Is your time management system too big?

iStock_000008203287XSmall- Bloat

This is Part 3 in a 3 part series. See also Part 1 and Part 2.

In the previous posts, we discussed two potential impacts from a poorly designed or implemented time management system: Leak and Creep.

Leak was the loss of information from your system, usually due to inadequate tools to capture it.

Creep was the tendency to add more and more tools to your system.

Today, I want to talk about a third potential impact…Bloat.

Is your time management system too much?

As it sounds, a bloated time management system is one that has grown in size or complexity to the point that it is cumbersome to use effectively.  Its awkwardness arises from either too many tools or processes that are excessively complex.

Symptoms of a bloated time management system:

  • Too many tools – Too many tools can be a result of Creep.  Redundant tools reduce efficiency and create duplication/sync issues for your information.
  • Too much complexity – If your system has too many moving parts you will not be able to keep up with it.  It will slow you down, and parts of it will be forgotten.  Ever find the “other list” that you made and then forgot?
  • Too big to be used effectively – This can be a literal thing.  I know people who are great with a dayplanner, but it is so big that they only carry it with them sometimes.  Your time management system has to be with you…always.  No exceptions.
  • Wrong tools for the job – You wouldn’t use a hammer to fix a screw, and you wouldn’t use a blank spiral bound notebook for your calendar.  These examples are extreme, but you would be amazed what tools people will try to misuse in their systems.  Ensure that the tools you select are right for the job.

Too much to handle…

The Power of 1

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One of the main reasons that people fail at time management is… because their system fails.

Too often people try to implement systems that are too complex.  This leads to loss of information, overlooked obligations, and general frustration.  (See “Why complex time management systems fail…“)  It is ironic, that the #1 time management book today preaches a system that is so complex it needs a flow chart to explain it.

Simplest is best

One of the basic Time Management Ninja principles is simplicity.  The simplest solution is usually the best and most efficient.  Simplicity is the key to stressless, efficient, and effortless time management.

To that end… you should have only 1 of each type of tool in your toolbox.

At a time management seminar, we asked the participants to bring with them all the tools they currently use.  Every calendar.  Every todo list. Every address book.  Etc.

It was amazing.  One employee had a pile of stuff.  A full-sized desk calendar, a PDA, a yellow pad of paper, and his cell phone.  He also brought a printout of his online calendar.

I asked him how he knew which calendar to look at in the morning.  He said it usually depended on where he was… at his desk, at home, etc.  He was quick to admit that he often missed appointments because they were written on one calendar, but not the others.  (Does this happen to you?)

The Power of 1

Are you ready for your day?

How do you get ready?

Or maybe the question should be “do you get ready for your day?

I recently wrote that “planning is one of those important things that you don’t have time not to do.”

After all, planning actually gives you more time in your day.  It does this by preventing you from missing appointments, forgetting tasks, and generally creating more life friction for yourself.

It is amazing the % of people who head into their day without a thought as to what they are going to do that day.  You know these people.  They arrive at work without a clue about the day’s events.  They show up to meetings without knowing what is being discussed.  They miss appointments and deadlines.  Are you part of this crowd?

Charging into your day with getting ready is equivalent to “driving your car down the road of life while blindfolded.”

And this means… you are going to miss a lot of opportunities and have a lot of accidents.  :)

Planning vs. Preparation

So how do you get ready for your day?  Many people will do this by taking a glance at their calendar.  If you maintain your calendar, this is a great start.  Others will look at yesterday’s todo list.  Another good start.

Getting Ready for the day is a two part process:

  • Planning – Formulating the strategy for your day.
  • Preparation – This is the action part of getting ready.

Doing the planning is a good start.  If you really want to be dangerous, you need to do the preparation too.

“I love it when a plan comes together…”

Things you don't have time to do?

The other day, a co-worker got on a rant about how, “He didn’t have time to do a lot of things…”

I considered flippantly responding, “You have the same amount of time in the day as everyone else…”

But, I resisted.  As he went down the laundry list of things he “didn’t have time to do,” it hit me that many of these “things” were extremely important.

In fact, he really needed to be doing these things.  Yet, he was not prioritizing his obligations to get to them.

Things you don’t have time not to do…!

When people get caught up the daily grind, they tend to not get to the important stuff.

However, when you don’t do the things that are important…it will cost you later.

These costs can be:

  • Time – It will take you more time to do the task later.
  • Money – Ever paid a late fee?
  • Stress – See creating more Life Friction.
  • All of the above

Here are a few of the most common “Things you don’t have time not to do…”

Exercise – One of my personal pet peeves is when people say, “I don’t have time to go to the gym and workout.”  The bottom line is… “you don’t have time not to work out.”  Exercise is one of those magical activities that actual creates productivity.  It gives you energy and it keeps you in shape.  Both of these lead to increased productivity.

Planning & Preparation – It amazes me how many people charge into their day without a thought about what they are going to accomplish.  People say, “I don’t have time to plan.”  Yet, planning gives you more time in your day.  It makes sure you get your priorities done first.  And it ensures you don’t create more life friction by overlooking tasks and obligations.

Tasks with Deadlines – People often don’t do things even when there is a deadline.  Paying bills, finishing projects, registering for events, are all things that don’t get done on time.  This leads to more work and more time and money invested.  Have you ever paid a late fee?  Or had to do more work because you did not do something on time?  There are entire companies based around the fact that people do not make deadlines.  (FedEx, perhaps!)

Preventative Maintenance – It puzzles me when people do not take preventative measures for issues that they know will cause them more problems in the future.  ”I don’t have time” to get my car to the shop.  Will, you have time, and $, when it breaks down?  ”I don’t have time” to go to the doctor.  Will you have time when your condition gets worse?

Let’s make sure we “have time” to do the things that are important.

What are the things you “don’t have time not to do…?”

No Meeting Friday!

There was a huge positive response to last week’s tweets about no meetings on Fridays.  So, I thought it was appropriate for us to officially designate Fridays as “No Meeting Fridays.”

Many people have been saying that they are booked for so many meetings that they cannot get their work done.  Have you ever finished a work day and thought, “Wow, I was in meetings all day… I did not have one minute to do my work.”

If you let them, the “Outlook Outlaws” will take all of your time.  They will schedule unneccesary meetings all over your calendar.  They will steal your valuable time.

And let’s face it… most of these meetings are not worth the time committed…

  • They have no agenda – What are we even meeting about?
  • People are late – Very productive when you start 20 minutes late.
  • Are poorly run – Deteriorate into a 25 minutes discussion of hockey or last night’s TV shows.
  • Run over their time limit
  • Accomplish little – After your last meeting were there any decisions or actions to be taken? Or just another meeting scheduled?
  • People doing other things – What happens when meetings are poorly run & people are stuck in them all day?  People resort to doing their work during meetings!

So, let’s take back one day of the week for productivity!

Let’s declare Friday’s… Meeting Free!

The idea here is to protect an entire day for productivity.  Let’s spend Friday getting things done. Projects. Reports. Creative work. One-on-one coaching. Things that require time and are important.

So, how do you protect your Friday?

Start simple.  Block it out.  If you want to protect your time, you need to “Block it out.” If you do not schedule yourself for time to do work… you will quickly find that you do not have any.

“But, my employer will not allow me to do work all day on Friday.”  (How silly does that statement sound?)

Go ahead, block out all Friday.  Feels good, doesn’t it?

I did this last week. Now, a week later, I am happy to see my Friday schedule. I have only one 0.5 hour meeting this morning at 9AM.  After 930AM, I have the rest of the day scheduled to work on my projects.

If you block your Friday, you will observe a few things:

  • Most people will avoid scheduling on Friday.
  • A few will not – these are the people who would have double/triple booked your calendar anyway, or they have something important – these are the people you want to meet with anyway.
  • Friday will quickly become your most productive day of the week.  What a great feeling to finish the work week!
So, what are you waiting for?  Go ahead and mark next Friday! And let’s get productive. :)

Why Do We Let People Steal Our Time?

Thought of the day: Why do we let people steal our time?
We get pretty upset when people steal our money… so why do we turn a blind eye when people steal our time?
In fact, it is a pretty common occurrence for co-workers, bosses, even friends to steal our valuable time.

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”
- Ben Franklin
Time is our life.  And you cannot get it back.  Yet, our society has become desensitized to people monopolizing, interrupting, and simply taking our time.
In the workplace, this is rampant.  From meetings that are 4x the length they need to be…to meetings that were unneccesary in the first place.  People do not even think twice about taking our time.
The worst are the “Outlook Outlaws” who mercilessly schedule meetings on people’s calendars without notice or consideration to their time.  These types are constantly calling meetings so that they can get people together.  Perhaps, it is a power trip to make them feel important, or maybe it is done instead of them taking an active role to seek out information. (ie doing work!)
Too often we find that we are scheduled for so many extraneous meetings, that we do not leave any time to get our real work done!

Stop Answering the Phone!

Once upon a time people rushed to answer phones.  For those old enough to remember, you had to get to the phone.

At one point we did not have answering machines.  We did not have even have CallerID.

So, if you didn’t get to the phone…you did not even know who called.

——-

Today is different.  We carry our phones in our pockets.  We take them everywhere.  (Even to the bathroom).

We have CallerId and visual voicemail.  We know who is calling, who called, and what they wanted.
Yet… most people continue to let the phone rule their life instead of using it as a productivity tool.
Too often you see people answering their phones in a meeting.  During a conversation.  And yes, even in the movie theatre and in the bathroom!
——-
Why do we do this?
It is a huge time waster.  And it destroys productivity.
My recommendation to improve your time management and productivity is simple…
Stop Answering the Phone! :)
Experiment: Do not answer your phone for a week.  Yes.  You are going to intentionally miss calls.  If you have visual voicemail or a service that emails your VM’s, you will quickly know what you missed.  You will be surprised how many calls were unnecessary or resolve themselves.  Or better yet, can be addressed later on your timetable.
Just because Johnny wants to know what restaurant you want to eat at next week on the business trip, does not mean he needs to interupt you in the middle of a report you are constructing.
Tips for when you need to answer:
  • Answer  with name of person of the person calling (they should already be in your address book and thus on CallerId)

This lets them know immediately that you know who you are talking to and avoids the “Hi.  Hi, it’s John.  Hi. How are you? Good.  Did I catch you at a good time?”

  • Ask them immediately “What can I do for you?”

Best answer: “Hi John. What can I do for you?”

This can be a bit pointed, but it cuts right to the chase.  You will find that people will very quickly let you know why they are calling.  You can then respond by letting them know what you can do or that this immediate moment is not a good time.
With a little self-control, the phone can be a productivity tool, not a time thief.  It is there for your convenience.  Remember that next time you are tempted to answer it while in the middle of something.
You will probably even make the person you are with feel important since you did not take the call while speaking with them. :)
What are your best phone productivity tips?

What Did You Forget to Pack?

On your last trip, what did you forget to pack?
You would be amazed what people will forget:

  • Socks
  • Cell phone charger
  • Workout shoes
  • Maybe even their brain! (Some people have admitted to this…)

Traveling can be stressful enough, but when you are disorganized and worrying about packing it only adds to your Life Friction.

The Power of a Travel Packlist
Whether it is for business or personal, it always seems to be a complicated evolution to gather the items for you trip. The best way to make the process easier and less stressful, is to make it repeatable.

A travel packlist is just that, a simple list of all the things you need to bring. By having a list, you can use it each and every time that you need to pack whether for a business trip or vacation.

(If you think you do not need or are above having a packlist, please go back to the first paragraph to see what you forgot…)

How to Make Your Packlist & Where to Keep it

It is easy to write your list by starting with some simple categories. You will also find that this grouping helps when packing. Here are the sections of my packlist:

  • Clothes – All clothing items both business and casual
  • Toiletries – all toiletries down to and including Tylenol
  • Gym – All the stuff needed to workout whether shoes or gym clothes
  • Other – miscellaneous stuff ranging from business cards to my travel wallet
  • Gear – In this age of technology, this section ranges from noise-cancelling headphones to my cell phone charger

Again, these are my categories. Choose your own and personalize your list.

The best way to maintain this list is in a spreadsheet. That way you know exactly where it is (filed on your computer) and can simply print a fresh copy each time you need to pack.

Evolves Over Time
You will find that your packlist evolves and becomes even more powerful over time. When you travel, you will discover things that are not on the list. Either you had not considered them or your needs have changed. Make sure you are updating your list to add things you want to remember next time.

You will even find that you will delete things off the list as they become obsolete. For example, I no longer pack an iPod, because all my music is on my phone.

Better Travel

WIth your travel packlist, you will find that you pack in less time, with less stress, and with fewer forgotten items.

It may even prevent you from buying another cell phone charger on that next business trip.  :)

Best wishes on your future travels!

The Visible Todo List

Where is your Todo List?

And more importantly, when was the last time you looked at it?

The idea of a todo list is to capture the things you need to do, so that you can get them off your mind, and you can continue the business at hand. However, all that is worthless if you never look at the list again.

Are you one of those people who finds lists that you made days or weeks later?

One list and one list only, please.

Lets start with the basics.  You should have one list.

People fall into the trap of capturing their todos in too many places.  An inbox, their email, their phone, an online web app. The problem here is too many places to look in order to know what you should be doing.

Todos belong in one place and one place only… on your one todo list.

Again, the medium is not important. I don’t care if you use pad of paper, a sticky note, a web application, an iPhone… whatever… but pick one. It is about putting all your todos in one place.

Now that we have one list, it is time to act on it.

You have to keep your todo list visible.

Your todo list should be with you and visible at all times.

The issue with Dayplanner and technology based todos lists is that they are very easy to be out of sight, and out of mind.  If your todos are on a website, how often are you able to look at them?  If your dayplanner is closed or not with you, how can you review your tasks?  When I used a dayplanner, I would stick my todo list on the front cover of the binder.  That way it was visible even when the dayplanner was shut.

Visibility leads to action.

When your todo list is readily reviewed, it leads to increased prodcutivity and getting your priorities done.

Try keeping your one todo list visible at all times.

What other tips do you have for keeping your todo list visible?

Freeze! Nobody move! What is on your desk?

Freeze! Nobody move!
This is an inspection. What is on your desk…right now???
Papers. Post-its? highlighters? Binders from last month? Unfinished sodas? Last year’s magazines?

How are you working in that mess?
I recommend that you start each day by spending 5 minutes cleaning up your workspace.  It will pay off in spades in terms of productivity.  (When was the last time you “lost” something on your desk?)

And no…we are not buying the “they are organized piles…I know where everything is” excuse.

File it or Trash it

If you are not immediately working on it, either “file it” or “trash it.”

Personally, I prefer the “trash it” method.  Put away what you need and then get rid of what you don’t in order to get your workspace clean.

Productivity Increase

You will find that a few things happen if you regularly clean your workspace:

  • You will be able to work on the task at hand without shuffling other things on your desk.
  • You will not “lose” things on your desk.
  • You peers will notice your “new” reduced clutter attitude.  They may follow suit.
  • You will have less accidents knocking stuff off your desk.  (Don’t say it doesn’t happen).
  • You will get more done. Period.
Cleaning your workspace is a prefect example of where “spending time” pays with more time later.
So, what are you waiting for…clean up your workspace for 5 minutes!
PS – There will be another inspection… :)