21 Ways to make more time by Richard Barton
ONE of author Richard Barton’s clients described the problem this book addresses succinctly: “I’ve just got too much to do - it doesn’t matter how much I plan or arrange it all, I simply haven’t the time to get it all done.”
Many assume that time management is simply a matter of planning, but only a few of our time challenges can be solved by planning alone. In fact, drawing up elaborate plans all too often becomes another displacement activity, something we do to displace the activity we ought to do. Spending time on planning is necessary, but it is not sufficient.
Time management problems originate from many quarters and poor management is a common cause. It is unequivocally the manager’s responsibility to ensure that delegated tasks are clearly and precisely communicated. Add to this the “matrix management” where a staff member is not only confused by one manager, but by multiple managers!
Barton advises all staff to make a habit of clarifying assignments so as to avoid wasting time by conscientiously working on the wrong task. This advice must apply to anything greater than the trivial size tasks.
A powerful technique for getting tasks under control is simply saying “No!” – but, of course, it is too often not that easy to say. Some people have learned as children that saying no is impolite and that one should do as one is told. The consequence of the inability to say “no” is that more and more work is accepted until it becomes unmanageable.
However, there are many ways of saying “no” politely and amicably. Barton offers several suggestions, one of which is saying: “I could do as you ask, but that will mean that the monthly accounts will not be finished until next week.” In effect you are not saying no, you are merely explaining the consequences of your saying yes.
Another facet of time management that needs consideration is whether the task really has to get done at all. A consequential amount of time is spent doing what shouldn’t be done. On assuming a new position when he was a line manager, Barton noted that one of his staff produced a lengthy report every month that took two days to compile. When Barton asked who reads it, she wasn’t sure, it was sent to many people none of whom had even given feedback. He told her to stop producing the report and no one ever asked what had happened to it!
If you are one of those who find that others waste your time with purposeless chatting, you would do well to “watch your messages”. Are you sending the signal that people can take up your time in this way? If so you would do well to consider how you can change the message.
What time we do have is often wasted by our poor work methods. For example, many people spend far longer looking for things than they realize and it would probably take less time organizing the storage of your materials that it does to search for them.
Add to this a common complaint of the incessant bombardment of email and other messages you receive that interrupts your other activities. The secret we don’t talk about is that emails and other intrusions don’t take any time at all unless you let them. They certainly don’t need to interrupt work requiring concentration, you can close your email and messaging apps, and you can divert your phone to voicemail.
Many people claim that they don’t need to turn their phones off because they can multitask. There is no evidence at all to support this, in fact, working on one task at a time exclusively for a quality period of time has been proven over and over to be more productive. The problem is only that it is less fun.
Planning does play a role and prioritising and allocating activities to appropriate times cannot be avoided. It is, for example, prudent to have a ‘B-list’ of tasks which are not so important that quality time should be put aside for them, and are not so urgent that they need to be done anytime soon.
These should be allocated to “dead time”, those periods when we could be doing something useful, but usually do not. Waiting for meetings, flying or travelling by train is “dead time” and a lot of B-list work can be attended to.
Barton recommends dividing your day or week into colours representing the urgency and importance of the task. Red time is for working on important tasks, the activities you have been employed to do.
Time needs to be booked out for this and red time needs to be scheduled for when you are at your best. “I’m going to deal with this on Tuesday at 8 a.m.” and then keep that appointment. Green time is when you are available for other people; orange time is when you batch process your routine tasks, and so on.
If all you do is start to consciously decide what you want to spend time on during different parts of the day or the week, you are starting to take back control over your time.
What this book aims to do is to provide food for thought. It will certainly make you reflect on the choices you are currently making about how you use your time.
Readability Light +---- Serious
Insights High ---+- Low
Practical High ----+ Low
* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy.