Everyone would like to be more productive at work. But we always end up in time-traps that sap our productivity. Time management is a question of good habits. No complicated techniques are required, just a few basic habits coupled with tools like GoToMeeting that allow you to substantially increase your personal productivity. In this white paper, you’ll learn the five best and simplest practical tips to get more done in the same amount of time.
ABOUT the Author
Ivan Blatter is a Swiss expert on new time management. He helps his clients to achieve their goals faster without exhausting themselves, increasing satisfaction and lowering stress. For many years he’s been hosting one of the largest and most successful German- speaking blogs dealing with time management, work organisation and working methods: ivanblatter.com . In addition to hundreds of free articles, he also offers many corresponding online products and seminars.
WHAT IS Time Management?
In practice, it’s nearly impossible to consistently apply classical time management methods. It’s too complicated, too expensive and too inflexible. Traditional time management is outdated and doesn’t offer answers to today’s challenges. Despite all efforts, stress, pressure and dissatisfaction are on the rise.
Today, we actually need a form of anti-time management. It’s no longer a matter of squeezing the last drop out of the lemon: today, time management must mean fully exploiting our own potential without exhausting ourselves. First and foremost, this demands training. There’s no magic formula and no ultimate tip. The (positive!) flip-side: the power is within us to work more productively.
WHY TRADITIONAL TIME MANAGEMENT
Working more productively is a skill that can be learned, although some conditions can make it challenging:
- It’s sometimes unclear what’s actually important: this is because we often don’t know what’s important for us or precisely what we want.
- We have too many factors to take into account. Our world has become very complex, and there are multiple considerations in every decision.
- The unexpected often happens - things we couldn‘t foresee or plan for - and we must simply respond.
- Other people depend on us: we aren’t always free to apportion our time. Colleagues, employees, customers—everyone wants something from us or is relying on us.
- We’re human: we procrastinate, we’re inefficient and sometimes we just don’t have any drive or energy, so we make mistakes. We’re (thankfully!) not robots.
- Technology exacerbates certain issues. No question about it: we could no longer work without computers, smart phones and tablets. But with these new technologies, new problems have arisen: always-on availability, continual distraction, etc
FIVE TIPS FOR INCREASING
Productivity On the Job
TIP 1: MAKE DECISIONS
Decision-making is not only an important skill in business management, it’s also a key skill for successful time management. When we don’t make conscious decisions, we find ourselves hurled through the day like the ball in a pinball machine.
We need to make decisions all the time: “I’m in the midst of this job and can’t concern myself with all the other tasks. If I opt to do this, I can’t do that”.
We tend to make decisions unconsciously or not at all. But decisions don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re always made by someone—if not by us, then by a colleague, the boss, the customer or the competition. That’s why it’s so important that we make our decisions ourselves and consciously.
Effective time management is a conscious decision about what’s important. We always have more to do than we can realistically fit in. Inevitably, we must make decisions in favour of certain things and against others — in other words, we need to be discriminating.
In fact, time management centres on a single question: what’s the most important thing for me right now ? In order to be able to answer this question, we first need to have a clear understanding of the basis of our work.
This is the output of a few decisions: What do I want to do? What’s important to me? What values matter to me? Which roles do I want to fulfill? Which roles do I need to fulfill? Whether consciously or unconsciously, these and many other questions must be dealt with before we even begin with the work process. But then it continues, every day: What do I do now? What don’t I do now? Where do I begin? Where do I go from here? How do I deal with this?
Decisions are the focal points of our day – each activity is based on a decision. Conscious decisions allow us to get a grip on our day; with unconscious decisions, we let ourselves be driven by whims or by other people. Decisions will be made for those who don’t make them themselves.
Let’s demonstrate how you can implement these ideas in three areas:
The “Not To-Do” List
The task list includes things that we need or want to do. When we opt for something, we decide against many other things. But the opposite is also the case: create a list of things you no longer want to do from now on. That’s a “Not To-Do” list. Write down those things that especially prevent you from reaching your goals. Check this list at least once per week.
Making decisions also means being able to say “no”. No matter how many hours in the day, we’ll never find enough time for everything. The more time we have, the more we’ll want to do and take on, and the more tasks we’re given – it’s a vicious circle.
Being able to say “no” is a form of self-defence. It’s the art of making the right decision at the right moment and in the right tone. With tact and moderation you can even say “no” to your boss or a customer.
Clean Up Your E-Mail Inbox
- We read through e-mails numerous times before we finally deal with them.
- We use our inbox not as a letter box, but as a to-do list, storage location or archive.
And yet the inbox is the place where e-mails are only stored temporarily, like a standard letter box for traditional mail.
A scenario: if we think of our usual use of the e-mail inbox as we would a “normal” letter box. That would mean:
- We run 20 times a day to the letter box.
- We take out the mail, open the new letters and briefly browse through them. Then we browse through the older letters once again.
- Then we place all the letters back into their envelopes and stuff everything back into the letter box.
We’d never think to treat our traditional post in this manner, yet when it comes to a digital letter box—our inbox—we do. Therefore, the first key point is: treat your inbox like a normal letter box.
- You consciously switch to your inbox when you intend to process e-mails.
- You carefully read through each e-mail once and then decide what needs to be done with it.
- Following this decision, there’s no further reason to keep the e-mail in your inbox. It can be deleted or stored away.
If you take your time and think about what you can actually do with an e-mail, you’ll see there aren’t all that many possibilities:
- We can delete an e-mail if it’s not relevant or potentially relevant.
- We can attend to an e-mail (e.g. answer it, perform the task involved or forward it). It’s best to do it immediately, if it takes less than five minutes. Afterwards you can file or delete the e-mail.
- If the transaction takes longer, then we shouldn’t take care of it right away. In this case, we’re simply emptying the inbox, i.e. just processing the e-mails, not dealing with them. Therefore, we should just add an entry to the task list and take care of the e-mails later. The result: the e-mail no longer needs to be kept in the inbox and can be stored away (e.g. in a folder named “To-do”).
- If the e-mail requires no action, but we don’t want to delete it, we immediately file it away.
That’s all the options there are. This simple model can be used to quickly process any inbox.
TIP 2: TRANSFORM PROBLEMATIC OBJECTIVES
We often set goals that we can’t reach or don’t inspire us. We’re then disappointed and consider the setting of goals as wrong. But goal-setting is an essential part of time management, too: if we don’t know where we want to go, then it doesn’t matter whether we work efficiently or not.
The problem with many goals is that they’re often formulated incorrectly. We tend to define targets such as:
- I want to increase my sales this year by 10%.
- I want to win 20 new customers by the end of the quarter.
- I want to have an empty inbox every evening.
Write down your problem goals and augment them with action goals. Action goals answer the question: what actions do I need to perform in order to achieve the result?
In addition to the question “What do I want to achieve?”, you need to ask:
- What do I specifically and permanently need to do in order to achieve the goal?
- Or even, what type of person do I need to become?
In the above examples, this can mean:
- I work an additional hour a day on acquiring new customers.
- I read each e-mail only once and completely process the e-mails in my inbox three times a day.
Hence a distant goal becomes a specific call to action.
TIP 3: THE THREE LITTLE THINGS
In time management, small but steady changes win. After all, we get paid to do our work, not to organise it. So we should make small adjustments that over time redefine the course.
Just as the constant drip of water can erode a rock, small but continual changes can produce an significant effect.
What’s true in real life can’t be wrong in time management. In time management, too, a small but permanent change is a good strategy for improvement.
Consider what three little things you could do today to really help you work more productively, such as:
- Make a list of all the tasks you haven’t yet completed.
- Set aside 30 minutes each day to pursue a personal goal.
- Go to bed 30 minutes earlier to be able to perform better.
- Tidy up your workspace every day 15 minutes before end of day so you can get a clear view of things.
- Eliminate all interruptions during the first 30 minutes of each morning and focus on the most important task of the day.
These small changes, however, are only useful when we also systematically implement them – today, tomorrow, every day, until we achieve better time management.
So if you’d welcome change but haven’t yet done anything to bring it about, try it with small but steady steps. This particularly applies to time management because perseverance triumphs over any single heroic action.
TIP 4: USE THE PROPER TOOLS
First of all, whether our time management succeeds or not depends on one factor— ourselves. Good time management plays out in our heads and is a matter of successful habits. Tools, programs and apps can support or enhance a good solution, but they can’t solve a fundamental problem with time management.
Citrix GoToMeeting is a great, reliable tool for online meetings. However, if I’m a poor chairperson or invite the wrong participants, the meeting will be ineffective, even with GoToMeeting.
But if I have my meetings under control and I observe a few basic rules, then GoToMeeting is an outstanding tool for an online get-together.
When selecting tools, it’s worth observing a few basic rules:
- Tools should be as simple as possible.
- Proceed step by step.
- Don’t be a magpie
Good time management should be as simple as possible. It shouldn’t take up much time in itself, so any tool must be simple and easy to maintain. Always begin as simply as possible, experiment with something, and only when you reach your limits should you search for a supplementary tool or a more complex solution.
Especially beware of becoming a magpie. It’s fascinating to try out something new and shiny, but it’s time-consuming We often jump on the next tool before we even see how the first tool is performing. Decide upon a tool and plan to stick with it for at least a month or until it no longer does the job, before you try something new.
TIP 5: QUIET TIMES
Take advantage of “quiet times”, i.e. times when you won’t be disturbed, whenever possible. This is best done early in the morning or during late afternoon hours when usually fewer interruptions occur.
Alternatively, you can pause for lunch earlier or later than usual. When you return to your desk or when you’re still sitting there, most of your colleagues will have gone to lunch themselves and you’ll have time for the really important things.
Pay attention to the following:
- Define your quiet times and enter them into your calendar.
- Eliminate all interruptions (redirect your telephone, exit your e-mail programme, turn off your mobile phone, close the doors).
- Twenty or thirty uninterrupted minutes every day are much more effective than four hours once a month.
Such quiet times are possible in almost any job, especially if you have the autonomy to organise your workload.
Managers, for example, can usually make quiet time, even if they have an open-door policy. Leaders want to be accessible, responsive and transparent. That’s commendable, but when the door’s always open, it’s nearly impossible to focus on work. However, managers in particular have multiple tasks to focus on. It’s therefore all the more important to set aside appropriate times for that.
Inform everyone clearly that you need to close the door every now and then in order to concentrate. Then you’ll only be disturbed in really urgent cases. When the door is open, you’re then available to others.
It’s best to try and use the same time period so that it becomes routine for you, employees and for customers.
In order to really improve your time management, you need to take action and do the things you haven’t had time for. Successful time management is a matter of good habits. Habits need to be acquired step by step and applied to one’s own life. Not an easy task— but not an unrealistic one either.
No matter what habit you’d like to change, just observe a few basics and you’ll be well prepared. The following principles apply to any change of habit, whether you want to exercise more or check your e-mails less often.
Learning a new habit or unlearning an old one takes about 30 days. After that, the new habit is firmly established and normalised. During this time, it’s important to practise the habit regularly. The change process has three phases (let’s assume for the sake of simplicity that all three phases are of equal length).
You need to abandon old habits and create the new one. Although this requires willpower, this phase isn‘t a big problem - at least in the beginning - as you‘ll still be motivated enough to practise the new habit.
DAY 10-20 :
This is the most critical phase: you haven’t yet abandoned the old habit and the new one still hasn’t entrenched itself. There’s a risk of falling back into the old habit. The earlier momentum wanes, the less the positive effects of the new habit. Now more than ever, you need to be mindful of the dangers and consciously practise the new habit. A strong will can help you continue to practise the new habit every day. Take it one day at a time so that the task won’t become too daunting.
Slowly but surely the new habit is becoming the norm. You still haven’t completely forgotten your old ways, but the new pattern is becoming stronger. You’re no longer conscious of training your new habit every day. It simply happens, like brushing your teeth or having a cup of coffee after dinner.
FIVE SUCCESS STRATEGIES FOR NEW HABITS
The following five success strategies will help you to really replace an old habit with a new one:
Attach a new habit to an existing one. The existing habit works as a trigger for the new one in the following manner, when you go to the kitchen in the morning, turn on the kettle, take the milk out of the refrigerator and then put a teabag in the mug, every action functions as a trigger for the next action. Automatically: kettle => milk => teabag.
Similarly, you should attach your new habit (e.g. completely process your inbox) to an existing one (e.g. after your morning coffee break). Create an Audience Tell everyone about your new habit. Then it’s harder to give up—after all, you don’t want to embarrass yourself. Look for colleagues who may be planning something similar. Everything’s easier when you don’t have to go it alone.
2. CREATE AN AUDIENCE
Tell everyone about your new habit. Then it’s harder to give up—after all, you don’t want to embarrass yourself. Look for colleagues who may be planning something similar. Everything’s easier when you don’t have to go it alone.
3. VISUAL MEMORY
Sometimes we can forget a new habit. Establish visual memories to prevent that from happening. Hang up a picture that represents the new habit or put a sticky note on your wall.
4. FORM A CHAIN
Hang a calendar on the wall and cross off every day on which you’ve put the new habit into practice. Try to form as long a chain as possible. You’ll think twice about reverting to old habits since that would break your lovely chain!
Reward yourself whenever you’ve been successful in consistently implementing the habit. The rewards can be small; the main thing is that you look forward to receiving them.
There is no single programme, technique or method that can fix your time management. Only one person can do that: you. You’re aware of some of new practices. Now you need to be accountable for gradually implementing improvements. It pays off, because every minute invested in better time management will repay you several times over in the long run.
More insight and inspiration
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