Time-management tips are always helpful as we struggle daily with how to organize ourselves effectively in an overwhelming world. Montreal-based consultant Étienne Garbugli recently shared such ideas he has collected.
Here are several that may be worth considering if they're not already in your bag of time-management tricks:
- There is always time – the key is priorities. Prepare a pie chart of how you would like to spend your day and how you actually do spend it. That could be an eye-opening comparison.
- Only plan for four to five hours of real work a day, as advised by David Heinemeier Hansson, a founder of 37 Signals. Days always fill up. (You can – and should – plan on that.)
- We’re always more focused and productive with limited time.
- The best way to get working is by working. Start with short tasks to get the ball rolling. It’s normal to have days when you just can’t work and days when you’ll work 12 hours straight, according to strategist Alain Paquin.
- Work iteratively, improving as you go along. Expectations about being perfect are stifling.
- More work hours doesn’t mean more productivity. Use constraints on your time as opportunities.
- Separate brainless and strategic tasks to become more productive.
- Organize important meetings early in the day rather than later in the day so you can prepare. Time leading up to an event is often wasted.
- A single meeting in midafternoon can blow the whole afternoon, leaving little time before and after for productive activity. Try to group your meetings so they run consecutively and take a similar approach with e-mail and phone calls.
- Try not to switch your work during the day between different projects or different clients. Try to keep the context for your work constant throughout the day.
- Keep procrastination confined between intense sprints of work. Another way he puts it: Work around procrastination.
- Maren Kate, founder of Zirtual, a provider of virtual assistants, says “break the unreasonable down into little reasonable chunks. A big goal is only achieved when every little thing that you do every day gets you closer to that goal.”
- No two tasks ever hold the same importance. Always prioritize.
- Break tasks into hour increments. Long tasks, he notes, are hard to get into as you feel you should be completing it all at once.
- If something can be done 80 per cent as well by someone else, delegate – a maxim of leadership guru John Maxwell.
- “Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s game,” Babe Ruth said. So turn the page on yesterday. Only think about today and tomorrow.
- Set deadlines for everything. Don’t let tasks go on indefinitely.
- Set end dates for intense or stressful activities. Everything ends at some point.
- Get a reminder app for everything, author Julien Smith advises. Don’t trust your brain to remember.
- Now reread that list, and pick one to start on today. Come back each week and do the same.
Entrepreneur Seth Godin says "deadlines are vitamins for creativity."
If you have too many tasks in progress, too much of a buffer or too many items ready to ship to clients, it's easy to slip into complacency. Without the feeling of imminence – without a deadline – it's easier to hide.
And if you're the kind of a person who needs a crisis to move forward, feel free to invent one, he says.
Arnold Bennett on productivity
Novelist Arnold Bennett died in 1931, well before the era of social media. But Georgetown University professor of computer science Cal Newport, who writes about social media's impact and the need to cut distractions, recently was surprised by a passage he found in Mr. Bennett's How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, summarizing the standard post-work evening for a British white-collar worker of that era:
"You don't eat immediately on your arrival home. But in about an hour or so you feel as if you could sit up and take a little nourishment. And you do. Then you smoke, seriously; you see friends; you potter; you play cards; you flirt with a book; you note that old age is creeping on; you take a stroll; you caress the piano. … By Jove! a quarter past eleven. You then devote quite forty minutes to thinking about going to bed; and it is conceivable that you are acquainted with a genuinely good whisky. At last you go to bed, exhausted by the day's work. Six hours, probably more, have gone since you left the office…"
It's a somewhat familiar chronicle, of six wasted hours. As Mr. Bennett put it with a flourish: "Gone like magic, unaccountably gone." Prof. Newport compares it to six hours of messing around on your smartphone, calling it "steampunk social media," after the science-fiction genre that uses technology inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. He notes it's a reminder that "this attraction toward the mindless is not new, but instead something that we've been struggling with since the initial introduction of leisure time."
Prof. Newport preaches on the need for depth but says that's clearly not a default mode subverted by recent technology. Instead, it's an aspirational goal over the ages that requires intention and practice – and perhaps even some wisdom from the onetime British social critic. Mr. Bennett urged people to take 90 minutes, only three nights a week, and dedicate them to a quality pursuit. If you persevere with this habit, he wrote, "you will soon want to pass four evenings, and perhaps five, in some sustained endeavour to be genuinely alive."
Seven tough questions for your team
Here are some tough questions for your project team or subordinates from leadership writers Scott J. Allen and Mitchell Kusy – tough for you and them to grapple with, but worthwhile if you have the courage:
- What are some obstacles affecting this team?
- What are the opportunities we could take advantage of that we have been largely ignoring?
- Where can you take greater ownership on this team?
- Where have you let this team down?
- Compared to other teams with which you are familiar, how are we doing?
- When was the last time you complimented the team or one of its members?
- How open are you to giving direct feedback to team members?
- If your boss shuts down your idea, writer Richard Moy suggests asking these three questions: “What would make you say yes to the idea”; “thanks for your feedback – would it make sense for me to bring it up again in a few weeks’ or months’ time”; and “What should I focus on instead?”
- Most résumés include an objective or statement of purpose. But recruiting specialist Megan Dias, of Quora, says it’s pointless to include this because clearly the job you are applying for is what you want to do. Save the space and don’t waste the recruiter’s time, since they spend very little time on each résumé.
- How often do we use our talents to set ourselves apart rather than bring people together, asks consultant Julie Winkle Giulioni. What if we approached work more like an opportunity to harmonize our talents, rather than insisting upon playing standout solos?
- Successful people start before they feel ready, says blogger James Clear. If you’re working on something important, you’ll never feel ready. Just plunge in.
- “ShowerPoint” is a PowerPoint presentation that has far too much text, consultant Michael Kerr says.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter.