Tag Archives: Time management

How do you stay current? Or, preparing for the next breakthrough.

One of my all time favorite leadership quotes comes from Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts:

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.  And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

In our constant contact, fast paced, instant information world;  you know that it is a requirement to stay current.  But, the question is how?

Many professionals stay current by subscribing to some sort of digest service (my personal inbox gets over a dozen digests each day).  Your professional societies are also a great source of critical new information in your chosen field.  Then, there are a host of personal digesting services or apps out there.  But, this still does not solve the problem of how.  Because, it isn’t the technical side of getting the information that holds us back; it is the time to review, assess, and comprehend the information that is the trick.

As leaders, you know that it is important to stay current in your chosen field.  This is equivalent to the Queen’s running just to stay in place.  It is information from other areas or solutions applied in one industry that can be modified to apply in another.  So, not only do you have to deal with the information, you don’t have time for it now; but, you know to get to that next breakthrough, you have to “drink from the fire hose.”

So, what do you do?  Of course, there is the shut down response – do nothing and hide in the dark.  This won’t help, but may make you feel better temporarily.  Here are some more constructive approaches:

1) Keep an active read pile – both an electronic one and a physical one.  Instapaper is a great clipping service that can help you manage those internet or electronic articles you want to read.  It is accessible through any device which makes it very helpful.  You can use the same process, pulling out only those articles you want to read from your magazines and placing them in a folder which you can take with you to read over lunch.  (If nothing else this reduces the physical pile of magazines to a more manageable stack.)

2) Make some time to read – Give your self permission to stop and take time to read.  You might do it over your coffee break.  Or use an application like NaturalReader to convert the information into an audio file so you can listen to that article while running the treadmill.  This is one time where multitasking may be actually beneficial.

3) Relocate to a different place or office when it is time to read.  Don’t sit at your desk, if you do – you know what happens – you won’t dedicate the time that you need.  It gets swallowed up by other things.

Finally, make sure that you have something to write with or take notes on.  Those ideas that come to you while you are reading may just be the thing you need to make that next breakthrough!

 

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Are you focused on the “right” things?

Each day we get up and go about our daily work, but are we really focused on the “right” things.  Or, those things that truly need to be done.  As leaders, we need to be focused on those “right” things and help our colleagues and employees focus on them as well.  But, do we really know what those things are?

Recently, there was a New York Times piece about “Why you hate work“.  This piece documented the results of a 2013 survey of white collar workers about what they felt was lacking in the workplace.  And, the results may surprise you at first but not when you stop and think for a moment.

If you follow the leadership and self help literature, you are likely to say that finding work-life balance, being able to disengage from work, and how to be successful would be right at the top of the list.  But, they aren’t.  In fact, the are close to the bottom of the list.  To be sure, these are still key concerns with over a 40% response rate, and we have to be aware of them.

The top concern listed was a lack of regular time for creative and strategic thinking.  This was closely followed by the ability to focus on one thing at a time.  Again, with a bit of reflection, these should not surprise.  What is this telling us as leaders?

I think it is telling us two very important things.  One, we feel that we are so busy and we are so focused on getting the tasks done, we don’t have the time to sit and think.  And, two, we aren’t focused on the right things because we don’t know what they are.

It is critical for leaders to take time to think, reflect, plan, and analyze.  You hear this in your leadership course under the terms: “Big Rocks” (Covey), set your daily priorities (most time management courses), develop a vision, etc.  But, even then it gets glossed over because most leadership courses are a day or two at most, because we “can’t afford the time away from work.”  Only when you take a longer program, those one to three week courses, do you really hear.  It is important to block out time each day for reflection and you need to have a two to three hour block each week that is yours.  One company referred to it as 10% time, ten percent time of your time should be focused on developing ideas and directions.

Through my career, I saw this 10% time get eroded and ultimately disappear.  Yet, it is probably the most critical time of the week.  You need that time to discern what the right things are.  Leaders have to be able to develop that strategy or direction.  Leaders have to be able to assess what is working and what is not.  With out this time, work doesn’t work.

I believe as leaders, it is time for us to fight to bring back the 10% time. We have to guard it.  We have to build it in to everyone schedules.  This will allow people a chance to focus on key tasks.  It will allow individuals the ability not to have to multitask.  And, it will probably give people a chance to improve how work gets done.  (Have you ever noticed we use inefficient tools because we don’t have the time to learn how to use a new tool that will help us?)

By bringing back the 10% time, I believe that we won’t feel so harried.  And, that some of the other things on the list will also be addressed like:  having the opportunity to do what is most enjoyed, having a level of meaning and significance, and having a connection to the company’s mission.

So, here is my recommendation, schedule an appointment with yourself.  And, don’t schedule it in your office.  Schedule a conference room, go to the library, or a guest office.  (If you stay in your office you are likely to get distracted and not use the time you have given yourself.) And, ask yourself, if I had a magic wand what would I change about how I perform my work?

You will probably discover that while you can’t change it instantly, you now have plan to change.  You can build action plans.  You can put words to what needs to be discussed.  Then next week, schedule that same appointment and reflect on what changed this past week and what needs to be done to continue the change.  Do it again.  I think you will find that after three or four weeks you will see a change and you will be focusing on the “right” things because you know what they are.

 

What “commodity” do you value most?

As leaders we have a number of responsibilities and a variety of demands calling for our attention.  In addition, we all have good intentions of getting everything done.  For many of us, it means that our “to do” list is never empty.  Thus, we all have to prioritize and make choices that are going to impact our day, our well being, those around us, and even how we view our success.

How many of us have attended those time management classes, or bought self-help books that promise a 4-hour work week, or get more done in less time, or you can do it all.  Deep down we know that this is not possible. We try multitasking, balancing, delegating, etc.  But, what it comes down to is a basic value statement – what do you value most?  What commodity in your life – time, money, patience, etc. is highest on your list?

We get busy and caught up in the activity of life.  We go from one task to the next.  It seems that our priority is to get things checked off the list.  There are situations where at the end of the day – you may have checked a dozen things off of your “to do” list but you still feel that you did not get anything done.  This is a symptom of focusing on the activity rather than the accomplishment. You have focused on the wrong measurement or gauge to assess your day.  While what you did may have been important or had to get done – it may not have progressed you toward your goals.  

For me – the activity of life was not fulfilling.  I was not growing as a person or a professional.  Yes, it appeared that I was successful and happy.  But, I was spending the most precious of commodities on the wrong thing.  I wasn’t focused on the reasons for my behavior – I was focused on getting things done – thus, not getting the right things done.

Each of us has to ask the question of ourselves and truly be honest – why do you work? Yes, there is the needs part – I have to pay the bills, I have to have a place to live, etc.  But, there is that other part – I have chosen this profession because – I want to make a contribution to ……. Or, I want to be able to …… Or, I want my family to be able to……..  In many cases, we get so caught up in the day-to-day burdens of the job, or what Society says we should be doing – that we don’t have time to make that contribution, or do what fills in the blank.

To me – time is that precious commodity.  It can’t be saved for a rainy day.  It can’t be borrowed against. It can’t be retrieved when it has past.  We have to use it wisely.  We have to choose how we apply it. We have to make sure we are focused on the “right” things.  “First things first” as Covey says.  We need to reflect and get out of the rut of thinking that activity is success and focus on the why of the activity – not just checking it off the list.

So, carefully use some of that precious sand in the hour glass each day to reflect and prioritize.  Close off the rest of the demands for 5 minutes and truly take that time to focus on what is important to you.  Then, set up your to do list – you might find that it gets shorter, and is less activity based.  You may also find that in the end – you achieved more.

The Calm before the Storm

Merry Christmas!

During the next 12 days – most of us will be relaxing with family and friends; finishing up those few last minute tasks and doing a bit of clean-up up before January hits with full force.

If your business life is controlled by government regulations – you know that January is typically filled with a host of deadlines and government reporting.  If you are in finance – there are the calendar year reports, W-2s, 1099 Forms, and various quarterly/annual filings.  If you are in environmental – the list is very long.  Safety – there are injury and working hour statistics.  So you know that come January 2 – your “work” life doesn’t slowly come back – it is like hitting the accelerator pedal and it seems to get stuck.

So as leaders – we have to prepare to handle this avalanche of information, reports, tasks, and new year demands  – while at the same time help our colleagues, co-workers, subordinates, and families adjust.  What can we do?

You will find a host of articles discussing the usual – stress busting, get some quality sleep, break down the tasks into smaller action items, etc.  Everything you have heard before.  Some you have already built into your normal routines.  So you are thinking it is time for something different.  (Remember the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome.)

So here are some thoughts that might set you on a different track and increase productivity while helping you balance all of the demands:

1) Ditch the massive daily “to do” list – focus on accomplishing three to four key tasks per day.  I keep a master “to do” list with due dates and sub-tasks.  This master list is reviewed and  updated frequently.  But, my daily “to do” list is written out each evening as I close my day – with only three or four key items.  The makes you set priorities and allows time for interruptions.  It helps to focus. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to accomplish anything on a daily basis – and your “to do” list just seems to grow.  The shorter more focused list – allows you to make progress.

2) Take time for personal growth – even if it is only taking the time to read an inspirational quote.  Even this brief moment provides a bit of a recharge – particularly when you are stressed.  I have found that some quotes or messages seem to come at just the instant you need them.

3) Working longer does not necessarily accomplish anything.  While sometimes this cannot be avoided – you need to be aware that breaks are necessary.  When you are tired, stressed, etc. errors increase and you may find that you have increased your work load rather than improving your situation.  Take breaks or do a different task that  does not require the same mental effort.  For example:  you may do some of that filing or clearing of emails at the end of the day – rather than reviewing the production numbers.

4) Don’t try to implement all your new resolutions at once.  Work on one new habit at a time.  This allows the habit to take shape and mature.  Once it is a habit, it works for you and you can reap the benefits.

When you walk into the office on that day after your holiday vacation take a deep breath, focus and set off to have a wonderful 2014.