Beating the “Long, Dull Winter”: Expert Time Management Tips to Manage Your Time
When I was a child, I often watched the cartoon show “Arthur”, which followed an anthropomorphic aardvark and his friends. There is one particular episode which, all these years later, still comes to mind during this time of the year: “The Long, Dull Winter”. In the episode, Arthur and his friends, feeling fatigued and weary due to the long stretch between winter and spring, attempt to rectify their dread by inventing a new holiday to look forward to. Though, in the real world, we aren’t as lucky, seeing a “light at the end of the tunnel” can not only help us shape the way we create our goals and structure our priorities, but even frame our lives.
This concept, that of “treating yourself” after accomplishing a goal, is one Kathryn McKinnon, CEO and Founder of the time management firm McKinnon & Company, holds dear. As studies have found that the ability to successfully manage time, including having something to look forward to, has a direct and positive effect on our self-efficacy, our ability to alleviate work-related stress, the satisfaction we feel in our job, and even our health.
I spoke to the Harvard Business School and Fortune 500 Executive Coach and bestselling author of the book, ‘Triple Your Time Today’, on Amazon to find out how to best manage our time and stay on track during this long, dull winter.
MB: How would you define time management?
KM: Time management is a process of noticing how you spend your time doing things and making a choice about how you choose to utilize the time you have… it’s not that easy a question to answer because most people don’t define it. They know they have an issue or problem, but they don’t call it a ‘time management’ problem: They say they can’t get their best work done, or there are too many things to do on their to-do list, or they are being interrupted all the time, or they have excuses for what’s wrong with their efficiency; but they aren’t calling it time management.
So, time management is a state of being, a mindset, it’s a way you look at how you want to live your life and the intentions you have for supporting that life and being the best person in every moment of your life. Only you can define how that will unfold, but you can take advantage of different techniques, systems and mindsets so that you can notice how you spend your time and whether it’s living up to your aspirations.
MB: As an expert, what are your top time management tips?
KM: The first of my time management tips is an easy one, but sometimes people overlook it: Set yourself up for easy wins every day.
Now, how do we define that? Highly productive executives and business professionals, whom I have interviewed or worked with over the past 25 years or so, do something different, something special with their time. One of these things is to set themselves up for easy wins. What they do is have a to-do list, then they prioritize that list, choose the most urgent of those priorities and do some of the fastest things on their list; that could be a quick, high-priority email or a phone call, for instance. They use a timer or stopwatch to keep their mind focused on the task.
They also stack meetings and activities. We tend to be more efficient when we do similar activities, so you can stack meetings (have one after the other) or emails or telephone calls. I find that if I do those kinds of things one after another, my mind is much more efficient because I know that the next activity is similar.
The second of my time management tips is to use my email system, which incorporates my 6-12-6 Rule.
I want to highlight a client of mine: He was so bogged down with email that he couldn’t get his best work done. He was spending 4-5 hours a day on email, which was a lot of time. We did an analysis and discovered that 60% of the email he was working on weren’t even related to his priorities or his true work. So, I taught him my email system to help him with email and accomplish his most important work, so he could work on email, but not all day long. I had him scan his email early in the morning (six o’clock), at lunchtime (noon) and then again at the end of the day (six o’clock p.m.). He scheduled time to work on email, but not all day. He went through his email and picked out the ones related to his highest priorities; the other email he had someone else handle, filed or pushed off to another scheduled time or day.
So, I recommend you designate time to work on email; a couple of hours a day.
You also need to delete non-essential email, don’t respond to every email, unsubscribe from unessential news and categorize or file your email to access work easily. As a result, [my client] saved 10 hours per week just by reorganizing his time. We didn’t reinvent the wheel; we just tweaked his system so that it was more efficient for him.
My third time management tip is to keep tight control over your schedule and your calendar.
What I recommend you do is organize your activities into ‘one capture system’ which will show you your real available time: You put all your tasks and activities in your calendar, professional and personal, and block out time so you can complete your most important tasks and goals. It prevents double booking, and lets your calendar run your day instead of letting your day run your calendar. It makes you choose your priorities and helps you see what’s most important to you, because at the end of the day you’re going to spend your time on what really matters to you the most.
MB: What about procrastinators who rarely follow time management techniques; do the same tips apply to them?
KM: When I ask my clients why they procrastinate on their goals, they tell me they don’t know where to start or what to do next, or the task they are about to undertake seems too big or difficult, so they avoid it until the pressure gets to them. Others procrastinate for fear of failure; if they try to reach a goal and fail, they’ll feel that they’ve let themselves or others down, so they don’t even get to the starting block. Others procrastinate as a way of maintaining control over their world. Procrastination is simply a habit or behavior.
If you know why you procrastinate, you can start to address this by applying my “7 productivity shortcuts” to get out of procrastination and into action fast:
1) Pick a clear and a reasonable goal that you want to accomplish and create a brief plan of action. You have a clear goal that you can accomplish within a few steps.
2) Break your goal down into manageable sized activities. You put these into your calendar so you can work on them every day. For instance, I wrote and published my book in 90 days. I had a goal, and every day I decided to tackle a piece of the project, so I broke the book up into chapters and topics I wanted to address. I created case studies around each of the issues, and I used my timer. I immersed myself in it and didn’t do anything else; I didn’t check emails, I didn’t take phone calls. Because I broke that whole project into little pieces, it didn’t seem so big; it was manageable.
3) Select one single task and start on it, immediately. A lot of people who procrastinate don’t know where to start, so I say just pick something, the hardest or easiest thing. Just pick something because you’ll never get started if you don’t pick something.
4) Limit the number of tasks on your to-do- list. I have an intention every day to accomplish one or two major goals. I usually don’t have more than three priorities on my to-do list and so I accomplish them. When I finish them, I go onto something that maybe wasn’t a priority, but still needs to get done.
5) Select a small part of a big job, and only do that one piece to get started. Create a deadline for your overall project, and then work backwards to set deadlines for smaller parts of the project. article continues after advertisement
6) Set a time limit for the project and create milestones for accomplishing smaller tasks. That way if you have a major task, you can work on it every day or every week, so you don’t wait until the deadline to start.
7) Notice your successes and reward yourself for completing a job well done. A lot of people take their success for granted and don’t notice when they’ve done a good job, and as a result, to them, it doesn’t seem that they’ve accomplished anything at all. But the fact is, they haven’t noticed their successes. When you start to keep track of your success, you will notice how productive you actually have been and that becomes your motivation to keep yourself on track.
Ultimately, you always have a choice with how you spend your time; it’s not how much time you have that matters, what matters most is how you choose to spend the time you have.
MB: In the past, when I was in a crunch for time, I would resort to multi-tasking. What is your take on multi-tasking? Is it the time-saver it promises to be?
KM: The fact is, you end up losing a lot of time when you multi-task because of do-over work, because you didn’t really comprehend what you just read while doing something else, or you didn’t really understand the task. I don’t recommend it: Research tells us the human brain is just not set up for multi-tasking when you need to concentrate or focus on important work.
MB: Another issue many people experience – I know I certainly have – is having a hard time saying ‘no’ to co-workers. For the people-pleaser in all of us, how would you recommend saying ‘no’?
KM: While always saying yes is admirable, it puts other people’s needs before your own. When you say yes to someone else, you say no to yourself. Highly productive executives and professionals understand when to say no. Throughout their day they ask themselves if how they are spending their time is their priority or someone else’s. If it’s someone else’s priority, then it’s time to say no.
So, they don’t take every phone call, they don’t attend every meeting, or they pick and choose the meetings they have to be at. They are easily accessible, but they are not always available – there’s a difference.
They also take time for themselves and recognize how important it is to maintain a healthy mind, body and spirit. They build healthy boundaries and don’t take their time for granted. They say, “I can’t help you right now but let’s set up a time when we can talk”.
The average office manager is interrupted every 10 minutes or so while it takes about 25 minutes to get your focus back to where you were before you were interrupted. So, if you’re interrupted twice in an hour, you’ve lost an hour of focused time. If you’re interrupted all day long, you’ve had no time to focus.
Highly productive managers and executives understand the need for focused time. They block out uninterrupted time to do their most important work and they also plan for interruptions. You block out a couple of the hours in your day for interruptions; and during that time, you might be doing low priority work like emails while anticipating the interruptions.
Get people used to the fact that you respect your own time, because if you don’t, others won’t either. You don’t have to have an open-door policy, people can reach you by making an appointment to meet with you, or you can have a block of time during the day when your office door is open or you’re available for phone calls. That way your office is not a revolving door.
MB: Lastly, how do you manage the personal-professional barrier?
KM: When you allow your work to migrate into your personal life, then you become a workaholic. Most of the stress I see coming from executives and professionals is from not managing those barriers. There’s a time and place for work, and there’s a time and place for pleasure, and if you don’t allow yourself time for both, you’re not going to have balance in your life.
Another time management tip I recommend is to track your time for a day and record all the things you spend time on and how much time you spend on each activity. The more you track how you really spend your time, the easier it’ll be to see if there are any patterns occurring, when you’re most productive, least productive, if you have unhealthy habits, when you procrastinate, why you can’t get as much done as you’d like, and where you can improve your productivity.
Once you know what’s getting in your way and you’re committed to making a change, then you can start to take some steps to avoid these pitfalls and really improve your productivity. All Rights Reserved. McKinnon & Company, 21 Robert Rd., Marblehead, MA 01945 781-631-2193 [email protected] time management tips time management tip, productivity