5 Steps to Effective Time Management

As much as everyone likes to think they're highly effective, the simple truth is, most of us aren't.  I've definitely got my own days where things just don't get done, even though I feel I've been busy the whole day and in fact, these days can often translate into weeks.  So how does one get effective?  Generally speaking, I think there are three aspects to becoming a more effective worker.  These are Work Style, Time Management and Task Selection.  I might wright a bit on work style and task selection later, but for today, I'm only touching on Time Management.
Effective time management, like most things, needs to be simple and while I keep tweaking my own style, so far, it's working quite well for me.  In a nutshell, here's what I do (in 5-10 minutes while eating breakfast) to schedule my work day:
  1.  List the top 5-10 tasks that I think need to get done.  This could be things that are due today, or towards a project 6 months from now.  Have your calendar handy when you do this (preferably sitting in your smart phone) and know your schedule.
  2. For each item, be brutally honest with yourself and ask "does it really need to be done, is it just busy work, or should it be delegated (note: if the answer is delegated, you may still want a task to delegate it).
  3. Beside each, write down how much time you think each will take to get done, or if it is something that requires extensive effort, write down how much time you will spend on it today.  If it will take more than a couple of hours, I tend to put 2 hours. A simple fact of the brain is that it tends to lose focus and I find I'm more productive breaking a large task up across a few days than I am trying to power through a singe task.
  4. Prioritize the items.  I wait until I've written down the times for each as I like to take into account a "bang for the buck" on my time when prioritizing.
  5. And the latest tweak of mine that has made a significant improvement on my effectiveness by eliminating time waster: Schedule your day based on these priorities and time estimates.  Note:
    • I recommend doing this on an index card or something equally easy to carry around. I prefer this over putting it into my phone as I can set it beside my laptop where it's more visible.
    • This may well mean dropping some of the tasks.  This is why we prioritized them.
    • A short priorty 8 may get scheduled over a long priority 5, depending on how much time priorities 1, 2, etc take.
    • Schedule some time for checking email, facebook, twitter, lunch, etc. and only check these items in their scheduled time.  This touches more on work style, but if you're a highly efficient multi-tasker who can do these things while working... well, you're still about as efficient a poor unitasker - get over it (perhaps that'll be another post some day).
By the time I'm done my morning meal, I'll end up with a list that looks something like this:
  • 8:00 - 10:00 - Work on Risk Management Plan Template
  • 10:00 - 10:30 - Purge team document folder of duplicates
  • 10:30 - 12:00 - Write guidelines for checking out & checking in documents to the team folder
  • 12:00 - 1:00 - Check email / Lunch
  • 1:00 - 2:30 - Work on lesson plan outlines for online courses
  • 2:30 - 3:00 - Conference call with team
  • 3:00 - 4:00 - Read
  • 4:00 - 4:30 - Check email
Then I simply work through the day focusing on each task, switching at the appropriate time.  If the first task needs more time than planned, I still stop, switch to the next one, and simply schedule time to return to it the following day.

In the spirit of brevity, I'll leave it there for now and leave you with some further reading if you're interested:

Further Reading:

The Goal: Book Review

The Goal is a fantastic business novel that wraps up a whole lot of common sense that most of us miss.  The novel follows Alex Rogo, a manager in a manufacturing plant that is in danger of going out of business as he and his team figure out how to get back into the black and making money.  Aside from being a reasonably well written novel, the advice provided through out the book is great and has application in many more areas of business and industry than just manufacturing.

The first point of common sense it comes to is the goal of any business.  In its simplest form, the goal of every business should be to make money.  This gets elaborated on more in the statement: The goal is to make money by increasing net profit while simultaneously increasing ROI and simultaneously increasing cash flow.  This is done through these areas:

    1. Throughput: the rate a system generates money through sales. This is your money coming into the system.
    2. Inventory: all the money that the system has invested in purchasing things which it intends to sell. This is money stuck in the system.
    3. Operational Expense: All the money the system spends in order to turn inventory into throughput. This is the money going out of the system.

    While all of this will likely make sense to anyone in business, the even more valuable lesson learned within the book is the importance of measuring these three areas and NOT worrying so much about irrelevant measurements, which is pretty much every other measurement we seem to use.   Examples of what not to measure in manufacturing seemed to focus around efficiencies and keeping people busy while in software, it would be common measurements such as lines of code written per hour or a daily defect fix rate.  While I have no doubt people will quickly disagree with this concept, the genius of the book is showing just how important these measurements are.

    Once Alex and his team come to understand this, they then delve into managing by the theory of constraints which, after realizing the above, focuses on 
    1. What to change.
    2. What it has to change to and
    3. How to change it.
    The book is very effective due to its readability and common sense approach and definitely worth a read. 

    Written by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox

    Goldratt`s site, while advertising his consulting and services also has a number of good free resources on the theory of constraints and more.

    Making Things Happen: Book Review

    A great book that I'm revisiting as I write the curriculum for my risk management training program (which will later be found at http://www.risksandissues.com).  So, in revisiting this book, and since I'm a definite fan of it, I thought I'd write a quick review.

    While the PMI and their published book of knowledge (PMBOK) are considered by many to be the standard in IT project management, I found this book to go far above and beyond those. While the PMBOK is a great reference book for various PM related tools, this book actually speaks to how to manage, how to deal with difficult situations, and many simple tricks of the trade.

    It also demystifies project management and speaks to it at a level where anyone can grasp its basics.  For anyone who has read the PMBOK, you'll quickly notice that this book, while just as thick, doesn't cover many of the areas that the PMBOK does.  Instead, it seems to follow more of the 80/20 rule in that it covers the 20% of project management that provides you with 80% of what you need although in reality, the 20% it covers is more like 95% of what you'll need and rather than diving complex processes with inputs like "Enterprise Environmental Factors", tools like Monte Carlos and Ishikawa diagrams, or massive outputs that would need a team of consultants to develop, it speaks on how to use simple lists, effective meetings and common sense.

    If you're studying to get your PMP or CAPM certifications, get the PMBOK (or better yet, this PMP Prep Book).  If you're trying to manage project, get this book!

    I highly recommend this for Project Managers, Managers and Team Leaders.

    Presentation Zen: Book Review

    I've just finished Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds and LOVED THIS BOOK.

    The layout and use of imagery in the book alone are worth the price as it's a beautiful book, but more importantly, the concepts and examples of slides are a must see and read for anyone who gives presentations as part of their job, schooling or other activities.

    This book is the difference between boring, bullet-point, text heavy presentations that mimic (and distract from) the presenter; and being able to create a multi-media presentation that engages your audience.

    Basically, it goes through a number of dos and don'ts for developing slides without setting hard rules. The Before/After examples of slides are hugely invaluable (I saw my own work in the before slides more often than I'd like to admit) and a number of links to additional resources are also available.

    Topics Covered: Creativity, Planning, Story Telling, Simplicity, Design Principles & Techniques, Being Present

    Who needs this book: Anyone doing multi-media presentations.