It seems a lifetime ago that everyone had a pocket planner…. and off we all went on courses to learn how to manage our diaries and prioritise. But enough 80’s nostalgia, or we might all start singing Duran Duran songs. The fact is, time management as a topic has fallen out of favour and is rarely mentioned, overtaken by technology and the 24/7 world and a belief that we are all super productive now.
Hold on a minute, though …. I would suggest that time management has never been more important, but not just as a productivity tool. Most of us might in truth be better off with less productivity and higher quality output…. the concept I want us to think about is ‘return on time investment’ (ROTI).
Let’s consider what your time is actually delivering for you and your stakeholders, in terms of value, benefit, bang for the buck, and impact on strategic objectives.
Here are 10 tips to improve your ROTI.
1. Know where the time goes
You can’t analyse this effectively without accurate data. Track how your time is being spent over a couple of weeks, as completely as you can. If your months are very different, you might need to do it for longer. This will be the base data on which you can build a strategy for better ROTI.
2. Get your priorities and balance right
Consider your role. What are the most important things you are trying to achieve? What proportion of your focus should they represent? Is that the way it looks from your tracking? If there’s a mismatch, then think about what you might need to do to correct the balance.
3. Zap your ‘time bandits’
Typical thieves of time might include: unproductive meetings, pointless admin tasks, unnecessary travel, poorly-designed processes, interruptions or unregulated demands from above or elsewhere. Analyse it. What do you need to change? How? Who do you need to persuade? Make it happen.
4. Get faster
Some people seem able to complete even complex tasks very quickly. Others can make something simple take all day. Be honest with yourself: which is nearest to you? It is often said that ‘procrastination is the thief of time’, but the other ‘bandits’ may be a factor too. Think about what slows you down, and how you can you get faster.
5. Get the best from your technology
I once watched a fairly senior manager spend about three minutes clicking through link after link, from the ‘start button’ onwards, to find a folder on his PC he used regularly, and all because he didn’t know how to create a shortcut. Similarly, I’ve seen managers spend ages hunting for an email because they didn’t know how to search their inbox properly.
It is suggested by an IT professional journal that most managers use less than 10% of the capability of their PC, tablet or smartphone. If that’s you, change it. Learn from super-user colleagues, go on a course, or do some research, and make the tools at your disposal work for you to the best of their ability.
6. Learn to say ‘no’
Huge savings can be achieved just by avoiding unnecessary or inappropriate tasks and requests. It’s all very well being helpful when someone asks you to do something like write a report, investigate something, make a visit or attend a meeting… but does it really need to be you? What is the value of the task to you and your stakeholders? Is it germane to your job role and objectives, or would you be better off spending the time in some other way? Explain your criteria and rationale, and often the other person will see your point and go elsewhere. Think ROTI.
7. Use your support network
Most of us have a support infrastructure of colleagues, specialist departments and administrative staff. Use them wisely, as many tasks you try to do yourself might be completed far more quickly and effectively by someone else.
If you’ve ever said ‘its quicker to do it myself’, then think again. Not only is that usually untrue at least in the medium term, but it also sends out the wrong message. Try to think, with any task, would someone in my team learn from doing this? Would it let them to grow and develop and help get them ready for their next step up, as well as showing them that you value them? Think how you can involve and engage your team more. Use your resources well.
9. Reflect and learn
As we get busier and more fraught, the chances to reflect diminish or even disappear. Hold on to them. Reflecting on key activities and outcomes helps us to understand why we got the results we did, and what we can do to improve things. Reflection = learning. Learning = improvement. Improvement = better ROTI.
10. Go back to 1 and start again
This is an iterative process. If you keep going round this sequence, you’ll keep making improvements and you’ll get better and better ROTI.