Posts filed under ‘Time Management’

At the Heart of Time Management

Is reading this article the best use of your time right now?

If you can extract the core lesson contained in the above question, then not only don’t you need to read this article, but you never have to attend a course on time management. You’ve just saved a lot of time and money. You can go about your business. Good-bye.

What? You’re still reading? You mean I have to finish this article? I was just about to take a break you know. Okay. Okay. Just for you, I’ll continue, but I have a cold beer waiting on the deck, so hurry up and finish reading… I have better things to do right now.

Time Management isn’t a overly complex topic. When you get right down to it, a good time manager really only needs two sets of information.

1) Which of all the tasks we have to complete, is the most important?
And please, don’t adopt the strategy used by some psychotic managers… Everything is Priority #1!

Making everything Priority #1 isn’t possible. When everything on your plate is Priority #1, then the reality is that nothing is Priority #1.

2) How much time do you have available to do the tasks on your plate? If you have time aplenty for everything, then you don’t have a time management problem.  Please stop reading so I can leave, that beer is getting warm.

What! Still here? I can see how this is going to play out. Sigh. Okay. On we go.

Since you’re still reading, I can only assume you don’t have enough time to do everything you’ve been tasked to do. (but you have the time to read this article… weird) I won’t ask why you took on more than you can handle, that would be rude.

With more work, than time, we’re faced with a problem. We can’t do everything.

This is perhaps the most important thing to know about time management. Time Management is not about doing everything on our plate, it’s all about deciding what to do, and most importantly, what not to do.

This is where Time Management gets difficult. Prioritizing our tasks is fairly easy, some things are obviously more important than others. Identifying how much time we have, is also relatively easy, since we can start with 24 hours a day and work our way down to a more reasonable/realistic number.

Where we all have a problem is coming to the conclusion that task ‘X’ won’t be done this week, because we don’t have time for it.

Of course, to get to that point, we do need to become proficient at allocating time to the tasks we’re choosing to complete and then focusing our attention on those tasks until they are complete

The most basic tool to assist us in this, is the ‘to do’ list. We all know how that works. List the stuff we must do on top in order of priority, then the stuff we should do if we have time for them, and then at the bottom the stuff we’re unlikely to ever get done (like that rapidly warming beer on the deck).

The mechanics of the TD list aside, there’s an aspect of the TD list that’s rarely mentioned. Part of the problem we have managing ourtime is the overwhelming sense of chaos that swirls around our heads. There’s little more demotivating than the certain knowledge that we’re disorganized, that we’ll never get it all done no matter how hard we work.

This sense of constant chaos cheats us of any sense of progress towards a goal. A daily ‘To Do’ list, compiled during those few calm moments before the day starts with a rushing vengeance, is the perfect solution to our all too common panic attack.

Writing down what we have to do, immediately removes the certainty that we’ve forgotten something. It stops the constant mind juggling necessary to keep everything in memory and allows us to focus on a single task.

Time Management becomes an exhilarating experience as we strike a task off the list with a swooping flourish of a lurid purple marker (am I disclosing too much?). This is such a pleasure, that you’ll find yourself putting things on the list, just so that you can strike them off the list.

The sense of progress we didn’t have before, is now there for all to see as a flurry of purple strokes across the page.

The truth about the heart of Time Management is contained in the opening question. We can’t answer it until we know what we should be doing right now, and how much time we have available. Simple, if not easy. Now, the next thing on my list is that beer. See you later… maybe… if I have nothing better to do. I’m not kidding.

July 8, 2008 at 11:48 am Leave a comment

Project Management by GPS

I’ve become a bit of a GPS addict. I now have maps for both all of North America and the UK and Ireland. I can’t imagine driving to someplace new, without the assistance of strange unseen satellites.

Despite the benefits, there is a peculiar downside to these navigation units. With a map, you always have some sense of where you are, with Mapquest type instructions, you have some sense of where you’re going… but with a GPS? You only have a moment to moment sense of where you go next. If (when… I have a story to tell the next time we meet in a pub) the device breaks down, you are completely, totally – almost permanently – lost.

Benefits and disadvantages aside, there are a few things we can learn about project management from the lowly GPS.

This is the very first ‘strange’ thing that I noticed when I first used the GPS. When you make a mistake and go ‘off route’ (or off plan if we’re replating this to PM), no matter how many times you make that mistake, the voice giving you directions remains calm, cool and unfluttered.

“Well of course it does!”, Someone mutters from the back of the room… “It’s a machine!”, and my response is, yes I know that, but when I make a mistake I’ve come to expect that the response will communicate someone’s displeasure. And, that expectation of a negative response to a mistake is the primary reason why status reporting is so difficult. We’re afraid of the negative response so we ‘shade the truth’ to make ourselves look better.

Constant Monitoring
I would not suggest for a moment, that your project is monitored as closely as GPS monitors your location, but the lesson is plain. Knowing where you are, is crucial to getting to where you need to be according to your plan.

Regardless of the effort it takes to where we are against the plan, it’s something we have to do. If it’s not done, then we’re not managing the project. I’m not sure what we think we’re doing, but whatever it is, it isn’t project management.

Track the project isn’t administrivia is the heart of the PM concept. To state it even more plainly; everything done in the name of PM, is done to make it possible to know where we are. To do all the difficult preliminary work and then not track our progress is a form of insanity.

Not allowing time in the plan to track and report progress against the plan, is to state publicly that our planning activities are a farce… something we do to merely ‘look’ like professionals. The solution is obvious; learn what we can from the GPS

Retracing vs. RePlanning
When you go off route with a GPS, it will, for a period of time, do nothing more than try to get you back on the original route. It’s do this, until you get so far off the correct path, that it’s better to replan the trip.

That’s a great PM lesson. If we’re off the plan, how long do we just try to get back on the original plan… before we sit do and replan the project? Frankly, not enough replanning is done, in it’s place there’s a lot of wishful thinking – we’ll catch up on the weekend.

Macro vs. Detail views
If you’re paying close attention to the GPS, and that’s what we usually do, you’ll notice that when the next ‘check point’ is far away, then it zooms out to an overview, but when the next turn is just a little bit ahead, the instructions happen faster, the map zooms closer, proving you more detail of what’s ahead.

Project management can emulate that approach. Having a project status report ‘every three’ months works reasonably well when the work between markers is much of the same… but when key deliverables arrive more rapidly, when they get bunched up on the Gantt Chart, then more frequent status updates are advised.

While this is a tongue in cheek comparison, there’s some truth here. Driving from Dublin to Sligo has much in common with a project where both the starting date and deliverables are known. One difference? There are more Pubs on the road to Sligo.

February 21, 2008 at 10:24 am Leave a comment

Why do we GO to work?

One of our local newspapers recently ran a series of articles on the phenomenon of ‘commuting’ and how some people spend 3-5 hours of their day travelling to and from ‘work’. While the focus of the series was mostly the ‘human interest’ angle the question that kept intruding into my thoughts was ‘Why?’… Why are we still flowing into small geographical areas in the morning and then flowing out to find our beds in the evening? An alien looking down from on high would be very curious as to the our reasons for the daily migration

Thankfully, I no longer work in a corporate cubical, but I have taken the time to reflect on what I used to do day in and day out, and as a white collar worker there was VERY little I did, that I could not do from a desk located on the other side of the city – if not the other side of the world. This was true as a regular grunt in the organization and as a high mucky muck.

As a white collar worker – I moved nothing from one location to another, I did not physically manipulate the world, I really had no good, persistent reason to physically travel from my home to the ‘office’ on a daily basis.

This is driven home today where my reality is that as long as there is electrical power and internet access, my office is wherever I, and my trusty laptop, are ensconced.

While I’m a card carrying techno geek, I’m not one of those who believe that all meetings are replaceable by ‘virtual meetings’ – that wouldn’t be much fun – I speak for a living – there is something about sitting across the table from someone that pixels on a screen cannot replace. More is communicated in a handshake (or a hug) than is possible to transmit on a 50gb optical cable. That said, It is possible to shift all those types of meetings to a single day each week, allowing most people to remain at home, in a properly equipped office, most of the time.

As I’ve discussed the topic of telecommuting with people over the years, the #1 objection/fear that I’ve heard (the one that is the real reason IMO that Telecommuting hasn’t taken off) is that we don’t trust our employees to produce if we aren’t looking over their shoulders all the time. That’s it in a nutshell. We don’t trust either our employees to produce at a distance OR we don’t believe our managers are competent enough to manage remotely.

There’s an irony here – and that is that management usually lets people work entirely on their own for weeks at a time. All too often managers have admitted to me that they don’t have regular 1-on-1 meetings with their staff… in fact they rarely meet with their staff.

Sometimes other reasons for not moving into telecommuting are raised, cost, security, privacy, etc. but there are more ‘excuses’ than they are legitimate objections. Many of these, possibly all of these, are solved via technology.

And then there’s another irony in the resistance towards telecommuting… any time we ‘outsource’ something – not to mention ‘offshore outsourcing’ then we are making a decision to do the work generated at this location in a remote location… ‘outsourcing’ is nothing but telecommuting on a grand scale.

So? Why the post? I’d like to ask two sets of questions…

1) What is it that you do at the office that you cannot do at home? Assume you have access to power, internet and a phone at home.
What % of your time in the office are you engaged in that activity?

2) Has your organization even considered the possibility of telecommuting?
If you have… what’s the status of that thinking?

Contribute if you wish, either in the comments (preferred) or off line (happy to start a few conversations –

I’ll assume that the benefits of Telecommuting are well known… let me know if listing a few would add value to the conversation.

January 8, 2008 at 12:46 pm 5 comments

Beating Murphy down

“If anything can go wrong, it will” – If there was ever a series of rules to live by, the the Laws of Murphy come close to fitting the bill. What better way to plan our lives, than to defend ourselves from the attacks of a malevolent universe?

Thing is? The Universe is neither malevolent nor benevolent – It’s not only that it doesn’t care, it’s that the machinations of the world are oblivious to our existence. The world we live in, is the world we choose to prepare for. Events, like the nefarious plans of Murphy and his ilk, assume meaning only according to the habitations we provide them.

September 21, 2007 at 9:17 am 1 comment

Just Mark the Line

It’s Friday, what better day to touch on the topic of taking time for yourself?

Fact… North American workers take, and are allowed, far less vacation time than the vast majority of other countries. Face it, we’re nearly all workaholics. And when we do take time away from work, we bring it with us. We’ve allowed ‘work’ to invade every corner of our lives.

September 7, 2007 at 9:21 am Leave a comment

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