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Happy with how you spend your time?

Happy with how you spend your time?

Nicola Hopes

27 January 2021

At this time of year when reflecting on aims, I often hear a desire from my clients to “manage time better,” “be more productive,” or “focus on what matters.”

Even very successful clients, whose role would prematurely age the average genius, struggle with time management.

The most common complaints I hear on the topic include workload vs work time, focussing on the right things, no ‘thinking time’ and ‘wasted’ time in meetings.

Part of the problem is that we don’t recognise how big our time management problems are.

Research published in the Harvard Business Review in 2020 found that less than 1% of people accurately rated themselves when it came to their time management skills.

So, given that most of us think we’re better at this than we actually are, we have to be prepared to challenge some long-held habits.

What’s going wrong?

The top 5 mistakes I come across in managing time are:

  1. Believing in magic – expecting that all your actions can magically get done in the 10 minutes after your last meeting and the planned closing of your laptop for the day

  1. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes – the one where you accept every meeting invite or discussion without question and then wonder why you never have any free time

  1. It’s not you, it’s me – in the desire to be indispensable or helpful, you dedicate all your time to helping others achieve their goals. Your priorities then have to somehow get squeezed in around the edges

  1. The time warp phenomenon – assuming that a presentation can be beautifully written in the 1-hour you’ve allocated to it. Cut to 3 hours later and you’re still refining key messages and deciding whether boxes or circles would get your point across best

  1. Too busy to think – not giving yourself any reflection or planning time then being baffled about why you aren’t putting new ideas or solutions into practice

There are some tried and tested techniques you can use to banish these woes, but it takes focus. Give me the next 5 minutes and it’ll pay you back. Trust me!

The art of saying no

The best time management advice suggests that at least 70% of your working week should be dedicated to you (and your team’s) objectives. It makes sense - that’s the role you’re paid for after all.

This doesn’t mean you should become utterly ruthless and unhelpful to others. It just means being more selective about when and how you help.

You can’t attend the 2-hour meeting, but you can:

  • send them your thoughts in a few bullets in advance or
  • review and feedback on the output or
  • have a 15 min catch up with the organiser to input before the session.

Or maybe you can’t do it this week / month, but you could do next?

Get clear about where you add value, what you’re here to achieve and therefore what you prioritise.

The art of planning

Take time each week to look forward to the next few weeks in your diary.

Colour code your diary with different topics or activities so you can see at a glance where you’re spending your time.

Add reading and preparation time in your diary before key meetings – you know when the papers are due to come out. Add in follow up time for actions.

Block book thinking / writing / creative time for you to reflect and come up with plans, solutions or ideas. Do this when you’re most productive – are you a morning or evening person? Do you plan best on a Monday morning or a Friday afternoon?

Be pessimistic about how long things take – especially if you’re writing from scratch. My rule of thumb is to double the time you were planning to allow. If you finish early, you have bonus time. You’re welcome!

Monitor how long things actually take and use that to continually improve your realistic planning.

As much as it pains me to say, you might have to stop believing in magic if you’re going to master your time. I know. I’m gutted too!

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