“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.” – Peter F. Drucker
Where Does Your Time Go? (Part II)
By Andrea Novakowski
“I’m ready for Step Two!” Marilyn said, as she handed me the time sheets she’d used to track her time during the last two weeks. Having completed Step One: Track in the three-step process for managing her time, she was ready to move on.
Paying attention to how you spend your day at work is only the beginning. Once you have the data, it’s time to study the information you’ve gathered and determine which activities produce results and which don’t.
The “assessment” step is about analyzing and asking questions. Where do you get the most bang for your buck, time-wise? Do you see any patterns in your work habits — patterns you’d like to change?
Here are eight areas to look at:
- Productive activities. Scan through your time sheets and pick out the activities that led to projects moving forward, new clients, new prospects, or whatever fits your definition of success. The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes, or, in a business context, 80 percent of sales come from 20 percent of clients. When it comes to how you spend your time, 80 percent of your productivity most likely comes from 20 percent of your efforts. See if you can identify that 20 percent.
- Productive activities, enhanced. How can you make your productive activities even more productive? If your priority is to have more one-on-one meetings with clients and prospects, would it be helpful to block out time on your calendar to prepare for those meetings? You could also schedule time after the meeting to set up the next steps and follow-up actions. Covey’s time management grid is a helpful tool to support this kind of planning.
- Unproductive activities. Which activities interfere with your focus and distract you from accomplishing your goals? Consider whether these tasks are important. For instance, are all the meetings you attend really necessary? It’s funny how often we continue doing something because we’ve “always” done it, even when the activity has outlived its usefulness.
- Expertise. Identify tasks that do need to be done, but don’t need to be done by you. What if you could focus your time doing the things that require your expertise (the $100 tasks), and hand the rest (the $10 tasks) off to someone else? Is it time to hire someone to help you, so you can stop doing everything yourself?
- External influences. How much of your daily schedule is determined by you, and how much is determined by others? Do your agreements with your clients make you available to them 24/7? Many people also have personal responsibilities, such as a young child or aging parents with health issues, that pop up without warning and force them to integrate their personal lives into their workday.
- Habits. Think about the activities that give you energy to do your work — morning workouts, noontime walks around the block, a healthy snack at 3 p.m. Now identify the habits that get in the way of your productivity — for example, always having your email open and checking it constantly, or leaving your door open or your phone on so that you’re always accessible. What healthy habits could you build into your schedule, and which unhelpful ones might be better left behind?
- Your personal energy. Some time-management strategies advise you to tackle your most important work first thing in the day, but this might not be ideal for you if you’re a night owl and it takes a couple of hours in the morning for your brain to get fully engaged. Some people find their energy dips after lunch, but for others, that’s their most productive time. When is your high-energy time? What do you do with it? How can you make the best use of your low-energy time?
- Patterns. Look at the week(s) you’ve recorded and see if you recognize any patterns. Perhaps you’re focused and productive at the beginning of the week, but lose that focus as the week progresses. Or maybe starting your day with an in-person meeting gives you a jolt of energy that drives you through the rest of your day. What is the typical flow on the days during which you are most productive?
Marilyn figured out quite a bit from looking at the data she’d collected. For instance, she wasn’t making much of a distinction between her high-payoff activities and those that didn’t produce anything of substance. Also, she tended to move into action without taking time to plan. “I assumed I didn’t have time to plan, what with everything on my to-do list,” she explained. “Now that I see that without a plan, I’ll never reach my goals.
“Habits and personal energy are important, too,” she went on. “I’d like planning to become a routine that I do on Sunday nights and at the end of each day.”
What did you learn from your analysis? Did anything surprise you?
In next month’s Tip, Step Three: Strategize, we’ll see how to create a plan to focus on what’s most important.
YOUR CALL TO ACTION
It’s time to assess how you’re spending your time. Gather information about your typical work week and see what you learn. What will you continue doing? What is it time to stop doing, or pass off to someone else? To share you findings, write them below.