Have you had this thought or even said it out loud? Then you would not be alone. The forced changes brought on by the current environment has made time management difficult not because you have less time but Ironically because you have more time. Everyone has more time to fit a quick zoom meeting into their diary, more sessions are taking place, and less time is left to deal with the actions from them. Hence, I hear a lot of stress out there.
Firefighting is fast becoming the way of life for many desk workers, especially if you are in management. It's time to take time out to manage your time better. If you don't already know the Stephen Covey story about the woodcutter, then please have a read of it. Essentially it's about the irony in not having time to Look after or maintain the resources that are essential to do the job and in the case of the woodcutter, it was his saw, in your case, it's you. Now let me give you a scenario of what can quickly happen in a day, and if you can relate to it, then please do read the tips that follow.
You wake up as early as five or possibly even earlier with the thought of all the things you still must catch up on. So, you get up and go into your office to get as much as you can before everyone else gets up and starts calls. Calls start to take place at around 8 am. You have a virtual meeting. Then another meeting. Lots identified during those meetings with actions to follow. However, you have another appointment in minutes. Following that, a client requests another one, and as you are not going anywhere, so you think yes let's do that too. "I can grab a quick bite from the kitchen and carry on. Ah, I'll take my phone to the loo to catch up on phone messages". Texts and emails must be urgent, so you are dealing with them as they come in. You don't have far to go 'home' so you carry on working until the last minute. All the while, you might be feeling guilty or even under pressure to carry out personal commitment and the nice things in life for the most important people in your life.
Unfortunately, a repeat of the above will lead to fatigue and stress. Some people even feel trapped. So here are some tips that might help to keep you motivated and sharp for each working day.
- Travel to work. Just because you work at home doesn't mean you should literally climb down the stairs and stay there. Get up go for a short walk before you start your day and let the planning begin in your head. Walk to get your morning dose of caffeine or energy. As you walk, you will automatically start thinking freshly, and you'll have a plan you get excited about before you are even at your desk. If you go to the gym, you'll know what I'm talking about but if you don't have the luxury to do that, don't beat yourself up about it. Take the dog if you have one, or the children if you have any. Walking will give you clarity and quality time. Travel to work!
- Plan meetings to your schedule. Don't let the meeting set your schedule. Just because you are at home, it doesn't make your time any less valuable than when you were in the workplace. You should have meetings in your schedule, but you should have an equal portion of time set to plan for those meetings and debrief and carry out follow up actions. What good is a meeting if you don't have time to prepare for it or follow up after it? It's all so easy to steal that planning time for another session, but all you will end up doing is working longer hours and less effectively trying to catch up with the actions. Remember it isn't the time you put in that counts, it’s the effectiveness of your input and your effectiveness will depend on the time you gave yourself to make your actions the best they can be. So, plan meetings to fit your schedule.
- Expect the unexpected. Prepare for fire-fighting tasks to land on your plate. It will happen. Things will always land on your desk that you didn't expect to happen. These usually come in the format of emails or phone calls. Hence it is so important to leave buffer time in your schedule. This buffer time is not your planning time but more an allowance on top of your meeting time or your planning time. It's time to read emails and listen to voice messages. You can set yourself one or more buffer times a day. Two is usually ideal one at lunchtime and one toward the end of the day. Both these times allow you to either react or plan forward. Though remember the person sending the message always sees it as urgent. So be brave enough to leave some till the end of the day, you might be surprised into how things can sort themselves out without your time. Expect the unexpected.
- Communicate your schedule. Make sure people you work with know what your routine is. We are fast learners and, you would be surprised how quickly people learned about the 9-5 thing. We are creatures of habit. Once a habit is formed, it will be adhered to unless rechallenged. It's just like when we have curfews; People adapt behaviours to fit in. Early closing in restaurants means earlier eating habits. It happens and so if you communicate your availability regularly and clearly to the people you work with, then they too will start to form their communicative patterns around that. So, share your schedule.
- Reflect. Each time you go for a walk or take a timely break, or close your day with a to-do list, make sure you reflect on what worked for you and what you could do differently. Reflect on your achievements and identify areas where you might have managed your time better. For example, did you intervene in a task too soon? or did you give in to emails so much so that you got distracted? or did you put in an extra meeting when you really didn't have time for it. Reflect.
In conclusion, time will not wait for you so respect it and work with it not against it.
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