I was doing a review with one of my direct reports last week when he said that he wanted my help on how to manage time to do all the activities that he was required to do. He was trying hard to stay on top of the gamut of activities that he had to do, but he found it overwhelming. Now, that resonated with me and I am sure everyone has felt like this at some point in their lives as well and many still do. We all seem to be part of a maddening race and are trying to rush through it not knowing where we are going next. I read a funny comment on the internet that sums up how we feel about this whole thing – “me panicking over due dates then panicking over lack of time and then panicking because I am panicking”.
Nevertheless, I decided to hold a discussion with my team members and ask them if they all felt the same way about time and not surprisingly they all did. I was also struck when I realized one more strange fact – people rarely talk about their problems, unless you take the pain of asking them. Anyways, since all my team members were facing issues with lack of time, I thought of sharing my knowledge with them about time management – not that I am an expert in this field and if I had shared, with them, how many times I had the sinking feeling myself that there is not enough time to do all the things I want to do, I am sure they would have been left dumbfounded.
I tried to recall what I had studied in a few HBR (Harvard Business Review) articles and a few other books on the same subject. I realized most of what I had read, I had forgotten, but I could not tell that to my direct reports. So, I tried to focus on a method that involves 3 simple steps in order to manage time and carry out the tasks at hand.
Step 1: Set clear goals (either weekly or daily).
You need to do this at the beginning of the week (or when you start your day, if that works for you). List down what are the things you want to accomplish during the course of the week.
Step 2: Rank them in order of priority
Now this is the tricky part. Most people stumble here as they find it difficult to understand which task they should do first and which ones they can try later and in the process often start to procrastinate. That is why you need to prepare a priority matrix. It looks like this:
|Importance / Urgency||Urgent||Not Urgent|
Do it now.
Customer Enquiries / Escalations
Schedule a time for it.
Who can do it for you?
Book a ticket
Schedule a meeting
Answer some e-mails
Checking Social Media
Unnecessary chit chat
This matrix has many versions and it is known as the Eisenhower Matrix. The examples given are just for the purpose of understanding and are not an exhaustive list. The question is: How do you determine which tasks to put under which box? For example, how do you know which task is important and not urgent? And so on and so forth. At least that was the problem my team members were facing.
A general rule of thumb is to consider the impact of each task. Ask yourself some questions like:
- What will happen if I don’t do this task now?
- What will happen if someone else does this task?
- What benefits can we get if I complete this activity?
- Who are the stakeholders and what is at stake?
- In the long run (6 months or a year) what will matter most?
- What can I eliminate and what can I delegate?
This will help you determine where to put the task in the Eisenhower matrix.
President Dwight Eisenhower had summed it up succinctly – “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”.
Step 3: Do the tasks.
It is all good to think and plan and prepare matrices, but eventually you have to do the work. The sooner you get them done, the better. Just do the tasks according to the matrix you have prepared and get them off the list. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and inspire confidence. You will feel more relaxed. Once the week is over (or the day, if you follow a daily plan) – review what you have accomplished and ask what could you have done better.
Time management is also a skill and it requires patience and practice to master it. Although, much of the things I discussed were related to work place and how you manage time to do complete different tasks, the same concept can be applied to personal life as well. For example a mother of a toddler can also use the same technique to plan her day and find relief after completing all the errands at hand efficiently. In fact it can be applied by anyone in almost any setting.
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