Make some time for yourself

I recently posted at Packet Pushers about 10 key areas that people who work in IT should focus on to see improvements both in their working and personal lives. This post looks at the first of those areas, time management. To match the theme, I will make this post as short as possible so you can get on with the rest of your day.

There are countless books, websites, guides, courses, etc. that give you advice on how to improve your productivity. Some of these are very good, others less so. What most of them share in common is a toolbox of techniques to improve your time management. This post offers only three such tools that I use every day. I guarantee that if you condition yourself to use them every day too, you will find yourself getting more done. For those of you who are really busy, here are the three techniques, which I discuss further below:

  1. Lists
  2. 4 Ds method
  3. Distraction avoidance

Lists

Very simple this one. Every evening before you go to bed, spend up to 10 minutes writing out a list of things you need to get done. How you break down the list is up to you e.g. one list for work, another for home. Take any of the big tasks and break them down in to smaller ones. Then prioritise them in a way that works for you e.g. tasks that must be done the next day, those that can wait till later in the week, etc.

Once you have your final list, broken down with enough detail to get you started at full speed and in order of priority, take the list to work the next day and start on the number one priority and get it completed before working on the next task on the list. Cross out each task as you complete it.

4 Ds method

This applies to any workflow that comes your way, whether it’s your helpdesk application, paper tray or email inbox. It’s a simple way to deal with anything that is going to use up some of your valuable time. The 4 Ds all do what they say on the tin. The explanations I give are from the point of view of an email that has just landed in your inbox, but you can apply, as stated above, to any incoming request for your time:

  • Deal. If this is a priority, deal with it right now. Do what is required, sign it off and move on.
  • Delegate. Send this onwards to somebody else who can deal with this. Only make a note if you need to chase it up yourself.
  • Defer. This one is critical. If you need to deal with it, but not just yet, move it to a ‘Defer’ folder and only look at this folder when you are going to deal with it. You must get out of the habit of looking at deferred items more than once before doing anything with them. That costs you a lot of time in the long run.
  • Delete. Just delete it and have done with it.

Distraction avoidance

Distractions can easily suck up hours of your working day:

  • Meetings that you should not have been in
  • Meetings that go on for two hours with a five minute ‘useful’ bit
  • Telephone calls that match the two meeting points above
  • Gossip around the coffee machine\photocopier
  • ‘Can you just take a quick look at this for me’….an hour later, you are still looking

Distractions such as those above and countless others eat in to your working day and indeed life in general. Learn how to deal with them in an assertive yet professional manner.

An example: I’ve said on many occasions that I am unable to make it to a meeting due to being busy on something else. When I read the meeting minutes later, I learn in less than five minutes what it took the attendees 90 minutes to find out. I try to only attend meetings where my input is necessary and even then, I can often give my input after the fact.

When you walk about the office, walk with pace. Not only do you get where you are going quicker but it makes it easier to get past that person who is always grabbing you for advice. When I make myself a brew in the kitchen, I take it straight back to my desk. I eat my lunch at my desk too.

If somebody keeps tapping you on the shoulder for help, rather than doing it for them, show them how to do it themselves, perhaps with a Wiki article or a process guide. Or send them a LMGTFY link. Or be honest and tell them that you are really busy now but if they send you the details, you will get around to it.

Of course sometimes it’s somebody senior to yourself who keeps sapping your time and if that is the case, refer them to your list of priorities for the day and ask them where their request falls on that list. It’s amazing how often they will concede that it’s not as important as first suggested.

Summary

Use each of these in conjunction with one another and really put effort in to each of them. It has been estimated that learning a new habit requires daily practice and takes about 2-3 weeks before it starts to feel natural. However, get started today and you will see results almost immediately. Let me know how you get on in the comments below or via email. I also have an upcoming post on how to make the most of your studying time that I have found not only lets me learn things quicker, but makes the topics sink in!

Finally, remember that on average, we have 450 minutes at work each day. Try to make every single one count and watch your productivity soar.

Till the next time…

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