Using the following list will help establish where your time currently goes and identify unproductive moments during your work day:
1. Carry a notebook! Record all your movements, thoughts, conversations and other activities during the week. Create data on how much you get done through a day/week and where your time is going. You'll quickly be able to map out how much time is realistically spent producing results and what percentage of your time is lost on unproductive tasks.
2. Activity or conversations important to the success of your company should have dedicated time assigned to it. To-do lists get longer and longer to the point where they don't represent a feasible way forward. Go old-school - appointment books work as part of your time management culture. Diarise appointments with yourself and create time silos for high-priority thinking - treat thinking as a task. Schedule when they will begin and end. Have the discipline to keep these appointments.
3. Plan to spend at least 50% of your available time ring-fenced for thoughts, activities and conversations that produce most of your results.
4. Schedule time for interruptions. This is a little odd as a concept but if you plan time to be pulled away from what you're doing its less disruptive. Its then possible to tell someone who needs your input or involvement when your next interruption point is and you can leave your planned tasks at the right moment.
5. Failing to plan is planning to fail as the saying goes. Take the first 20-30 minutes each day to plan your day. Don't start the day until you have a complete break down of what will come when. The most important time needs to be protected and everything else can be sacrificed if necessary.
6. Take five minutes before every call and task to decide what result you want to attain. This will help you know what success looks like before you start. And it will also slow time down. Take five minutes after each call and activity to determine whether your desired result was achieved. If not, what was missing? How do you put what's missing in your next call or activity?
7. Put up a "Do not disturb" sign when you absolutely have to get work done. Make sure you do this both physically and digitally. I close the office door which creates a physical barrier to disruptions and then make sure that I have my Skype status set to Do Not Disturb etc. Digital distractions are probably more tempting than the physical type so go to the extremes of logging out of everything if that helps.
8. Practice not answering the phone just because it's ringing and e-mails just because they show up. Instantly giving people your attention tends to create the impression that you're always available. If it's absolutely crucial to your business to offer an immediate human response then this has to be part of your time plan. Where possible schedule a time to answer email and return phone calls. I just look at email twice a day as a planned part of my office hours.
9. If you have staff then think about the level of interaction you need to have with them during the day and make that part of the plan. A new member of staff might take up 80% of your time in the early stages whereas an experienced member of staff might take almost no time. Make sure you delegate correctly to allow senior members of staff to attend to the run-of-the-mill stuff day-to-day.
10. Remember to review the day at the end and see how your plan held up. If you're not managing to stick to it then there might be other options that allow you to get back on track. If you manage it one day and don't manage it the next then some minor tweaking is probably required. If you're managing to stick to it most days then its probably producing positive results. Either way the post mortem process of going back over the day to see what worked and what didn't is creating knowledge and insight that you can use the following day.
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