“Time is what we want most but what we use worst.” — William Penn
It’s the one thing we can’t claw back, no matter how much success we have – time is the most valuable of resources, so it’s good to keep an eye on how you’re spending it and spend less on the bad stuff and more on the good stuff.
Robyn Pearce is NZ’s best-known time management expert so I asked her to share her knowledge with some Business Changing clients recently. This is what she had to say…
HOW TIME MANAGEMENT BECAME HER SUPER-SKILL
I got into the study of time management because I was bad at it. That might seem strange but I notice people will often turn something that’s a challenge into a super-skill. I believe it’s because you have to work that much harder to overcome those challenges that you’ve probably dissected it and drilled down in a deeper way than somebody who’s got a natural good competence. So I’ve done this for 30 years now and written eight books on time management.
ON THE BIGGEST TIME WASTERS IN EVERYDAY LIFE
Interruptions and distractions. As an example, I was just doing something with one of the large insurance brokerage firms last week and when I asked them what percentage they felt would be time lost in a working week due to interruptions and distractions, it ranged from 30% to 60%. I was quite shocked at the 60%. Let’s analyse that. That’s three days a week that they feel they’re not being as effective as they could be due to interruptions. And I do believe a lot of it is to do with the culture of open plan, although obviously COVID changed that to some degree.
TAP INTO YOUR ENEGRY
I suggest you use your energy as a filter. I have a saying that we’re not talking about time management, we’re talking about energy management. If you’ve got high energy, you’re going to be able to do the work that’s important, but if you’ve got low energy, you just won’t be as honest. So think about using your energy as a filter to identify whether you’re doing the right or the wrong thing. For the things you hate doing, it’s important you do these at you highest energy, because you need the greatest amount of concentration, power and willpower to do it.
PLAN YOUR DAY, EVERY DAY
Write down all of the things you want to do for the day. There’s a lot of evidence to show that people remember better if they actually physically write it with a pen rather than just relying on it all being in your computer. Once you have all your tasks, identify the top five. Start at number one, don’t go off it until you finish it or have gone as far as you can, then on to number two and so on. At the bottom of the list, add in things that come in during the course of the day so you don’t forget them. Reassessing each time you change from one number to the other. The thing is, if you can get just the top two or three things done in a day, you’ve actually achieved something, plus listing everything just clears your brain.
When you write this daily list depends on whether you are an owl or a foul. If you’re an owl, you probably don’t have much brainpower first thing in the morning, so you might have done your planning the day before. And if you’re a foul, you probably don’t have much brainpower left at the end of the day. Do what best works for you and your energy.
TWO HACKS TO BETTER MANAGE YOUR TIME
One: Focus on your weekly planner. Every week, if you’re working on one or two high-value things, turn them into appointments with yourself and put them in a weekly planner. Having those higher level objectives written down in some appointments for yourself will help you keep focus.
Two: Take naps. A small micro-nap, 10-15 minutes. If you’re tired, go take a nap because you’ll be infinitely more productive. And use your phone to just send an alert if you’re worried about sleeping too long.
STRUCTURE YOUR DAY
Practice time boxing or chunking or whatever term you like — it’s about having blocks of time where you make yourself unavailable to people for up to an hour and a half at a time (generally I don’t suggest more than this, especially if you have a team, because people will need some help). Part of that might be having some conversations with the people in your team about when you work best. One thing that I have found enlightening when working with groups is to go around the room and ask each of them when is their most productive time in the day and how do they like to communicate. This is very important because the people who are auditory will like to receive information by ear, although an auditory digital person will need to write things down, a visual person needs to see things and a kinesthetic person needs to do things. Have those kind of conversations with your colleagues and then people understand how to best communicate with you and when the best times are that you’re going to be able to do your best work as an employee.
DITCH THE MULTI-TASKING
Multitasking is a problem. The problem is that it’s the switch time between the things and also the potential distraction. I’ve participated in exercises, I’ve read research about it., I’ve interviewed people about this. Research shows it takes ten to 20 times the length of the interruption to get back to what you were doing before. So, for example, a 30-second interruption could take you five minutes before you’re back on task. Even worse, if you’re doing any deep, thinking work, it takes you around 15 to 20 minutes to get back into it. That’s why it’s so critical to block out those periods of time where you’re able to do that concentrated work.
KEEPING YOURSELF DISCLIPLINED
Set yourself some rewards each time you’re doing what you should. It might just be a physical little reward sheet that you tick off every time you do something. Or make yourself accountable to somebody else, not your partner but a colleague or business coach or whoever it might be. Getting better with your time management and habits totally reduces stress.
HELPING KEEP YOUR TEAM ON TASK
If you’ve got people in an office, look where they’re seated. Because if you’ve got the sociable people nearest to the toilet door or the lunchroom door or any major thoroughfare, they’re going to be distracted. Try and get those social sorts slightly more isolated from the general traffic to help them help themselves.
HOW TO NOT LOSE TIME ON EMAILS
First of all, turn off the alert. You do not need to know that you have a new email. Email shouldn’t be controlling you, you should be controlling it. Another one is to not do email first thing in the day unless you absolutely have to — the first thing should be looking at your plan for the day. Also, look at the various tools and utilise them. For example, I just realised there is a dictation facility in Microsoft 365 so I immediately upgraded because I’m a big believer in using tools and anything that saves you typing. Be prepared to constantly upgrade to make the most of the enhanced tools that are always coming. Also, use rules to kick things out of your inbox.
I think the most important thing about avoiding procrastination is, first of all, having a good clear set of goals — that often gives you encouragement to go forward. I really think rewards are very important. A quick example: years ago I was working part time with a lady who felt that she needed encouragement to do her exercise. So she drew up a reward chart and she had the habits that she wanted to form or improve on, such as increasing her walking. If she walked certain number of times per week over a month, her reward was to go to the movies in the middle of the day on a working day. So it was a fun thing. And she used me as part being accountable. We would walk together for half an hour around the streets of Ponsonby while we talked about business-related things. That reward really motivated her. It depends on each of us what our motivation is but rewards are really important — and you must be sure to take them as well because otherwise you’re doing the wrong training to your subconscious.
MAKING EXERCISE A HABIT
My habit is that as soon as I get out of bed my feet are on the floor and then I’m straight into my outdoor exercise clothes. So it has become a habit. So it’s almost a non-negotiable. There are times that I have a very early breakfast meeting and I cannot do it, but I don’t feel right if I haven’t done my walk or whatever exercise I’m doing first thing in the day. The other thing is figuring out how you can make it enjoyable. What about podcasts or listening to music or talking to a friend?
ENJOY BEING UNPRODUCTIVE
I think taking time out for ourselves, to look after ourselves, is really important. I’ve got one quick little quote I’ll read you from my book about creative procrastination: “It’s the planned and deliberate gift of prime time to yourself, regularly doing what gives you greatest satisfaction, including not doing anything, if that’s your choice. It’s learning how to leave undone those things which really didn’t need to be done so that you achieve balance and satisfaction in your life.”
BEING EFFECTIVE WITH YOUR LIFE ADMIN
My first tip is to block in what I call the sanity gap weekend about every six to eight weeks. There is something magical about that six to eight week field — a woman in the health sector told me to think of everything we do as being a brick of stress. We’re building stress, a brick at a time, around us and in front of us, all the time. If around every six weeks you take a weekend or call it a do-nothing weekend and just take that time and get away from all your normals, you’ll just keep those bricks down — they’ll never get too high. If you don’t take that time, at the end of the year when you reach holiday time, you’ll get sick. I used to do it myself, and that’s what got me into this whole field.
Include your family as well. One quick example, a woman with a young family and a hefty mortgage said that instead of going away, she’d tell her family there were going away, they’d pull the curtains, shut the gate, and just lounge around at home all weekend.
Another thing: don’t spend too much time on television and Netflix and things like that. Be wary about what’s filling your brain.
Robyn Pearce, www.gettingagrip.com