Business owners and executives in small to mid-sized businesses know how hard it is manage their time between their work and personal lives. it can feel so much like a juggling act, particularly during growth phases. There are all kinds of time management tools out there from seminars to smart device apps. If it were just about getting the work done, we’d all be super productive. But what if it’s something else? What if everything you thought you knew about time management is wrong?
Did you know…?
Take *Michael (not his real name) as an example. His long term goal is to expand internationally but he has discovered that interruptions are interfering with getting his regular work done plus tasks he has taken on as part of the team seeing the growth phase through. He has tried a few different methods of time management and would keep telling me that nothing works.
So, we started looking more closely at his daily schedule. Research on task interruptions shows that we can lose up to 25 minutes after each interruption and we are just as likely to interrupt ourselves (i.e. checking email, texts or social media) as be interrupted. However, there is hope. Recent research from the Carnegie-Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab discovered that you can learn how to manage interruptions.
It’s not about managing your time
Not even close. It’s about managing expectations and interruptions. While there are times when you are working to complete a specific task, it is often the environment around you that will support this activity. One of the interesting things with interruptions is that returning your focus to a task can take up to twenty-five minutes. So, imagine you have a phone call from a client. You finish the conversation and then have to get back on track with your task. How much time is lost?
Your mindset matters more than your tools
Michael tried a number of different tools from the Pomodoro Method to apps on his smartphone. Part of his solution lay with something the Carnegie-Mellon research found. Expecting an interruption can help reduce the “recovery” time. This is a mindset shift. Michael devised a system that would make room for the interruptions that come with the normal day-to-day operations of managing his business.
Some of what Michael learned from his previous mistakes
Michael noted that he was feeling tired and run down from working very long days, even on weekends.
- He couldn’t guarantee that he would be available for the day-to-day tasks for which he was previously responsible.
- He had to adjust his open-door policy because his inconsistent task completion was blocking others’ getting tasks done .
- It wasn’t about how much time he had in his day. He was already working all sorts of hours.
- There is no one-size-fits-all when choosing a time management or productivity tool or app
- He was expecting he could do his regular workload along with starting the process to grow internationally
After noting how he thought about his own productivity and his plans for the future, he realised that there had to be some changes.
Better ways to become more productive
It is important to note that creating a more bespoke way of organising your worktime is the foundation for any plan to use your time more effectively. The type of tool you use is less important than the reasons and ways you use the tool.
- Admit you’re human. No matter how ambitious or hard working you are, there is a limit and your body will let you know when you go too far.
- Change your workday and work week. Your productivity depends on integration of your schedule, not balance. For some business owners and executives, assigning certain tasks on particular days reduces procrastination and encourages focus.
- Adapt and prioritise your workload. Identify what must be done by you, what you can delegate and what can be forgotten.
- Not everything is a crisis or problem. If you have trained your staff to turn to you every time there is a problem, you will be interrupted. Not everything needs your attention so encourage your employees to handle low level issues. They can report to you afterwards.
- Customise your tools so they support your productivity. One of my clients redesigned a shoe organiser so it held any bits and bobs that had to do with his projects. Sticky notes, small notebooks (or calendars and diaries), white boards and apps on your device are effective if they fit you.
- Acknowledge that you are going to be interrupted. Leading and managing a business means that you are the go-to person for many things in a given day.
As for Michael, he tried two or three different tools. By evaluating their efficacy at the end of a week, he was able to identify when they were not working. Ultimately, he chose to use a sticky note with three to fives tasks written on it. By the end of the day, if the task was done, he crossed it off . When he did not finish a task, he simply let it start the next day’s sticky note. He reported he was more productive and felt less stressed when interrupted.
Stop trying to fit yourself into a time management box
Time management is not about accounting for every minute or using the latest tool. Trying to follow a schedule in an environment that demands your attention go in several directions is wrong. It is really about productivity, especially with interruptions. It is tempting to look at email or social media streams. Staff members are looking for direction or information. Clients are expecting a product or a service from you. There is the phone call from a vendor or a family member.
All of this is part of the workday for a business owner or executive in a small organisation. Taking on a mindset that acknowledges that there will be interruptions and customising your tools sets the stage for managing your time more effectively and getting your work done.
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