Beat the clock. - Part II

21 May, 2011, by Seema Bhatnagar

Hope, you have enjoyed reading Beat the clock Series part I. Now, we have a good insight about why we experience chaos and stress in our daily life. In this part, we will explore what is the best way of managing time and how we can minimize the chaos and feeling of being out of control.


Generations of Time Management

To start with, let’s briefly explore different generations of time management.

I too had the same feeling of being entrapped when I was working. Many a times I wanted to do certain things/projects which I would have simply loved to work on but my job demanded me to do something else which was more of routine activity and were not stimulating enough. Of course the organization priorities are important and must be given preference, but as a result, it created a misalignment between my inside and outside environment and eventually I used to push myself to do things. In all such instances, I used to feel less motivated to do things and there was a void inside me which constantly reminded me that I am working against myself and not deeply enjoying life.

Fourth Generation

The feelings of being entrapped and inner hollowness, the race of doing more in less time, all this made people to think about life and work balance. With the advent of fourth generation, the focus shifted more on things which are more important and meaningful than just handling a crisis day in day out. This is about bringing more life and work balance or quality-of-life results. Besides using all the tools of generations 1,2,3 to manage tasks it has also introduced the concept of long term planning and visualization of personal growth which actually is responsible for more meaningful life.

Time Management Matrix

With the understanding of all generations of time management, what could be the best way to manage our tasks in such a manner so that we can do more in less time and can also enjoy the good quality of life. There is an interesting concept called Time Management Matrix, a figure given below. This matrix shows four quadrants, and each quadrant is assigned with different type of activities/tasks we perform on daily basis.

Time Management Matrix

Quadrant I

It includes tasks/activities which are both urgent and important. Think of those activities which if not done or ignored will make you buried alive. The good examples could be handling a call from a fuming client, meeting a crazy deadline, undergo a treatment or surgery, which if not done can pose a threat to life.

Quadrant II

It includes tasks/activities that are important but not urgent. This is a quadrant of quality and this is where one should attach more importance. This quadrant represents activities like long range planning, anticipate and prevent problems, empowering others, personal growth activities like learning a new technology, tool, reading books on leaderships or some other topics of interests. In brief, think of all those activities which will create major impact in your life in next 1 year to 5 years. This quadrant is to ensure that an individual has a life and work balance rather than just operating out of crisis mode. Remember a proverb "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy ", so also keep time for recreation and fun activities in this quadrant. Here, one works proactively and with planning to bring life to life. :-) . Check out my article Live your Best Life.

Quadrant III

It includes tasks/activities which are urgent but not important. This is the quadrant of Deception. Activities here creates lot of noise but actually they are not important for you but for someone else or to say activities which you do to please others or n number of reasons. Good example could be meetings, drop-in visitors, phone calls, quick request to show up in a meeting room for quick talk.

Quadrant IV

It includes tasks/activities which are not urgent and not important. This is a quadrant of waste. Because of constantly battling between Quadrant I and III activities, one usually lands into Quadrant IV as an escape mode. Good examples of activities, call from a friend, gossiping around, request from a friend for a coffee etc. People might think of them as recreational but actually they are not but wastage of time. A true recreation leaves a long lasting deep impact.

After having knowledge of matrix, try to figure out where do you spend your most time. I am sure, your answer would be Q1. Lets see, what can be done so that we can spend more time in QII. Lets explore what are the possible ways in which we can provide more relief to our mind so that we have more time in hand. Having more time means, more recreation, more fun and more creativity in life. Isn't it a great motivation? :-)


Workflow for Handling Tasks

Here is a simple workflow which you may think of applying to manage your tasks/activities.

#1 CREATE MEMORY BUCKET LIST

In Beat the clock Series part I, I introduced the concept of memory buckets, which stores the tasks to do or any pending task or activity you last thought about. Taking advantage of this knowledge, the very first thing you should start doing is to prepare a memory bucket list. Try to map everything from your memory bucket to this memory bucket list. This would relieve your mind from unnecessary data processing and hence saving mind batteries, which can be utilized for better and demanding tasks or the tasks you enjoy doing. :-)

#2 ASSIGN NEXT ACTION

Once you have the list available with you, check out what is the next possible action against each listed tasks. Merely making a list does not provide relief to mind, it wants to see the next physical action attached to that task. For example: one of the tasks in the list is to give presentation to client next week. It is simply a task, the associated action would be collect mails and refer last presentation you gave to customer to get the contents. Check with Mr. X if he has some usable presentation which can be shared.

While assigning next action, there are following three possibilities: Remember and apply a 2 minute rule, which says, if any action that takes 2 minutes, do it now, else delegate it or defer it.
Delegation is very important from two perspectives:-

Teams Growth: If you think, somebody in your team has the right skills to do it, delegating it would add to the confidence to your team members and you also build the trust factor within team.

Saves time:If you think, it is not relevant to your context at all, delegating it would save your time and you can utilize your time on some higher intellectually demanding tasks. For example: a mail, which should be answered by a marketing department rather than a sales department.

You may defer the action item, if there is no requirement to do it now but mark it in the calendar for future action. For example, research on latest models before buying a cell phone.
If action filters out to the last option of Do, you may plan it accordingly in your schedule or planner.

#3 ASSIGN PRIORITY

Once you have decided the next actions in your memory bucket list items with clarity on "Do" action, decide the order of importance or assign priority against each item. The categories while assigning importance could be Critical, Urgent, Important, Normal. You may create some other relevant categories suitable to your work, like A,B,C or P1, P2,P3 etc.

Critical

This means, the activity has to be done now, without a delay, and it is mission critical. Not doing it means, it can cause major delays in the customer service or can cause some other form of damage. Example could be, the main server of site is down and customers are not able to place orders.

Urgent

It is urgent, and must be done in a days time or as soon as possible. It is less critical. For example: It is Monday today and the client is visiting by Friday, the presentation must be reviewed by Wednesday in order to get reviews from all seniors.

Important

It is important but can be completed in more than a day. For example: Layout of the site to be reviewed by customer in next one week.

Normal

Can be scheduled in the near future and has least criticality. For example: To review the policy document sent by your colleague.

This prioritization is basically mapping the activities against the Time Management Matrix discussed above. This is a time when you should be careful because you would find many important things giving impression of being urgent but actually they are not. Assigning it as critical means you are filling Q1, which actually means you would be dealing with crisis. So, apply your best knowledge and assign tasks intelligently and peacefully, rather than out of external pressure.

PARETO ANALYSIS OR 80-20 PRINCIPLE FOR PRODUCTIVITY

According to this principle, it is assumed that 80% of the productivity can be achieved by doing 20% of the tasks. If productivity is the aim of time management, then these tasks should be prioritized higher.
So prioritization is an important determining factor of your productivity, and you should be diligent enough while prioritizing tasks/activities.

#4 CONTINUOUS REVIEW AND PLANNING

Following steps #1, 2, 3 is not the end of the of workflow, there is a need of continuous planning and review of schedules and plans. A daily review of calendar, list and planner is must. Spend at least 10 minutes before you start your day and visualize an overall picture for a day. This would also help you to map your memory bucket list if anything new has entered off late.
Weekly Review is equally important since you have long term activities planned for quadrant II, which are not urgent but important and have significant impact on your work life balance.
Some people follow the habit of monthly and yearly review also.

#5 REDUCE NOISE AND DRAINERS

You would find that no matter how much you plan, there would be certain external elements which attempts to hamper your daily routine and plans. These might be some activities which are of type QIII and QIV.
Here are some tips offered to reduce these distractions:

Productivity Tools

Here is a list of some popular productivity tools, you check to implement in your routine.

SOFTWARES FOR PRODUCTIVITY

  1. MS Office (I use MS Excel for maintaining long lists)
  2. Open Office (open source free software like MS Office)
  3. Google Documents (I use it for storing interesting documents for future reference or when I want to share it for online collaboration with my friends and business partners)
  4. Zoho
  5. http://gtd-tools.com/
  6. http://gtd-free.sourceforge.net/
  7. http://www.toodledo.com/
  8. http://www.rememberthemilk.com/
  9. http://todoist.com/
  10. http://tadalist.com/
  11. http://www.livescribe.com/en-us/smartpen/ (smartpens remember everything you hear, write and draw. Later, simply tap on your notes to replay your recording and get what you need. These compact smartpens are as easy to carry as traditional pen-and-paper, but smarter, with up to 8GB of memory that holds hundreds of hours of audio and tens of thousands of pages of notes.)
  12. http://www.mylifeorganized.net/index.htm
  13. http://www.nozbe.com/gtd/index
  14. http://www.vitalist.com/
  15. http://www.greeneclipse.com/stickypad.html (Sticky notes for creating quick To Do list on the desktop. I use Window's Sticky Notes application for this purpose)
  16. Gmail calendar, available in google account.

How to apply in your routine

We can discuss several ways of managing time, like using a calendar, PDAs, smart phone, online tools, To Do list etc. but what is important, is to develop your own planning and organization framework and style. Some people need constant reminders for almost everything so the tool like smart phone or PDA can be useful for such people. Some people are quite good at managing To Do lists. Overall, it is a combination of tools from generations 1, 2, 3 and daily diligent planing which may be used to develop personal planning and organization framework.
The key message is DEVELOP YOUR OWN FRAMEWORK AND STYLE OF PLANNING AND ORGANIZATION.
Improving on time management skills is not a task which can be done overnight to see results, it is like any other skill and needs time, practice and experimentation to improve upon. So take baby step each day with full confidence and determination to achieve the desired level of productivity. If you can follow systematic planning for 30 days, you would find significant changes in your life and would be able to enjoy a smarter life.

Get Started

Here is small exercise which you can do to get started to improve upon your Time Management skills:
  1. Write down your current style of managing tasks and activities.
  2. What is your current style of prioritization?
  3. Figure out how many tasks you have in Quadrant 1,2,3,4.Which quadrant has most activities?
  4. What is your most reliable tool to list your daily activities? Why?
  5. How frequently you do planning exercise? (Daily, weekly, monthly)

Doing this exercise will help you to get insight about time management skills and will also help you to figure out the improvement areas. Some of you might already be managing time excellently, please share your success story with others.

Related Posts
Beat the clock. - Part I




                
Seema Bhatnagar
, Blogger, Writer, Life Coach and Founder of Abundance Thinkers, site for personal growth and development. Empowering people in achieving and living the best of personal potential.

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