Anyone who was around in the 1980s will remember the Filofax – a small, usually bulging, diary that contained details of appointments, contacts, plans and who-knows-what-else. It was designed to allow the go-getters of the age to look like they had their finger absolutely on the pulse. It went with the braces, hair gel and probably a Ford Escort XR3i.
About 30-odd years ago, that was our idea of getting things done at work. Laptops hadn’t arrived yet. PCs were only just becoming available to the minted few, and even then with a black and white and rather small screen, and hardly any software available.
Gadgets like the mobile phone or PDA were the stuff of science fiction, and Outlook was a doodle on the pad of a bespectacled youth in Silicon Valley. No Skype, no video calls, no FaceTime…. even conference calls were a rare and often unworkable thing.
Life was a lot simpler. There were only about six genres of music, and most of us still owned a turntable, even though we were busy replacing our record collections on CD.
The point of this is not to wallow in 80’s nostalgia (let’s face it, any era that produced a Flock Of Seagulls and Visage or revived the career of Cher has little to be proud of), but to show just how much the world time management and getting more done at work has altered in a relatively short time.
But attitudes to the way we organise our time haven’t quite kept pace with these seismic shifts. In my experience, most organisations still have standard working days that are similar to those we had then, despite a 24/7 world. Meetings are still often held face to face, wasting thousands of hours in needless travel, damaging the environment with fuel emissions and sabotaging the work-life balance of many in attendance.
Many leaders I work with still use a desk diary, despite the inability to schedule reminders, share their availability or see blocks at a time. Old habits die hard, and it’s time to find ways to adapt to new professional environments.
So, how can we get more done at work today? I suggest a few principles may be helpful…
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1) Use the 4 Ds
‘Dump, delegate, diary, do’ is a mantra I try to live by. Any task I choose or am asked to do has to pass this test.
First, dump: is the task really necessary? Will it add sufficient value and provide enough of a return on time invested (ROTI)? If not, can it be dumped?
Secondly, delegate: Would it stretch, challenge or help one of my team to take on this task instead of me or on my behalf? This can’t be just pulling rank – it needs to be helpful to them and the team.
Thirdly, diary: If the test shows that it needs to be done, by me, do I really need to do it now or even today? Is there a time I can schedule it to, so as to avoid distraction or interruption?
More importantly, this decision reminds you and others that your time is precious and can’t just be taken up on a whim. Time is your most important (and scarce) resource, and needs to be used wisely.
Finally, do: If it has to be done, by me, right now, then let’s get it done without procrastination and do it as efficiently and effectively as possible. Templates, auto-correct, cut and paste and other such tools are helpful to me, as most of my tasks involve writing and these short-cuts help me to complete things at speed. Your tasks may be different and require different tools, but think about it and be ready to use them.
2) Make technology your best friend
Many of us are so busy being busy that we don’t invest the time to get skilled with the vast array of technology that might make us more productive. Some of the things that can help you get more done at work are using your phone to manage your calendar, email and reminders, joining e-meetings, using texts to communicate quickly, using voice-to-text software to dictate documents on the fly, using a tablet to edit documents while off-site, and a variety of apps that can help and simplify activities.
There are so many things a 13 year-old would take for granted that you may not even know exist, and that may be of help to you. Find an expert (there’s probably more than one in your ‘network’), and get them to teach you how to use this stuff to your advantage, as it can save you literally hundreds of hours every year. That’s weeks and weeks of time you can free up to do the ‘important’ rather than just the ‘urgent’.
3) Enlist the support of others
You can’t be effective in managing your time unless others allow you to do so. Therefore, you need to ‘train’ others to be mindful of your time. Many of us are naturally helpful and so will respond positively to any request for assistance.
It starts with self-discipline. Teach yourself not to say ‘yes’ automatically. I’m not saying you become unhelpful and refuse to do anything when someone asks; that’s not good for relationships. What you do need to do is remember how precious your time is and make sure you get a good ROTI from every hour. That’s generally what you’re being paid to do.
You need to make your default answer ‘let’s see’ rather than ‘yes’. If you take on something new to ‘do’, something else may need to be ‘dumped, diaried or delegated’, as you don’t have infinite capacity. Once you do this automatically, others will gradually learn to be careful when placing demands on your time too. Your team members may even learn from your role modelling how to get more done at work themselves.
It’s a busy old life. There’s always more to do than there is time available to do it. Use your hours wisely. They’re all you’ve got.
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