Achieving MORE with LESS hours

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Have you been a dealing with too many urgent tasks at hand?

Ever been a victim of “paralysis by analysis”?

Ever felt like you have spent a lot of time working on a lot of different things but haven’t really completed anything?

Part of being globally competitive is to understand and learn how to manage and schedule your workloads smartly. Below are needful information that every Filipino can learn and utilize to perform better in their everyday job.

This article aims to share with you theoretical understanding of time management basics and principles, and some simple practical how-to’s that can help you address and approach these challenges.

By the end of this article, you will have the basic understanding of planning and scheduling your workload without becoming stressed or compromising the quality of your work but instead perform better with lesser hours.

You can evaluate these as you go on to continually improve your productivity.

 

WHAT IS TASK MANAGEMENT?

Task/Work Management can be defined as the process of properly arranging and controlling the tasks/workloads which will result to an increase in productivity.

 

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Task management is highly significant for most professionals in the industry. During the life of a project, you will have to face the inevitable – having to complete a range of demands at the same time.

If not managed properly, this can result in all of the tasks being done to a lower quality than you would have achieved just to meet the deadline, or not having completed any task because you were paralysed by indecision about what to do first.

If you have experienced these before or experiencing it now, read further as we have listed some basics principles of how you can best approach it.

 

HOW CAN I ACHIEVE MORE?

While we are always working at our best to meet Client’s standards, schedule and budget, by controlling our time and properly arranging the load, we can complete and achieve more, thus enhancing overall productivity.

  1. First thing you need to do is plan.“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

Some might think that planning is not how they work or is not important. If in your line of work this is not the normal practice, then it is much more valuable for you to start doing it. Be an example.

Planning indicates a good sense of professionalism, direction and perspective. This is one of the common habits of the most successful people. Please keep this in mind.

A quick story from Dale Carnegie about how planning is likened to sharpening the axe of a woodsman:

There were two men who were out chopping wood. One man worked hard all day, took no breaks, and only stopped briefly for lunch. The other chopper took several breaks during the day and a short nap at lunch. At the end of the day, the woodsman who had taken no breaks was quite disturbed to realize that, the other guy had cut more wood. “I don’t understand. Every time I looked around, you were sitting down, yet you cut more wood than I did”, he lamented. His companion asked, “Did you also notice that while I was sitting down, I was sharpening my axe?”

Abraham Lincoln popularized the saying “If I had four hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first two hours sharpening the axe”.

Nonetheless, being able to strategically plan your activities will free up more time to do something else. List down all your activities on a given timeframe(i.e. weekly, daily, monthly, etc.)

It will be helpful to use the Time Management Matrix popularized by Stephen Covey as shown below. All of your tasks will fall under one of these quadrants.

IMPORTANT BUT NOT URGENT

 

This matrix shows the use of four quadrants to determine the tasks you need to do and in deciding your priorities and help you deal with truly urgent issues while also working on important longer-term goals.

Before we continue, I would like to take a slight detour and introduce the 80-20 principle by Vilfredo Pareto.

Vilfredo Pareto is an Italian engineer and economist. The Pareto principle was named after him and built on observations of his such as that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

This was then called the 80/20 rule.

The principle had since been applied not only in economics but in a lot of things, including time management.

What’s the best example for this you may ask?

The answer is shown on your Time Management Matrix once you have completed it. You will see that 80% of your activities results only to 20% of your required output. Most of the time are spent on unimportant tasks such as reading unimportant and unactionable emails, irrelevant phone calls, etc. However, the 20% of the tasks which are listed under the “important and urgent” will results to 80% of your required output. Working on these 20% increases your effectiveness and productivity.

This is actually what they call “working smarter”. Focusing on the most important tasks and what actually matter.

Let’s go back to the matrix.

After identifying and listing your weekly/monthly tasks, put each into one of the categories.

Put a schedule on each tasks based on its importance and urgency. Plan and schedule activities sensibly and logically. You have to understand that after you plan, you need to execute it. So bear in mind which of those tasks are attainable given the time that you have to do it.

When putting the dates on each activities, it helps to be mindful of the following tips. These are recommendation that can help you boost productivity and lessen boredom.

  • As much as possible, put those tasks that you loved doing on Mondays. This can help you overcome that stereotypical “Monday sickness/blues” and keeps you excited to start the week. In our industry, we often observe that Mondays have been a staple day for meetings. It shouldn’t come up as a surprise as this is the day to strategize and get updates on the activities for the whole week.
  • Assess how you work best and what time of the day it is. You should know yourself very well. Some people might like doing the heavy tasks in the morning when they have all the energy. If you are working with other people on different time zone, then afternoon can be the best time for you to do the meetings and telecons. Schedule your tasks wisely based on what you believe can be most efficient.

The use of the Time Management matrix is not limited to your workloads but can also be of use in any business, personal and career planning.

Make planning a habit.

2) Execute your plan

It doesn’t matter how perfect and well-thought your plans are, if you don’t work on it and execute it, it’s useless.

Now that you’re done planning, focus on completing those things one at a time based on its importance and urgency. We have listed some pointers how to tackle the activities on each of the quadrant.

But…

Before we go into the details, it is important to be reminded of this article’s mission which is to help you perform better with lesser hours.

I would invite you to ponder on the following points.

 

  • Let’s define being efficient vs effective:

Efficient – being very good at a certain task whether or not it is important

Effective – accomplishing the important

Aim to be effective and efficient. However, in relation to productivity, it is best to be effective. Do and complete those tasks which are important and will give you the maximum output as referred to the 80-20 rule.

Busyness can sometimes be associated with massive actions without clearly defined objective. You might have worked non-stop for a day, but didn’t accomplish a single goal. Either you jumped from one task to another or used up all your time on irrelevant, unimportant and unactionable tasks.

Prioritize and plan your activities accordingly.

 

  • Beware of multi-tasking.Multitask 250x250

If you plan and prioritize properly, there should be no need to multitask.

Starting a number of jobs simultaneously means most of them won’t get your undivided attention. This can result to a subpar quality.

It is much better to complete 3 tasks incredibly well, than doing 10 things half-baked.

There is a saying that multi-tasking kills productivity.

Stay laser-focused on completing one task at a time, following your plan or to-do list.

 

Quadrant 1: NOT URGENT & NOT IMPORTANT TASKS

Consciously cutting out unproductive conversations, numerous tea/coffee breaks, or any of the other little time wasters in your schedule takes some will power but it is worth it. Of course, you still need human contact every now and again, but being aware of how much time you are spending on those things will help you to control your activities.

If possible, eliminate yourself from this. Learn to say no when it matters.

One way to have more time doing the important is to free your time from the unimportant.

 

Quadrant 2: NOT IMPORTANT BUT URGENT

Consider delegation. If your time is all spent doing the important and urgent ones, don’t be afraid to pass some of these duties onto other capable people.

People values the trust that you give to each other. Giving them responsibility even for minor activities can boost their self-esteem and make them more productive as well.

The time spent teaching someone else to do one of your tasks is soon made up for.

Managing communications/meeting. Make effective telephone calls (don’t stay on hold, leave clear messages etc.). Attend only meetings that it is necessary or advantageous to attend. Ensure you are prepared for it so that it achieves something.

An agenda has to be prepared and sent to each parties ahead of time. The discussion should be focused on closing each points in the agenda, and not to come up with more lists leading to subsequent follow up meetings.

Decisions can be made and actions assigned only if you have clear thoughts on the issue and are aware of what’s going on.

 

Quadrant 3: NOT URGENT BUT IMPORTANT

Schedule a time on doing these progressively ensuring that it will not end up on the “urgent and important” quadrant.

Ensure that you are “in the zone” when working on these tasks. Remove all possible distractions to stay laser-focused.

 

Quadrant 4: IMPORTANT & URGENT

As previously indicated, these tasks needs to be dealt with immediately. These are the 20% of your activities that will deliver you 80% of the results that you need.

You should ideally have 2-3 lists of important and urgent tasks to be completed for a certain period(i.e. per week, month, etc.). Focus to work and complete these.

This time, let me introduce to you…

Parkinson’s Law

  • is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

If you happen to have an activity/task which is scheduled to be completed in a week, chances are you will plan, work and finish that in a week. However, it does not necessarily mean that it takes 7 days to complete.

In some cases, you can and most probably have done it on the last day before submittal. You crammed. What happened to the rest of days that you had allocated? It vanishes away. Time is wasted because so much time is available. This is Parkinson’s Law.

Work contracts or expands to fit in the time we allotted for it.

Learn to implement this law to the important & urgent tasks. Provide a challenging schedule for these tasks and complete it within the given time.  When you gradually train yourself on this, you can be the most productive and efficient person in your office.

I personally write down a list of the daily activities that I need to work on a daily and weekly basis, whether it be reviewing of vendor documents, preparation of datasheets, RFQ, etc. and challenge myself to complete it.

Always aim to improve yourself but don’t commit on something that is unattainable.

TIP:

If these important activities contains but repetitive work (i.e. checking similar drawings, performing bulk of activities, etc.), consider batching. Batching is arranging things or activities in sets or groups. Devote a particular time like 30 mins. for a batch of tasks and focus to complete it with no distraction. Every time we become distracted, it takes an average of 15 minutes to regain complete focus, and that adds up over time. If the task is huge, broke the time into several 30-mins while having a 5-min break in between. Feel free to adjust the time to suit your preference.

Bear in mind these tips and exercise it. These will help you complete the important tasks with minimum time required on your way to being effective, productive and achieve more.

 

How do YOU increase productivity at work?

Any productivity hacks that you’d like to share? Put in your comments below.

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