“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.”
Peter F. Drucker
How do you rate on time management? How many times have you said “there just aren’t enough hours in the day” well you are WRONG! there are 24 equally sized, nicely paced, hours in every day. Enough hours for some to build global corporations and others to run whole countries and even for mothers with Triplets to cope, so let’s face facts………………..you are just a poor time manager!
In reality I could explain the essence of time management as a piece of paper and a pencil (yes a task list) but it wouldn’t make for a very interesting article and I couldn’t introduce complex graphs and charts so……
The two main issues with time management are procrastination, (6 Key Causes of Procrastination – http://wp.me/p401Wv-a8 ) and spending too much time on the wrong things.
No matter how much we vow to change we’re still procrastinating when we know we can’t afford to, still getting caught in never-ending meetings, allowing ourselves to be interrupted, putting out fires and, in general, managing by crisis.
Most of us don’t have a time management problem — we have a problem prioritising. Remember the pencil and paper? Without it we get distracted and eventually lost in a cloud of problems, which hide the important things and, before we know it the day is over and nothing got done – again.
Here are some things to remember:
Our work life balance is and has to be a pendulum. Sometimes we need to give all the time we have to work and other times we need to give more time to our personal lives. Accepting this is the first step to control.
If we can’t control what’s going on around us (and most of the time we can’t), then we have to control how we respond.
A revelation to me was the day our CEO entered my office and asked why I had so much work on. I explained that work kept pouring in and he said “just because someone asks you to do something or even to do something by a set time, you don’t have to”. His advice was to assess importance, relevance and true urgency and if something didn’t fit, using great tact and good manners I was to explain why it was impossible for me to take the work on.
He introduced me to the late Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix which is a fabulous and simple time management tool and once you have used it I assure you it changes everything.
If you are interested you can download images of it and further explanations from Google.
Covey breaks his matrix into four quadrants: 1 to 4 and I have always called them the four “D’s”
Important – and Urgent (Do now)
Important – Not Urgent (Decide when to do it )
Not Important – Urgent (Delegate)
Not Important and Not Urgent (Dump)
The key is to start to prioritise everything by categorising each task as it arises:
Why the four “D’s” I hear you ask……….
Do it Now: You MUST deal with these tasks immediately. They need to be put on the top of your to-do list. But YOU don’t have to be the one to deal with all of these. You can delegate them up, down or out as long as you’re confident that those to whom you delegate are capable of handling them.
Decide When How & Who: This is where you want most of your work to be. As a manager, you must be forward-looking to review, plan and build. If you want to stop managing by crisis, you must start moving more of these to the top of your to-do list.
Delegate: Delegate as much as you can but again delegate them up, down or out as long as you’re confident that those to whom you delegate are capable of handling them.
Dump: There are some things that just should not be done at work or handled by you. Its a tough call but one you must make.
If you are an open door person its probably a good idea to try a few weeks with the door closed whilst you are handling numbers 1 and 2. If you explain in advance everyone will understand and in a few weeks you should be able to leave the door open as the message will have got through to everyone by then
Procrastinate, Procrastinate, Procrastinate! Spoken aloud and with the correct intonation this little mantra sounds remarkably similar to the Daleks famous Exterminate, Exterminate and believe me Procrastination can lead to SME Extermination!
Procrastination is a problem for the sufferer, it’s a problem for the SME and it’s a deal breaker for cohesive team work and yet it is a common problem in businesses of all sizes.
Some weeks ago I was surprised when reading an article in Psychology Today, to find it claimed that around 20 percent of people chronically avoid putting their heads down and getting on with the job. In fact they actively look for distractions!
That seemed a little excessive until I looked at my own behaviour and that of our team. I realised that we all occasionally put off certain actions despite our valuing efficiency, team work and “multitasking” as much as we do. The big question is, why?
We all procrastinate from time to time. Sometimes it’s those mundane things – like reconfiguring our computer files, reconciling bank accounts, or fixing up a dated web site. But often we procrastinate on bigger things that require more time, more commitment, and put us at more risk of failing, looking foolish or feeling emotionally bruised. Things like updating our business plan, confronting a complex new task that threatens us, or not pursuing a long held ambition.
It appears procrastinators are not born as procrastinators; rather we are trained to some extent from birth. That’s the general consensus of psychological research into the art of procrastinating. One increasingly popular theory is that procrastination has its roots in childhood, where it functioned as a means of early of rebellion against authority figures or as apathy in the presence of a strong parental pressure to perform.
Doctor Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, suggests that there are three types of procrastinators in the world:
The arousal types, who get a thrill from rushing through projects at the last minute, whether they come out on top or not.
The avoiders, who don’t want to get to the end of any given project because the fear of change keeps them paralysed.
The decisional procrastinators, who simply cannot make any decisive choices because they can’t bear the results of their actions.
I found it interesting that these three types of procrastinators apparently use multiple “tools” to help them procrastinate whilst still appearing to function. Understanding which type of procrastinator an employee is and recognizing which of the following methods they use to procrastinate will help you to work with them and hopefully overcome the problem.
As with most management issues, understanding the cause is 90% of the solution and there is much we can do to help the procrastinator overcome their problem.
Let’s look at the common causes:
We don’t always have to do things exceptionally well, often “good enough” is quite enough. The ingrained desire to get everything 100% correct every time can lead to a paralysing fear of failure and multiple revisions that just waste time. A phrase which springs to mind is “analysis paralysis”.
As John Henry Newman, Anglican Deacon and author, once said, “A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.”
Fear of Failure
Fear of failure is a major factor for some. Failure can be seen as having far-reaching implications. For some it’s how they perceive themselves and how they think they are perceived by others.
On the other hand, if this same person breaks all records, they fear all future projects will be held to a much higher standard. Some people are willing to do anything, including nothing, in order to avoid being taken out of their comfort zone.
If a project is complex, the individual steps may seem endless! Instead of seeing individual steps and taking them, the procrastinator thinks they can see all the steps that lead to completion but has no idea which one to take.
If someone is overwhelmed by targets (either the ones they’ve set for themself or the ones they’ve been given by others), they may find themself feeling unable to disassemble tasks into constituent components. As a result they simply don’t know where to start.
This feeling of helplessness usually feeds upon itself until it eats away at their resolve, making workplace distractions a welcome escape. This leads to a loss of focus and thus motivation.
One method of overcoming this form of procrastination is to create an action list that’s prioritised and reduces a complex project into smaller, more achievable steps.
What do you if someone simply can’t prioritise? Chances are they will spend hours working on non-essential tasks and fooling themselves into thinking that everything is okay.
Unlike those who get overwhelmed, those who can’t prioritise correctly don’t see anything wrong. These are the people that spend an hour deciding which font to use on the quarterly report but don’t leave time to get the actual writing done.
One symptom of this type of procrastination is filling hours with “activity” rather than “action”. Often the excuse of being “flat out” is used, when really, this is just another form of procrastination.
As with the overwhelmed procrastinator the method of overcoming this form of procrastination is to create an action list that’s prioritised and reduces a complex project into smaller, more achievable steps.
Lying to Cover
Procrastinators are constantly lying to themselves. They lie to justify their failures (“Oh the System was down”). They lie to justify their successes (“Oh Fred did most of the work”). They lie to justify their justifications (“I’m sorry about the inventory debacle; it’s the warehouse, they screwed up again”).
Some procrastinators just don’t know how to not lie. Learning responsibility is the key to beating back the lies and overcoming procrastination. Help them take ownership and live up to their actions.
Lack of Motivation
Goals have to be worthwhile and achievable or managers and staff are probably going to give up on them. If the task isn’t interesting enough, intellectually satisfying enough or it’s simply dull, a procrastinator’s passion for the task is going to evaporate and they’ll find themselves looking for ways to occupy their minds. Suddenly the sun pouring in through the window becomes an irresistible magnet and they find themselves offering to head out and buy coffees for the team.
If you find this happening a lot, restructure the tasks so that they excite or add a personal reward to the end of every project. For example show real appreciation and praise if you get the monthly finance report on your desk by mid-day.
In a properly functioning and caring work environment management and or team members would ideally recognise the indications of procrastination and work together to break the cycle.
If as suggested procrastination is learned, then with help it can be unlearned. By looking out for and identifying procrastination as it’s happening, you can discreetly help by restructuring work habits, adding motivation and removing distractions.
I am convinced that a simple solution lies in planning and time management. Personally I always work from a rolling weekly task list and each day I write down the 3 things that I absolutely must do that day. This keeps me on the straight and narrow when my mind starts to wander.
Procrastination costs SME’s a good deal in lost productivity and we should work to fix it but don’t expect overnight success. Lifelong habits are difficult to overcome and take time but the first step is always a hard yet positive move.
As Dr Ferrari says in his book “Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting Things Done”, “Eliminating procrastination from our lives is like trying to stop a moving train; it’s not easy.”
Now avoid moving trains and….do it quickly, don’t procrastinate!