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Time Management

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People have two problems in life. Knowing what they want and knowing how to get it.

Some mistakenly think of time management as a single skill. Which explains why so many are bad at it. It is a set of interrelated skills when used together consistently, helps manage time more effectively.

Skills of Time Management:
1. Focus
2. Goal Setting
3. Planning
4. Prioritizing Tasks
5. Monitoring Time Usage
6. Follow Through

Focus
Focus is the ability to pay attention in the moment. Focus requires ignoring distractions (Friends, TV, Facebook, Games, etc.). Stay on task and accomplishing one thing at a time. Humans are biologically wired to focus on one task at a time. (unless diagnosed with ADHD)

To manage time better the myth of “Multi-Tasking” must be put to rest. Try this quick exercise to demonstrate how multi-tasking wastes time. At the top of a standard sheet of paper write, first and last name. Underneath it, write out numbers counting each letter in first and last names.

This as a template. Use a timer, there are many available for smart phones. The purpose of this exercise is to record how long it takes to write words and numbers. This is not a race. Write at a normal rate. Stop the timer and save the value next to it. This is the control case of doing one task at a time.

Now for the multi-task case. Start the timer and write one letter and then switch to writing a number below it. Alternate between writing letters and numbers until you finish. Stop the timer and record the results. You’ll notice is it much slower. We learn at an early age to focus on writing one word at a time. Switching between letters and numbers changes channels in the brain. This causes confusion by dividing focus. Anything that divides focus causes stress, frustration, and wasted time. Multi-Tasking is the worst myth perpetuated on modern society by misinformed corporations. REFUSE TO DO IT.

Companies that pay hourly are especially prone to this line of thinking. They squeeze employees to get as much work out of them per hour as possible. Chasing the clock only increases stress and burnout.

Goal Setting
A goal is simply a statement of a desired result. Start with the end in mind. What does it look like? Create a clear picture of the outcome required. Write it down.

When working in a group it is essential that all team members communicate the result of a task as clearly as possible. Any confusion or vague descriptions waste time. Team members must go back and forth asking questions to clarify the task before it can be completed.

Understand how to break large projects down into smaller bite-sized chunks that can be accomplished in 30 minutes or less. Average human attention span is 30 to 40 minutes. Frequent short breaks help reset the brain and maximize effective productivity. Institutions that do not communicate, manage time, or plan well will cause employees to divide their attention. Again, divided attention wastes time, causes mistakes, stress, frustration and burnout.

Planning

Those who fail to plan, are planning to fail.

Planning is the skill of using a Calendar to schedule tasks with deadlines over days, weeks, and months. As stated before, some tasks will be too large to accomplish in a 30-minute work block, or even one day. Instead create a project with a clearly defined outcome. Break down the larger vision into smaller tasks. Schedule these tasks logically so they build on each other over time. Space tasks out to give room for unforeseen errors, delays, and necessary breaks. People are not machines.

While planning, remember to schedule time for reviewing the plan weekly and making updates as things change.

Prioritizing Tasks
During planning consider which tasks will have the most impact and/or can be completed quickly. Prioritize those tasks by moving them to the top of the list or scheduling them first. Doing this ensures they get completed first. This maximizes efficient use of time as more complex task will require more time to complete.

Monitoring time usage
This is the most difficult aspect of time management. Once the goals have been set and tasks scheduled it is time to work each task in the list. While working on each task it is important to stay aware of time usage. Either adjusting working speed or revising estimates of how long each task will take to complete.

Take notes after each task to denote its completion and its duration. Consistent monitoring and note taking develops a better sense of time estimation and task management.

Follow Through
Get to work as soon as possible. Without follow through, nothing gets done.

Don’t get stuck in “Analysis paralysis”. Wasting time deciding what tasks need to be done and/or planning things out perfectly is counter-productive. No plan or task can be perfect. Instead, aim to understanding the desired outcome and then take action.

The point of time management is to get things done. Don’t waste time by adding more busy work. When working solo many of these steps can be combined, condensed, and streamlined.

When working in a group it is recommended to clearly define the terms, process, and procedures for time management before work begins. Making sure to emphasize clear simple communication between members. Nothing kills productivity faster than two or more people using the same words while assigning different meanings.

This is a general system that can be adapted to suit most people.

For a more advanced time management system please read Getting Things Done by David Allen