Time. We have changed so much over the past 10 years – we have seen radical developments in the IT area with amazing developments we never dreamed about being possible only 5 years ago. Yet, one aspect we have not managed to “improve” is “time”. We always seem to be running out of time.

Time is relative – meaning that time and space combined to form space-time, and everyone measures his or her own experience in it differently because the speed of light (300,000 km per second) is the same for all observers (In other words, if all observers have to agree on the speed of light being 300,000 km per second, then they can’t agree on the time it takes for other objects to travel relative to them) [1]. Anyway, unfortunately for us on earth time is a constant and whatever you do you will be chasing it all your live.

For us being stuck on earth there are some great suggestions and tips to ensure that you do the most / best with the time you have.

For many of us there comes the point when we seem to add more and more work without being able to make any inroads into getting things done. For many there is simply not enough time in the day to get things done and as we push more work in front of us, the workload increases yet the time we have does not. The result? We get frustrated, annoyed with ourselves and with the people asking us to do more stuff. Pressure applied from work as well at home will lead us to try to do our best, yet stress and lack of focus will reduce quality and increase the time it takes to complete a task yet further.

Einstein said that the Space-Time is relative, and time can appear differently for people relative to their position; unfortunately that does not apply to the Stuff-Time relationship – more stuff does not warp the time continuum – it is constant.

Many years ago a good friend gave me a time management book – Eat that Frog (see here). It stipulated a couple of great ideas to help with managing time better. Over the years I also picked up some ideas and ideas from colleagues and I thought I would try to generate my own list of things to manage the Stuff-Time constant.

Let’s consider a context to give us some focus: You are an ambitions individual who wants to develop your career by (lets assume) been seen as someone “who can get stuff done within timelines and to very good / excellent quality.” You have a solid IT background and are looking to step into the next level. You have a young family with many personal obligations.

So the first question could be: “How do I get more stuff done?”. It looks that others can manage? Why can I not? The answer to that question is not so simple.

Assuming that the Stuff-Time relationship is fixed, there are only two basic things that you could do to “get more stuff done” within that same time period (I will only focus on professional tasks and not the jobs you get at home):

  • Get rid of stuff (not surprisingly)
  • Get more effective in getting stuff done (many options available – see below)

Let’s focus first on 1: one very effective way ensuing that you are able to do more with the time you have, is to get rid of work that is not “valuable” to you. Trick is to know what is valuable and what is not. In one of my previous post (see here) I outlined some ideas on how to define success – how to know what you “want”.

To understand that is critical to decide what tasks can be moved, to decide what is not important and what is to ensure you are maximise your effectiveness; to stop wasting time on tasks that will not help you to achieve the success you defined :

Get rid of stuff

  • My Task List : Create a list that outlines every task with the following key attributes

    • Description
    • Detail
    • Requestor
    • Priority (key to help with parking / passing activities to others)
    • Start date and End Date
    • Estimated effort (this is important – see below)
    • Estimated duration
  • My Priority List: Using what “success means to you” develop a list of tasks / areas or people that are important to you. Use that list to go through your current ToDo list to decide what to park or to pass onto others. Make sure that you add the Priority list to your Task List to ensure you have one master reference of all actions / tasks you are either been asked to do or the things you have do to achieve the success you identified.
  • My Task Entry Filter: Develop a filter to assess each incoming work against your priority list and against the current task list. This includes making sure that you have a clear view on the effort need to complete a task. Sometimes that this not straight forward as people my ask you to do something that is not fully scoped. In that case you might spend some time to understand the activities needed to close the task to understand if this is fitting within our effort forecast.
  • My Committed Effort: there are only 24 hours in a day and take away the personal time you might be left with X hours a day for work related activities (this has to be effective time so excluding travel and or other non-work related aspects).
    If you have created the My Task List you will have Y number of tasks and per task an estimated effort per task (call it D) spread between start and end date.
    If you summarise the total effort time per day it must not be greater than the time you have allocated to effective work (so Sum(D)<=X). If you have 5h on a day and SUM(D)=6h you are overloaded. Assuming that task is important you should move some work (at least 1h) to another day or hand over to someone else if possible.
  • My Task Reducer: once you have your Task List, Priority List, Committed Effort you are able to manage the work that is requested but that will not help you to achieve your success objectives, you should reduce your total committed effort. Try to find a way to move the 1h (as above) to another day if possible or get someone else to do the work.
  • My Terms of Reference : make sure that you have an agreed terms of reference that outlines in detail (in WinWord format) what your role objective is, what deliverables and tasks are in scope of your role, who you report to and what teams you have / work with. Make sure that all stakeholders have an understanding of your terms of reference and when someone asks you to execute a task make sure it is validated against the terms of reference. Any conflict you should work with the requestor as well as your Line Manager to ensure that the task is either allocated to the appropriate person or you will take on the task assuming that your terms of reference has been re-prioritised.

If you cannot get rid of work then you need to improve your effectiveness – Get more effective in getting stuff done (so point 2 above):

  1. Create a daily list: Use your “My Task List” to generate a daily task list and ensure that you are fully managing the time you have per day. Ensure that you are ticking tasks off once they are done and ensure that your “My Task List” is being updated.
  2. Focus: Make sure that you focus on the work / tasks. In particular when planning for a call or a workshop you must ensure that you understand and drive the outcomes and deliverables. Make sure that the effort was worth it and that you get out of the session what you need.
  3. Do not disturb: to ensure that you get stuff done make sure that during times when you absolutely have to get deliverables out, you are not easily disturbed. Put our out of office on to help you focus on the task
  4. Get on with it: assuming you have a good understand what you should do and what tasks have been added to your list, get on with closing each one. Start with the ones that are difficult, the ones you don’t really want to do (see Eat that Frog). Do not procrastinate….
  5. Make the most of the Time you have: if you travel a lot like I do use “down” time to work. Use sitting on a long haul flight for instance when flying against the time zone to work and resist watching a movie (reserve that to go to the pictures with your family).
  6. Make more time: as time is a constant for us maybe you can increase X (your available time) by being more efficient with standard tasks like “reading email”. There are plenty of ways to help you with using your inbox more efficiently. See my post on how to get people to use email more effectively here and here how you can get some time managing your inbox 
  7. Also, stop wasting time reading BBC news, facebook or other aspects that distracts you – unless of course you need to. Get on with the tasks in hand and don’t waste precious time.
  8. Assess each activity you execute per day: meeting a colleagues to have a natter, having a long conversation whilst the cattle is boiling for the 3rd time, discussing what this morning’s journey was like and what the best diversion is for the temporary roadwork’s on Main street is, is not effective use of your time. Of course, social interactions are critical and I am not saying to ignore all colleagues. However during your working time you must ensure you maximise X to ensure SUM(D) is achievable (see above)
  9. Don’t think – “I don’t have time”if you do you are wasting the time you do have. Focus on the actions you have agreed to take on and action them. Trust your task list and the prioritisation you have done.
  10. Only attend meetings/calls if you have to: every time you are being invited to a meeting ensure that the session is valuable for you and that it contributes towards an actions that you have on your Task List. If not, don’t attend.
  11. Reward yourself: it can be very satisfying to successfully close an action – ensure that you allow yourself a reward – like spending time to have a nice coffee, or catching up with colleagues etc.

The prioritised Task List including a clear view on committed effort, your entry filter and your terms of reference are important assets to manage the time you have effectively. The suggestions in the second sections are targeted to help you achieve the outcomes you need to realise success and not to drown in stuff that is suboptimal. I hope that you found some valuable things in this week’s post – if you have any suggestions don’t waste time and just drop me a note.

Thanks for Reading!

About the Author: Gunnar Menzel has been an IT professional for over 25 years and is the VP and Chief Architect Officer for Capgemini’s Infrastructure Business. Gunnar is also currently the President for the Open Data Centre Alliance. His main focus is business- enabling technology innovation

[1] http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/time-dil…