead, set up a specific time to meet.
- Interruptions: This is inevitable. There are calls or intrusions you have to entertain. However, don’t give colleagues the idea that disturbing you at any time is ok. This will require a bit of assertiveness on your part. As long as you speak up, individuals in your personal or professional life will eventually adjust their approach to you.
- Learn to say “no”: Do you need to get along with everyone? Do you avoid conflict? Is your time being taken away by you saying “yes” to everyone’s demands? I am sure that there are things you have to do….I understand.. but the minute someone realizes that you’re a “yes” person, they will come to you for everything. The unpleasant ones will simply “walk” all over you. Once again, your level of assertiveness needs to come into play. It doesn’t necessarily have to simply be “no.” You can try: “I can’t do it right now,” “Can you please ask me earlier next time?” or “I am committed to finishing this task today, Is there someone else who can help with it?”
Maximizing your use of time can be very subjective. Not everyone can use the rules the same way. You will have to adjust the rule to suit your job or lifestyle. The ultimate goal is to create balance and with this in mind, I wanted to close with this:
Brian G. Dyson, President and CEO, Coca-Cola Enterprises during his speech at the Georgia Tech 172nd Commencement Address Sept. 6, 1996, said the following:
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
Founder of V-Formation Training and Development
Professional Speaker and Trainer
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