I wrote last week in “What’s on your to do list?” about time management and time blocking, and how setting specific time aside for the tasks you can do is a really powerful way of making progress with them. It’s all well and good setting time aside but procrastination, prevarication, and other habits can see that time slip away or be relegated to another day.
The first thing you have to do then is to be strict about your time blocks, and the person that you have to start with is yourself. Fit in the blocks where you can and then stick to them. If you don’t respect them then you’ll never persuade anyone else to.
The second is to make the blocks a habit. If you don’t block time each day, or regularly, then you won’t get in the habit, either physically or mentally. You’ll have an even harder time getting other people to recognise them as well if they’re always at random, or based around an arcane timetable of alternate weeks outside of term time except in bank holidays.
The third discipline is around the time blocks is to have a clear description of what you are going to do, or what you expect to produce. Vague headings like “working on my project” or “researching my new venture” will allow you to mentally justify any number of activities as contributing towards the outcome. Instead have a better description of what you want to achieve – not only will it give you a better idea of the time needed but it will make the time blocking habit stick through seeing solid achievements.
With the mind-set that your time-blocks can’t be moved, and are a rewarding and productive habit, there are four techniques to make sure that you get the most out of your time management.
- Take yourself out of interruption. If you have an office then put up a “Do not disturb” sign and shut the door. If people ignore it be firm and don’t allow them to disturb you “just this once”. If you don’t have an office try going somewhere else where you can’t be disturbed – another room, a corner of the canteen, a café where you aren’t a regular – anywhere where you are out of the direct path of people who will disturb you.
- Be self-sufficient. If you need anything then make sure that you have it – paper, pens, and reference material. If you’re in the office then breaking off to go to the canteen or coffee machine can not only open you up to distractions but see you derailed by other peoples’ plans. So make sure that you have copies of everything that you need, including downloads or print outs of documents from the intranet or internet. This is because of the third technique.
- Remove distractions. If you’re working on a document do you need your WiFi on? Not if you’ve prepared properly – and not having your WiFi on means that you won’t be side-tracked by something “useful” or “intriguing” when your googling for information you should have printed off or downloaded. If you’ve blocked time for a task then give it 100% of your attention – and that means a phone that if not switched off is at least on silent and kept out of sight and reach. No phone and no WiFi means freedom from being distracted by e-mails, tweets, and status updates.
- Let people know. Tell other people what you’re doing and why. Not only are most people very supportive, the fact that you’re able to describe exactly what and why you’re time-blocking will make it easier for them to respect it.
- Stop yourself giving time away. First learn to say “No” if it helps you find and maintain the time for what you need to do. I know that’s an easier sentence for me to write than it is a skill for some people to learn but it’s easier and more rewarding than most people realise. Both of these are even more the case when you can explain why and have a task in hand already. Secondly to stop worrying about the inevitable “loose ends” that focussing on one thing will leave. There are some very useful mindfulness practices around this that I’ll be covering in the coming weeks.
In short then
- Block out the time regularly for can do tasks
- Stick to it
- Make it productive
- Make other people respect it
- Remove yourself from disturbance (other people’s demands)
- Remove yourself from distractions (technology)
- Stop any self-sabotage (saying “No” and accepting loose ends as part of life)
- Make “achievement” a habitual part of your environment and outlook
Starting this now will give you a head-start in the New Year – but whenever you pick it up I’d love to know how you get on. I’ll share my progress as well – I do take my own advice, but it doesn’t all come quite as naturally.