"If only I had more time..." How often do we hear that? No one is going to hand you a big wodge of it, So how do we manage our time better?
It’s early in the morning. Very early. My three month old daughter does not seem to have fully grasped the clock change where both her mother and I are trying (unsuccessfully) to claw back the hour we lost last night (and many more from the past week).
After several verses of ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’, many different ‘that’s not my..[rabbit etc]’ books and of course plenty of tickle time, she finally goes back to sleep for her morning snooze just as I have fully woken up. Wonderful timing.
Stop the Clocks
It is one of the strains of being a freelancer that you are never really offduty and with fatherhood, time is now such a precious commodity. Shortly before Matilda (Tilly for short) was born, I was quite content working the many hours under the sun (and also when the sun had gone down). The weather was bleak, my partner was often in bed at around 8pm and well heck I was quite happily working late on a range of interesting projects.
Now my time is much more limited and the value of worklife balance is much different. If only I could do like Noel Gallagher wanted to do, and be able to Stop the Clocks. I should also confess at this stage that time management is not one of my strengths and my partner would probably shout is a great weakness of mine. However, I have sought inspiration from differing sources:
The Apple Watch
The first problem that I frequently encounter at work is distractions. It could be anything but shiny, new things are a real angst for me. However, Apple’s latest ‘Watch’ could help me at work right?
If your watch can now tell you how fit you are or answer phone calls surely it could help stand still time? Well according to Apple, it is an incredibly precise timepiece and it keeps time within 50 milliseconds of the definitive global time standard.
Hmm still struggling to see how we could save those milliseconds but the makers also say that it lets you customise your watch face to present time in a more meaningful, personal context that’s relevant to your life and schedule. Mickey mouse is great for weekend but does it actually save time?
About a boy
Guilty pleasure though it may be, put me in front of a Hugh Grant film for a couple of hours and I’m a happy man. [This link is relevant I promise]. In the film ‘About a boy’, Hughie’s character (Marcus) hasn’t a job but doesn’t need to work either (his fictional father wrote a famous Christmas jingle). However, he has a surprisingly useful way of dividing up his day:
‘I find the key is to think of a day as units of time...each unit consisting of no
more than 30 minutes. Full hours can be a little bit intimidating...and most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath: One unit. Watching
Countdown: Okay...One unit.’
Admittedly, Marcus doesn’t have the most pressing of schedules but nonetheless I’ve found
great solace in focussing on a single project for 2030mins before moving on to another subject or repeating again.
Be an email ninja and do a 4-hour work week
Now I’m not a big fan of the overall premise that you can do a full week’s work in 4 hours.
For those emails that require attention, he simply processes them ‘until done’ including external todo lists rather than skimming and then returning to them at a later date.
Top chefs are trained to have everything in its place ‘Miseenplace’ ie the tools, ingredientsbefore you begin. This planning helps the chefs focus on what they are doing, ie the cooking, rather than having to leave their station to get a knife or a specific type of herb etc. According to Anthony Bourdain, in Kitchen Confidential this is a ‘state of mind’ not just a timesaving device.
Applying this mindset to the officebased world what’s the first thing you do in the morning when you start at work? For most people, this is checking emails and suck us instantly into a reactive mode where we respond to other people’s demands for our time. Ron Friedman, says that this is the ‘equivalent of entering a kitchen and looking for a spill to clean or a pot to scrub.’
It would be much better, Ron says, to begin your day with a brief planning session and has a great exercise to ask yourself: If the day is over and I am leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?
Getting stuff done
Now everyone writes a long list of things to do. Often way longer than a day, some longer than a week. So it’s crucial to prioritise by being specific but how? Years ago, I remember seeing an American relative we were visiting writing her shopping list in order to match the geographical layout of the Wallmart store.
Productivity guru David Allen suggests using a verb with each item on your list to make your intentions concrete and specific. Instead of writing ‘Wednesday’s blog’ put down each action that this will involve e.g. research content or source pictures and then promote. Not only does this simplify each task but it also means that you can delegate parts of the project. Finally, wherever possible you should start the day with tasks that require the most mental energy (as willpower reduces during the day).
Right, I’m off to bed but let me know what you think.
Andrew Hadfield, Director at Mavin Communications, a specialist communications agency that works for public sector organisations, social enterprises and startup companies.