by: Inez Ng
How many times have you remarked to someone that there are not enough hours in the day? The sad truth is, not matter how much you wish it, it is unlikely that you can get more than 24 hours in each day. So, the trick to time management is really how you get the most out of the hours you have. One way to do that is to become an exceptional planner of your day. It is not very difficult – just takes some basic knowledge and a lot of discipline. As a coach, I can help you with both, but the knowledge is what I’ll cover right now.
Set aside time to plan
This is really the first step. You have to make planning a habit, and do the task religiously. I set aside an hour on Sunday mornings to plan my week. In order for me to make sure that the week goes according to plan, I have to have “a plan” to start with. In the beginning, it may take you longer than an hour, but once you’ve done the planning for a while, you’ll get more efficient at it. You will also feel much more focused when you have identified what you want to accomplish for the week.
Schedule at least one week at a time
Some people only plan one day at a time, but I think that you need to be more forward looking than that. So, I suggest you focus on at least one week at a time, but also review what may be coming up in the next month while you are considering what to prioritize for the next week. The more proactive you are about your life, the less often you will find yourself having to react to unforeseen situations.
Identify your “big rocks” for your week
If you don’t know what I mean, you have to read Stephen Covey. He made a masterful illustration using a bucket, some sand, and several rocks of various sizes. He explained that the sand represents all the busy work that we have to do, like answering the phone, reading email, filing away papers, etc. The rocks represent all the important things that we have to do, such as setting goals for the year, launching a new project, creating a vision for your team, etc. The bucket represents all the time we have for all the demands of our lives.
What happens with most of us is that we fill up our buckets with the sand first, and then we can only put a few rocks on top, and there’s no more room for the rest. What he suggested is that we put all our rocks into the bucket first, and then fill in all the available spaces with the sand. And miraculously, everything fits in our container!
This is the philosophy you need to employ when you schedule your week. Identify all your big rocks, and block out the time to handle these first. Then worry about the sand afterwards. We have to make sure that we handle the important stuff first, and not let the busy work consume our days.
I am not suggesting that you plan to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But I am suggesting that you account for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in your schedule. If you neglect to consider Saturdays and Sundays because those are your “days off”, you may find on Sunday night that you have not handled any of the household chores that you needed to get done. Or if you are planning on having a dinner party on Saturday night next week, you had better block off some time Friday or Saturday to straighten out the house, or go to the market.
Plan personal and play time
Don’t think that a schedule is only for work, this is a plan for your life. So, make sure that you block off time for exercise, or “date night” with your spouse, or cheerleader time for your kids’ games in your schedule. Remember that the goal is to have time to handle everything that’s important to us, not just things that are important concerning work. If you want Friday to be a mental health day, block that off. You don’t need to put in any more details than that. But you know that if you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen.
Leave some contingency time in your schedule
You know better than to expect that your days all go exactly as planned. Just when you are about to really focus on that important analysis you needed to do, your boss calls you into a meeting where your expertise is desperately needed, and your schedule is shot. So, don’t cram every hour of your day with activities. Leave some contingency time for you to catch up when the unexpected happens.
Discipline, discipline, discipline
Once you have your days scheduled, you need to exercise discipline and stick to what you planned. Do everything you can to eliminate distractions and really focus on what you have to do. You will be amazed how much more productive you can be. So, close that email program, turn the phone ringer off and let voicemail handle the calls, close your office door for an hour of so. Then when it is time for you to handle email, and phone calls, and drop-in visitors, give all your focus to those activities then.