Workplace change is a time management problem. Not the to-do list, prioritising, task orientated kind of time management. The psychological kind.
Where did the Summer go? September always seems to be a time of change, this year more than ever.
This photo was taken in 1916, when five of my great uncles came home on leave from the Western Front.
Time is money – recent research by Philip Zimbardo and magnifymoney.com shows your time perspective determines how you spend or save money, with some surprising results.
Your time perspective predicts your attitude to risk-taking and planning, so when it comes to your finances, it’s important to know whether you’re mainly Past, Present or Future orientated.
It turns out people who think about the Future – and who are better at planning, might be buying too much insurance. And whilst they understand the maths and are more financially literate, that doesn’t necessarily equate to healthy finances.
Conversely, people who live in the past, especially Past Negatives base their financial decisions on memories (and bad memories, at that) , not predictions. That means they take less risks and are more prudent. They might miss out on the boom times, but they’ll still be there when everyone else is bust.
It’s the people who like to live in the Present that I most feel sorry for. The credit card companies love their impulsiveness and the way they like to indulge themselves and their friends. But they’re heading for a life of debt and poverty if they don’t re-balance their lives, as well as their finances.
So Benjamin Franklin was right, time is money. And with all three of these profiles, the way that you’re hard-wired determines your attitude to saving and spending your hard-earned cash. Unless you do a spot of rewiring, your choices and strategies are going to be limited, aren’t they?
So how do you rewire your attitudes?
Step 1 is to find out where you are. You can do that by completing a Time Intelligence Report. Click this link to find out more.
Step 2 is to start getting a bit more of what’s missing in your life and re-balance. If you’re stuck in the past, or the future, bring yourself up to date by allowing more pleasure into your life, here and now. Stop and smell the roses. Pick a few. Give them to someone you care about. If you’re too present, drag out an old photo album and trigger some good memories, get nostalgic.
Step 3 is to repeat Step 2 until you’re equally good at being in the past, the present or the future, when you want and when the time is right.
You might even save yourself some money.
I have a confession. Last year I wrote about dealing with workplace interruptions, it’s consistently been one of the most popular posts . You can read it here. But yesterday I didn’t follow my own advice. I was three-quarters of the way through a task, (upgrading WordPress for this blog) when I allowed myself to be interrupted. I was carrying out a complicated, manual process, that I’d never done before. I was following written step by step instructions, but lost my train of thought. When I got back to the task, I forgot that there was still one step to do. When I tried to fire up the site again, it didn’t work. Two hours later, with the help of Mohit Gupta, who’s an unbelievably helpful member of a fantastic WordPress Facebook group, I discovered what I’d done – or hadn’t done. God, I felt stupid.
“Bigger chunks of work have natural break points”
What have I learnt? That bigger chunks of work have natural break points, and where I left off wasn’t one of them. So if you can’t find a good place to pause, push through to the end of the task (I couldn’t because I already had brain-fry), or else leave yourself a great big marker where you left off. If I’d done that last one I would have known there was still one step left to do. When I used to draft contracts, that’s exactly what I did when faced with an interruption or distraction.
I also learnt to ask for help earlier rather than later. When you work on your own, it’s easy to become very self-reliant and imagine that it’s better to solve all of the problems you encounter on your own. But there are people in your virtual team who are happy to help.
I won’t make that particular mistake again, but I’ll probably be making others, it’s the best way to learn!
Lionel Messi may be the best footballer in the world, but according to this excellent article in Slate.com, he’s lazy. He doesn’t put in as much effort as Neymar, the other best footballer in the world. He covered less ground in his last game against Switzerland, made fewer sprints (31 v 57) and spent a lot less time in high and medium intensity activity. But Messi has been voted man of the match in all four games he’s played at this World Cup. Neymar has played in as many games, and got man of the match in only two. What’s going on here?
“… Messi is making a big impact, despite his paltry performance figures”
These days, stats on footballers are easy to come by. There are performance analysis programmes like Prozone, that give reams of data, so that coaches can compare one player with another. They measure – yards covered, tackles made, passes completed – all things that correlate in some way with effort. But it’s clear Messi is making a big impact, despite his paltry performance figures. Four goals and one assist. He’s a shark, cruising effortlessly for long stretches of the game, then going for the kill before anyone even realises what he’s up to.
“he’s highly valued even though his visible work rate may be lower than his colleagues'”
Messi is a rare case where people aren’t confusing effort with effectiveness. His impact is obvious despite the raw performance analysis, and he’s highly valued even though his visible work rate may be lower than his colleagues’. Work rate – there’s an old-time productivity phrase. It’s something that’s held in high regard in English football and in the English-speaking world workplace. The England football team did a lot of running around and put in a great deal of “work”, but to no avail, the result was two losses and a draw. Completely unproductive, because they didn’t get beyond the group stage.
Many workplaces actually encourage this culture of valuing work rate over effectiveness. Busy work attracts far more attention than effortless productivity. People will tell you how busy they are, have a diary full of meetings and conference calls and work late. How productive are they really?
The biggest favour you could do for your team and yourself would be to recognise the people who are having the biggest impact, but who don’t seem to be making much effort. Maybe they leave work on time, don’t send as many emails, don’t go to as many meetings, but if you really looked, you’d vote them man or woman of the match.
Is your to do list getting you down? Do you spend more time on it than you’d like, and use it to procrastinate? Your to do list shouldn’t be a burden, and it definitely shouldn’t be longer than five items. How do you decide which 5 items to choose? Imagine you have a great big Inbox, divided into two compartments. It holds your backlog of short-term tasks in the first compartment and your backlog of long-term projects in the second compartment. Let’s distinguish between a project and a task:
- A project is a series of linked, bite size tasks which, done in the right order at the right time, will achieve a bigger goal. “Learn French”. Long Term. Use a calendar.
- A task is a simple instruction with a finish time – learn 10 irregular verbs by 6pm today. Short term. Use a clock.
Your five items should always be bite-size tasks specific enough so you can do them within the space of a day. But you should pick from both compartments, so you complete short-term tasks and move forward on long-term projects. Otherwise “Learn French” could be a never-ending project, never quite finished, because there’s always more to learn. It doesn’t belong on your to do list. Other things that don’t belong on your to do list:
- Achieve World Peace
- Fix Global Warming
- Improve Love Life
- Get Dressed
- Brush Teeth (unless you’re 5 years old)
- Watch Television
“OK, but you still haven’t said which five items to choose”
You’ve got a great big Inbox to choose from. Which five items do you pick? How do you prioritise? There’s no hard and fast rule but you could grade tasks by difficulty. Do the difficult ones when you have most energy, and before you get too many interruptions. Do the easy ones when you need to coast a bit, but still want to feel productive. And slot in the medium ones when you can. Always, always, make sure you complete your task from the project compartment. If you find you’ve completed your five tasks, and it’s still only 3 o’clock, dive into your Inbox and pick one more.
The key thing is not to treat your Inbox as your to do list. It’s more like an assembly line. You’re moving tasks through to completion, into your Donebox.
Keep on moving.
If you get stuck, maybe you could use a coach. And if you’re not sure, you could have a sample session over Google Helpouts. Click on the link below to find out more.
You already know if you’re time poor. On the hamster-wheel of life, you’re not sure if you’re running the wheel, or it’s running you. How do you escape time poverty and go to the next level?
One things for sure, working longer hours and cramming more in won’t work. If you add more resources to a team that’s already missing deadlines, it just makes things worse.
“What you need is way of preventing the fires spreading, and, in time, starting in the first place”
Your first action is to do the one thing you absolutely don’t want to do. STOP. That’s ridiculous, right? How is stopping going to help you get more done? What about all of those fires you need to put out? Here’s the news. If you don’t change what you’re doing, you’ll be consumed anyway. There will always be stuff to do, and there will always be fires. What you need is way of preventing the fires spreading, and, in time, starting in the first place.
“step off the wheel and review your priorities”
That means taking time to figure out one thing that will help. One thing that will win you a little bit more time in the future. An example might be a visual tool to help you plan. Like a wall chart or a kanban system. It will allow you to see beyond the immediate and urgent, and pick up on the important, more strategic things that drop by the wayside. Then schedule a small amount of time – say 20 minutes, every other day, to step off the wheel and review your priorities. Are you doing the right things, tasks that move you to your long-term goal? Are you doing the right things right, or could the way you execute do with an overhaul?
“step back and get some perspective“
When you’re stressed, you get tunnel vision. It’s an evolutionary adaptation to help us deal with the threat in front of us. That makes sense when it’s a sabre-tooth tiger filling your field of vision, but not when it’s a looming deadline. That’s when you need to step back and get some perspective, otherwise you’ll never escape the time poverty trap..
“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is the result of good work habits”
Are you one of those people who believes that creativity and structure just don’t mix? It’s a common trope that creatives need disorder so that they can conjure up great ideas, that creativity emerges from chaos. In many cultures it’s the basis of the creation myth, their account of how all of reality came into being, in a dim and distant past.
In real life that translates into a desk that needs an archaeological dig to find anything, a flexibility with deadlines that pisses off colleagues, and poor planning because you can’t predict what you’re going to do, let alone communicate it to other people.
If that looks, feels or sounds like you, and you’re looking for a better way, read on.
The problem with most productivity or time management systems is that YOU have shrink to fit the system. Resistance is futile.So you carry on with whatever isn’t working for you, rather than become Borg,and lose your individuality. Anything’s better assimilation.
But what if you could use what you have already, and bolt on some extras, without signing your life over to [enter productivity guru’s name here]? Pick ‘n’ Mix from this menu of possible new habits
- Work without interruption for a 45 minute stretch. You’ll be 75% more productive.
- Always keep a notepad with you, or use the Evernote app to jot down great ideas while you’re waiting for a train or in the dentist’s reception.
- When you’re setting a deadline, plan backwards and don’t plan in a vacuum.
- Use a visual tools, like a kanban board or a wall planner instead of a to-do list.
- Pre-plan your week on Sunday night. Just take 10 minutes to pick out the 5 big things you need to get done in the week. Write them down somewhere where you can see them.
- Pre-plan your next day as you finish the day before.
- Get one thing done before you look at email/Facebook/Pinterest
- Be accountable to someone else. A friend, a colleague, a coach.
Tailor you own system to fit yourself. Of course, if you need a tailor to size you up and customise your outfit, you could always use a coach. And if you’re not sure you want to commit. You could have a sample session over Google Helpouts. Click on the link below to find out more.
“I know my stress is building, because I start getting more speeding tickets”
Last night I was at a CBI dinner, as a guest of my favourite client. I got chatting to a lovely guy who worked in the construction industry. He asked me what I did, and I gave my spiel about reducing stress and helping people use their time better, when long hours and hard work no longer work. The construction industry has been a pretty stressful place over the last five years, and we talked a lot about increased work load and dealing with the pressure that created for him. He was a seasoned veteran of four or five recessions, so he had a good sense of how to weather the storm and keep going – and obviously he worked really hard. But he had a unique way of measuring his stress: there was a direct correlation with the number of speeding tickets he picked up. This is how it worked: because he was cramming more into his day, he drove faster and faster between appointments, trying to fit it all in. So he started tripping speed cameras as he travelled around. That was his signal to ease back and take a break, otherwise he would lose his health, his driving licence and his job.
What signals do you use to let you know that the pressure is building. How do you pull over into the slow lane and still make progress? Here are 5 ways you can slow down and spend less time in the fast lane, and still be productive.
- Pause and reflect. Everyone needs a break in their journey. Paradoxically, stopping for a break increases your productivity and will save you time in the long run. It’s a chance to integrate what you’ve learnt, so you don’t repeat mistakes.
- Pace yourself. You won’t be able to drive at full pelt all of the time. Other people will slow you down. Unpredictable conditions mean you can’t proceed at maximum speed, so plan for that.
- Allow more time This is connected with number 2. If you add some “white space” buffer time into your schedule even if you meet a problem, you won’t be late.
- Be realistic. Just because you seem to have space in your diary to cram in another meeting, it doesn’t mean you actually can. Or that you need to. Here’s what I wrote a few weeks ago about realistic planning.
- Take a long-term view. Picking up speeding points wasn’t going to help my new mate get his job done, not if he ended up losing his licence. When we’re stressed, though, our thinking gets blinkered.