With deadlines approaching and multiple requests hitting left and right—Anne, are you going to be able to get to that letter today? What about that Task Order? Can you review this contract now and provide comments by three o’clock? I have a meeting at four—I’ve reached the inevitable conclusion that there isn’t enough time to get it all done on a given day. Why couldn’t I get that one thing accomplished? It was the first thing on my “to do” list! I sometimes jokingly refer to this phenomenon as work-induced A.D.D.
Yes, I’m a user of the “to do” list. I write it out every day, usually the day before, so I can focus on those items that need to be accomplished, either that day, or during the week. If I don’t, I stress out and my poor little brain won’t turn off at home because I worry about forgetting something that needs to be done at the office.
I go to work. The day is progressing and I’m moving fast and furious. The wheels are turning and things are moving right along. I’m productive, right? Sure I am, but I’m looking at my list, now modified with multiple pen colors; check marks here; additions there, and there’s that one thing, still undone. I tell myself it’s the next thing I’ve got to do, before anything else—except there’s another email request. It will only take a minute to shoot a response back. A phone call. A quick drive-by question from a co-worker. A need to clarify something from someone else at the other end of the office—need to catch them while they’re actually in the office. Two hours have gone by and I still haven’t gotten to that one thing.
It isn’t just me though so I’m readdressing something basic that I touched on quite a few years back in a Behind the Design article. Most of us (if not all) juggle time management on a daily basis.
More and more often, I wonder why I’m unable to accomplish everything I need to. Where does the time go and why can’t I get more of it? Well, first things first: time doesn’t go anywhere. It isn’t lost and I can’t get any more or less of it. I’m living it.
Time management is not about managing time, it’s managing myself around it. I did a little research into the matter and came across some very helpful hints I thought I would pass along.
Time management is crucial in business (time is money) as well as on a personal level. Too often, how we spend our time is only thought of in terms of “What am I going to do today?” and “What should I do next?”
The first step in effective time management is not to develop a schedule, but instead develop a time strategy based on a short list of priorities every day.
How long will it take me to accomplish that one thing and what do I need in order to get it done? How do I work best? What time of day gives me the most focus?
Me, I am easily distracted by “bright-and-shiny” email. Now, I turn off outlook for the duration it takes me to accomplish the task.
Establishing priorities is subjective, especially when dealing with activities that are neither urgent nor particularly important in relation to other tasks requiring immediate attention. Take a look at the job that just isn’t getting done and see if it can be redefined in terms of the ultimate benefit received for doing it.
I am not ashamed to admit that I am a procrastinator when it comes to a few things needing to be dealt with. There are many reasons why: I haven’t really committed to doing it; I’m afraid of doing it; I don’t place a high enough priority on doing it; I don’t know enough about it to do it or, I just don’t want to do it.
The fewer priorities I focus on at once, the more productive I am. Multi-tasking is great in theory, and a popular trait to list in job descriptions but does it work? Not for me, or at least, not anymore. My role is now specialized whereas twenty years ago in my career, I was trying to discover my niche and could juggle more.
Next, try to make sure day-to-day issues don’t push priorities. Constant interruption kills any hope of effective time management. (Earplugs might be helpful. Mine are shaped like headphones. Oh wait, they are headphones!)
I have learned that it is best to be prepared for the unknown events that will inevitably pop up: the last minute project my boss plops on my desk needing to be done now.
Finally, it is important to keep career life and family life separate. In doing so, you can create a value-based time management plan. In layman’s terms: spend more time on what you value most. Make a list of what is important to you. How much time do you devote to the top three priorities on your list? Does the way you spend your time truly reflect your values? Are you mistaken about your priorities?
So, with all that, I can safely say that I successfully got that one thing done and off my “to do” list. Whew…
Check out some valuable SDA resources available to you for items that might be on your “to do” list:
Share your tips in the comment box below for getting things accomplished in your daily world!
Anne McNeely, CDFA is the Project Administration Manager
for Fentress Architects in Denver, CO