We want to talk to you about personal time management. This subject is a little bit of a detour from our more specific project management program. But we believe that time management is an issue that affects everyone, and it’s important that you know how to deal with it.
Your ability to maximize your team and your own productivity by maximizing your time and how you use it will greatly influence the results you get. That’s why we’re going to help you improve your time management by sharing some simple strategies that you can implement immediately. They’re easy, and you’re going to start seeing amazing results right away.
The best methods for upping productivity are based on two key objectives: The first objective is to capture all the things that need to be done – now, later, someday, big, little, or in between – into a logical and trusted system that’s outside of your head and off your mind. The second objective is to discipline yourself to make front-end decisions about all the inputs that you let into your life, so that you’ll always have a plan for next actions that can be implemented at any moment.
Most people these days will tell you that they have too much to do and not enough time to get it done. We’ve enhanced our quality of life in so many ways, yet, ironically, we nearly kill ourselves with stress by taking on more work than we have the resources to deal with.
That’s why time management is so important, because it’s really a kind of stress management. Have you ever wondered why you can’t seem to shut down your brain at night when you’re trying to fall asleep? Why are so many thoughts running through your mind all the time? That’s stress. Now let me explain how stress is created. It’s not just the big problems that create stress. All of the little unresolved tasks that we have to deal with sit at the back of our heads, subconsciously creating tension. As soon as you attach a “should” or “need to” to a task, it becomes incomplete. Decisions that you still need to make about whether or not you’re going to do something are already incomplete. If you put your mind’s attention on something that needs to be done, and then don’t complete it because it’s low on the priority list, your mind will have already created an open process that keeps running in the back of your mind, and is going to keep bothering you to complete the task. Worse of all, it takes up your energy and prevents you from having a clear focus on your more important tasks.
It’s kind of like your Windows Task Manager. When you open Task Manager, you see that there are a lot of processes running in the background – processes that you didn’t even know existed. Many of them don’t do anything for days, but there they are consuming your computer memory and causing it to run slowly. But if you shut down the processes that you don’t use, then it frees up the memory and your computer will run faster.
All these open processes create stress. So how do we handle all these processes and how do we minimize stress? The key is to clear the open processes from our mind by having something else managing them.
Usually the reason something is on your mind is because you want the situation to be different than what it currently is. The problem is, you haven’t yet worked out exactly what the intended outcome is, you haven’t decided what the next physical step is, and you haven’t put reminders of the outcome and the action required into a system you trust.
And until you do all that, your brain will refuse to put the matter to rest. You can try to fool the people around you by acting like everything’s okay, but you can’t fool your mind. Only it knows whether or not you’ve come to the conclusions you need. Until you clarify your thoughts, make the decisions, and store the data in a system you can trust, your brain will keep nagging you about the next step and adding to your stress.
You should start by clearing your schedule of all the most urgent projects. Try writing down the project or task that is weighing most heavily on your mind right at this moment. What’s bothering you most, or causing the most distraction? Maybe it’s something that truly interests you or that you’re really passionate about. The point is to identify whatever is consuming you most.
Once you have figured that out, describe your intended successful outcome for this situation in a single, written sentence. What would need to happen for you to be able to check this project off your list? That sentence might be “Handle the situation with Client X” or “Implement a new investment strategy,” or any number of other things. Next, write down the first physical action required to move the situation forward. If you had nothing to do, where would you go right now? What visible action would you take? Does it give you a sense of control and motivation to act? It should. And it’s through this kind of organization and decisive action that you will pursue and reach your goals.
That brings us to the question of how you process this information. First of all, you need to determine what the item is and what you’re going to do about it. For example, maybe you have letters from the bank or the government. Or maybe you received an email from a supervisor about a new company policy.
Ask yourself: Is this item actionable, yes or no? If no action is needed, then you have three options. One, it’s trash – so throw it away. Two, no action is necessary now, but you might need to do something later on, so you mark this item for later reassessment. Three, the item is potentially useful information that you might need later on, so you can classify it as a reference item and file it away.
If it is actionable, then something has to be done. So, ask yourself: What project or outcome have I committed to? And also, what’s the next action required? Determining the next action is a critical step for anything you’ve collected. The next action is the next physical activity that has to be done in order to move the current situation to completion.
Once you’ve decided on the next action, you have three options. Option One: Do it. If that action will take under two minutes, you should do it then and there. Option Two: Delegate it. If you aren’t the right person to do the job, assign it to the appropriate person or entity. Option Three: Defer it. If the action is going to take more than two minutes, and you are in fact the right person to do it, then you can track it for later on a Next Actions list.