Friday, March 02, 2007

Time management

Working hard and achieving many results are two different things. The idea of a busy employee, with lots of activities, running from one thing to another sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it? He or she is always busy, but the question is whether this person actually achieves results. First think, then act is the right way for an efficient use of available time. By making choices it is possible to choose whether a task should be done by yourself, by someone else or not at all.

There is an important difference between important and urgent matters. Something that is important doesn’t need to be urgent and something that’s urgent doesn’t have to be important. Before starting a task it’s a good strategy to consider what type of task it is. It can save a lot of time to choose the most efficient way of dealing with the task. The main question is to ask yourself whether the task is important and/or urgent. Depending on the two answers, this may lead to a different type of follow up:
  1. Important – Yes / Urgent – Yes : do it yourself
  2. Important – Yes / Urgent – No: plan the task, if possible ask someone else to do it
  3. Important – No / Urgent –Yes: ask someone else
  4. Important – No / Urgent – No: consider no doing the task at all (unless you have spare time)

A project manager can provide additional value to choose the right strategy, especially in case of type 1 and type 2 tasks. According to the Pareto principle 20% of the work can deliver 80% of the results, meaning that 80% of the time is lost for all kinds of trivial aspects. When you have chosen the right task strategy it is important to create the right working conditions:

Calendar: clearly make use of a calendar. What’s possible, what’s not. Reserve time for unexpected things, time for preparation, travel time, make your personal planning. When you use shared calendars in your organisation, this is even more important. Others can see that your time is set to ‘busy’, so the risk that new appointments or acitivities will be planned for you is diminished.
Planning: try to be honest about the amount of time you need for a task. Take this into account, take care of some extra time and set your priorities. Don’t underestimate this.
Phone: if possible, re-direct your calls to a secretary, don’t make longlasting phonecalls yourself and set time frames on which you’re not available
E-mail: when e-mail drops in (e.g., showing itself by a small pop-up), do not react immediately. Before you know there is another task on your table that needs to be done. This is especially bad if it is a type 1 task. When you have to concentrate on a task, shut down the e-mail and check it again after a while. An interesting filter is to create a rule to move all cc: mails to a separate folder. I have never seen Cc-mails that included type 1 or type 2 tasks. The effect on your Inbox is amazing.
Open door: beware the open door principle. Off course this creates a nice, social and open work environment, but everyone can drop in at any time, also when it’s not convenient for you. For some tasks, don’t hesitate to shut the door (as if you were in a private meeting).
Virtual office: Even better (but that depends on the work you’re doing and the HRM policy) work at home every now and then. When you have a fast broadband connection, e-mail, VPN, mobile phone, collaborative environments, and a webcam as standard facilities, it’s just a second, virtual office, only with a limited risk on disturbances. A lot of people won’t even notice, expect those who work in your immediate environment. I think it’s a pretty good estimate to say that about 50% of my work e-mails are sent from my home office. On the one hand because I work at home one day a week, on the other hand because I deal with part of my e-mails in the evening because I often leave the office at 4 PM to avoid (part) of the traffic jam. All non-urgent mails can be handled in the quiet surroundings of my home office.

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