Back in 2009, I was commissioned to write a time management book. As I shared in a recent productivity training session at DCS, I was late submitting the first draft! The irony wasn’t lost on me.
However, I learned a great deal from the experience. In fact, I have a particular fascination with time management and my ears prick up when I hear colleagues around me talk about the challenge of time – and it’s never a case of having too much of it.
The problem of not having enough time is not new. Almost 2000 years ago the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote a book called, ‘On the Shortness of Life’! (And their lives were indeed shorter!)
So the question is, what makes time management so challenging?
In a production environment, the norm is to identify the specific steps needed to manufacture, process or pack. We can calculate exactly how long it takes a fully-trained person to manage each task and use this information to help us develop competence in others. From data, we can see declines in productivity relating to time spent and can adjust rest and work patterns to improve productivity.
In logistics, we can calculate how long it will take to transport products from A to B and can build in robust contingency time based on reliable information.
It seems to be so much more difficult to accurately plan time within other business functions. This is something we are looking at more closely in DCS - how can we make it easier for people to be productive?
Questions to Ask Ourselves
There are several dynamics at play and these questions help us to understand what needs to be in place in different functions:
1. Have we clearly defined what a good outcome looks like so that people know exactly what they are aiming for?
2. Have the steps within the core business processes been defined, communicated and trained? Or, are we leaving too much to individuals to work out for themselves?
3. Are the estimates of time needed to complete a step or piece of work realistic?
4. How much extra time is built in to allow for learning new information or processes?
5. Do we make it easy for people to access the resources they need to tackle and complete tasks?
6. How clearly do we communicate the priorities when there are demands and even conflicts from different sides of the business?
These are just the basics. Then there are the myriad distractions of being in an office, email and messaging notifications and the simple need to allow time for people to connect, learn and socialise as part of work. However, as a business, we can do our best to support productivity and good time management by answering these questions clearly and providing the right resources.
A Few of My Big Learnings – From Both the Book Episode and Other Experiences
· Be crystal clear on your overarching goal or goals – these will guide your decisions on what’s important.
· Be able to distinguish the big rocks, the pebbles and the sand activities – and focus on scheduling and working on the big rocks before the others.
· Understand the relationship between Urgent and Important and how they shape how you prioritise your time.
· Dig deeper into others' requests on your time. This can help you – and them – to prioritise better.
· Add 20% to your own estimates of how long it will take to complete anything! We are invariably over-optimistic.
I couldn’t help but smile when I heard members of a team I had recently trained talking about big rocks and pebbles. Don’t underestimate the value of common language in helping your teams to take on new helpful behaviours.