I recently attended some trial company-provided training on time management & being productive. Although I was grateful for it, I didn’t find it particularly useful & then I had a thought…… ‘I’m good at managing my time, why dont I write a blog post about what I do personally, as many have asked me how I manage to squeeze everything in‘ so that’s what I’ve done! Ooosht. Like many things, there is no super secret sauce, just a range of tactics & discipline you need to deploy consistently if you want to be efficient. I have kids to juggle, a busy family, a business on the side & like many need to squeeze out every inch of each day so, here’s what I do. Oh & FYI, here’s a secret, I don’t work more than about 8-9 hours a day on average if that. but everybody is convinced I’m pulling fifteen hour days & being a legend – ha if only they knew!
1 – Plan for success using Eisenhower’s prioritisation method. (here)
At the start of each week, usually on a Sunday I sit & tidy my office. As I’m doing so, I start to write the things I want to achieve in the week as they come to me in my mind, then I put them on Post It notes & put them onto my physical whiteboard I have on the wall. It’s all unorganised & unstructured at this point but its just my thoughts, as I try & not get distracted by the laptop pinging away like a hotel doorbell. Maybe I want to get that 10k in, maybe I really need to get out on the bike. Crikey, I need to do that Squad member 1-2-1! This unstructured list becomes organised into three different areas as I think about things further. 1) My work goals for the week, 2) my personal goals & objectives & then, 3) everything else. I use Eisenhower’s prioritisation matrix to determine what I think I need to do in any given week versus what I actually have to do taking into account what my teams, projects, family expect or need from me. This then becomes my week’s realistic & maximum value backlog. Mario’s weekly MVP. ta daaaaa
2- The 80/20 rule a.k.a The Pareto principle (here)
I then run these same tasks through the Pareto principle to determine what I think I should do versus what I could do at minimum (much like the MVP of a software project) to realise value over the course of the week. At this point, some tasks get pruned, some get removed, some get pushed into a monthly pile. I know myself well enough to know how & when I procrastinate & where I tend to spend unnecessary time going overboard on things when ‘just good enough‘ will do. Developing this skill has been vital for me as I’ve developed my career as a leader & learnt where to focus my effort. You’ll have heard yourself maybe saying things such as ‘I’m a perfectionist‘ or ‘if a job needs doing properly, I’ll do it myself‘ or ‘I know it’ll be done if I do it‘. I’ve learnt this way of thinking actually impeded my growth. Now I’m happy to delegate or just do enough to get the job done. It free’s me up not only physically to do more, but mentally when I really need to double down on awesomeness!
So I have my Pareto principle prioritised bunch of Post It notes, & I’ve sanity checked them that they make sense. (by the way, all this takes about half an hour max!) Now I drop into ‘Mr Project Manager’ & start doing what I’m good at, being organised.
3- Personal Kanban
I use standard Kanban to plan my week, putting my sanity checked tasks on the board, & tracking progress throughout the week. Call’s I need to make, meetings I must have, tasks I need to do etc. I prefer a physical Kanban rather than say, Trello as when you’re on a computer you can get distracted with notifications, pop ups, emails….its endless. The physical attribution of tasks on something you can hold in your hand really help with ownership, mental acknowledgement & the feeling of satisfaction you get moving them across the board. Often, a software Kanban doesn’t give you that hit of feel good chemicals which are often released when you complete a task or tick something off your to do list.
4 – Hacking the brain with chemicals. Not like that, I’m not that guy
Part of being personally effective is using the tools at your disposal to push you forward. We all get distracted, we all get side tracked & we all often avoid doing the difficult things first, because you know, they are difficult. I’ve learnt to become quite addicted to the release of Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin & Endorphins & use that feeling to stop me from getting side tracked or procrastinating. Visualising where I want to be on Friday on the Sunday prior, ensures I have a goal to hit, will make the beer taste better & the feeling of satisfaction pushes me onto doing exactly the same process again the following week because I have evidence of success. Its a bit like weight loss, you only really start to notice the results after you’ve been doing the same thing year after year consistently. Funnily enough Agile best practices often linked to these feel good chemicals, especially when we talk of simplicity, breaking things down into chunks, making things visible – so I just weaponise that in my own life, rinse & repeat weekly. I have a talk on this if you’re interested in learning more!
5 – Visualisation
Why it may sound corny to some, mental visualisation for me has really helped me make ‘true’ what I want to do, & who I want to be. At the start of each day & each week, I spend a few moments with my eyes closed, breathing (often something else we all forget to do properly) & I think about all the conversations I need to have, how I want to behave, the things I don’t want to do & how my performance will be against my list. The aim is to on Friday at 5pm, be able to walk back into the house having cleared my whiteboard, satisfied everything I need to have gotten done, not sweated the small stuff & tuck in to that first pint of cold cold beer. I give you my word it tastes 100% even more delicious when the weeks gone mostly as you wanted it to. Whilst you can’t guarantee it all the time, following some of the techniques above can really help consistent delivery.
6. – Time Management day to day
I recommend the following hack to anyone & everyone if you don’t do something similar already. It 100% is without shadow of a doubt, the single biggest thing you can do to help you leverage your week.
I try & look forward thirty days ahead. In my Outlook calendar I block out as a ‘Busy’ block time for me. This time is specifically for work, thinking, non work things, & to allow for distractions such as phone calls or putting out project fires. By specifically blocking out that time, you’re taking control of your day. I colour code it green so I can see visually a proportion of my time being spent on productivity versus the day to day BJSS grind. I make sure at least approx 40-50% of my week is coloured green. That way I know I have at least half of my week to get shit done. I can always choose to allow people into those green spaces, but often I am disciplined & that way, I control my week no matter what the chaos. Dont be afraid to aggressively defend your time. There’s only so much of you to go around, & the more you take control of it, the more productive you will be & the happier you will feel.
7. – A tidy room is a tidy mind
You remember that bit at the start of this post where I said I tidied my office? Well, never under-estimate the importance of your physical environment to your personal productivity. By weekly ensuring things are in their place, I have the tools & things I need to hand & that my environment is comfortable to me then I know that 8 or so hours a day I spend there will be as productive as possible. I’m not spending time finding papers or cables or notes I’ve written & lost. By being physically organised, including reducing clutter on your computer desktop, it really helps focus on tasks at hand. Get into this process quickly & you’ll really start to see results. How many times have you gotten distracted because you’ve spent twenty minutes looking for a file in your recycle bin? Or you let yourself get distracted with a phone call because you were sick of trying to get your webcam to work? Or you gave up focus because your back was sore because you’re sitting on an old crate of Newcastle brown from the Garage rather than a decent chair? C’mon, you know who you are!