Break Down Large Tasks and Backlogs Through Carryover Momentum

2nd-Edition-Cover-FrontThe power of planning is an amazing thing. Whatever day of the week it is as you read these lines, think back to what you were doing one week ago. Doesn’t seem like seven days, does it? It’s not fair, how quickly time seems to fly, but that’s life.

If you are faced with a task that is too big to get done all at once, the chances are that another week will slip by, then another, then another. Though this might be considered procrastination, it’s not always the case that you’re actually consciously putting it off, so much as never quite getting around to it – there’s a difference.

To that end, there is the principle of carryover momentum, in which it becomes possible to break up a large task, and then schedule and deal with it regularly and consistently over a period of days.

If you were to assign one hour per day to a project, you wouldn’t feel that much headway had been achieved after the first hour on the first day. But if you were able work on the project one hour each workday for a month, that’s 20 hours, or two-and-a-half full business days. For larger scale projects, that one-hour per day, even with weekends and holidays off, becomes 250 hours in a year, or the equivalent of one month’s worth of workdays. That’s a lot of time!

The reason why this technique is called carryover momentum goes back once again to the workings of the brain. By returning to an ongoing task on a daily basis – preferably, but not necessarily at the same time each day – the mind continues to retain and access the creative momentum of the previous day. It significantly reduces the amount of “let’s see now, where was I?” that happens when a project is picked up after a week or two of inactivity.

This is yet another example of how to capitalize on the strengths and weaknesses of the brain to get the right work done in the right way within the constraints of a busy day.

So, if you are facing a large project at work, and you feel overwhelmed by the size of it all, do not despair. That sense of overload is normal. It’s mental paralysis, the manifestation of the fight-or-flight reflex, draining nutrients from the thinking area of the brain. Its treatment is tangible, logical knowledge, represented by a simple calendar. By laying out a collection of one-hour blocks across a calendar (larger blocks for larger projects), it becomes possible to map the project across time, and assign tasks accordingly. Where once you had a mountain blocking your view, you now have a mountain with a staircase carved into it.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, Bristall.com. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. If you would like to listen to my podcast, check it out here. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

CoolTimeLife Podcast Episode 6 (Managing Your Metabolism) Show Notes

In my 6th podcast, released February 27, 2017, I discuss the impact your metabolism has on your day, your sleep and your work. Here’s the blood sugar curve that highlights the roller-coaster energy level of a typical day:

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Here is the black light aquarium room at Google. Pretty cool, eh?It’s an extreme example of a creative workspace. You might not be able to get your employer to spring for one of these, but the same benefits of mental decompression, can be obtained by taking the time to go for a walk.

blacklightaquarium

For more information about sleep, check out the excellent website Van Winkles.

I mentioned effective meetings in this podcast. This was dealt with in detail in Episode 4 – The 55-Minute Meeting.

If you are discovering this post before having heard the podcast, search for CoolTimeLife on iTunes, or visit Blubrry.com, which will point you towards iTunes, Android and others.

CoolTimeLife Podcast Episode 4 (55-Minute Meeting) Show Notes

In my 4th podcast, released February 13, 2017. I discuss the power of the 55-minute meeting. A couple of the key points that were listed in the podcast:

A meeting is supposed to:

  • coordinate action
  • to exchange information
  • to motivate a team
  • discuss issues, ideas or problems
  • and/or to make a decision.

Some of the many complaints people have about meetings:

  • There are too many of them
  • Many are unnecessary
  • They don’t start on time or are held up due to late arrivals
  • They have unclear agendas
  • They go on for too long
  • The wrong people are invited
  • People introduce irrelevant topics
  • They conclude with vague ideas and unresolved issues
  • They end late

The ideal 55-minute meeting can be set up like this:

55-minute-meeting

If you are discovering this post before having heard the podcast, search for CoolTimeLife on iTunes, or visit Blubrry.com, which will point you towards iTunes, Android and others.

Applying the Right Conditioning, Not On Your Hair, On Your Colleagues

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One of the best ways to become more productive is to proactively manage the expectations of others, rather than simply react to them the moment they appear. This sounds tricky at first glance, but it really comes down to conditioning.

Conditioning makes gains through positive reward.

Many types of creatures can be conditioned by way of a food reward, after they perform a desired action. That’s what the whole “Pavlov’s dog” thing was about. With our human colleagues the same approach can be applied, but instead of food, you can use another basic need, and that is comfort. Whether they are your co-workers, clients, colleagues or managers – they all crave the comfort of knowing their current need will be handled. When you address that craving, you deliver comfort to them.

But comfort can come in two forms: you can do what they ask, or you can manage their expectations. The first response conditions people to know they can always get what they want from you right away. For example, a colleague sends you a work-related email at 11:30 p.m. If you respond to it, you are conditioning the sender to always expect the same type of 24/7 service. That’s great for them, but not great for you.

The second – managing their expectations – gives them the comfort of knowing they have been heard and will be attended to, within a reasonable amount of time. This second choice, I believe, is much better.

To protect your valuable working time, and to use it correctly, we have to identify every opportunity to influence and soothe the wills and egos of those around us. Simply blocking off time or disappearing into an unused office to get work done, for example, runs the risk of causing the people around you great worry – not for your safety, necessarily, but for the satisfaction of their own needs. They will continue to try to find you.

If you don’t feel like performing this type of expectation-reward conditioning, remember that choosing not to condition is still conditioning. Whichever response you give to a request or interruption, it becomes the precedent for future expectations.

Let’s put it this way: a colleague comes to you with a task that he perceives as urgent. He wants you to do it. If there is no one else who can do this task but you, there are three possible answers:

  • I’ll do it now.
  • I’ll do it later.
  • I can’t do it now, but I can do it at 2:00. How’s 2:00 for you?

The first answer, “I’ll do it now,” informs the requester that you are willing to drop everything to accommodate the request. That’s not good. Once precedent has been set, the expectation is that you will do so again and again, and you will lose control of that relationship.

The second answer, “I’ll do it later,” is unacceptable to your colleague’s need for comfort. They demand satisfaction, and a vague answer isn’t enough. Any time we use avoidance without an acceptable alternative, the requester remains motivated to pursue a better answer.

The third answer presents a suitable alternative to “now.” In this case, 2:00 is sufficiently close as to soothe the requester’s need for satisfaction, without requiring that you drop everything immediately. Providing that you actually pay this confidence back by dealing with the request at 2:00, you will have conditioned your colleague to recognize that you are accessible, albeit, more on your own terms.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, Bristall.com. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. If you would like to listen to my podcast, check it out here. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

CoolTimeLife Podcast Episode 2 (Attention) Show Notes

Episode 2 (January 30, 2017): Paying attention to the concept of attention, specifically: understanding and capitalizing on your own attention span as well as that of other people; techniques for getting people’s full attention in emails and meetings; standing to attention: why standing and moving around is good for your health;  memory tricks: how to remember people’s names before your short attention span lets go of them.

To listen to the podcast, click here
To subscribe to the podcast series, click here

IF PEOPLE DO NOT SEEM TO BE PAYING ATTENTION TO YOU DURING A MEETING:

It might seem rude. But maybe they are…

  • Taking notes. Digital notes are much easier to tag and search for.
  • Fact-checking or retrieving useful info or documents to keep the meeting on track
  • Putting out an external fire via email or chat. It’s eiter this or skip the meeting
  • Doodling / playing Angry Birds. Most people need to move around. We’re not allowed to fidget, so often, doodling is the next best thing

If an organization is to stay “old-school” and require that everyone turn off their devices and face-forward, then this needs to be communicated as “meeting policy,” and not be merely expected or assumed. Employees today make their own assumptions.

On the flip side, if a company wants to play it cool by allowing people to bring and use whatever devices they desire into a meeting, a similar policy must be developed and broadcast, not only to ensure these technically-inclined people actually do agree to pay attention and to produce the required results by the end of the day, but also to inform those who may not share this technological enthusiasm, that bringing devices into a meeting is not rude anti-social behavior, but is in fact the new norm.

In both cases it is essential that people on both sides of the ideological fence are made aware of whatever rules the company decides upon. Rude behavior after all can best be defined by what it is not: it is behavior that does not align with social convention. But unless that convention is explicitly defined and universally recognized, there is nothing for people to refer to.

ALLOWING FACEBOOK/SOCIAL MEDIA IN THE WORKPLACE

The 8-hour day does not work. This is why we have the water cooler and the cigarette break or coffee shop run. The reality is, no-one can do 8 hours of work in 8 hours.

What is your attention span like? Mine is about 12 minutes before I need a Twitter break. People have a professional obligation to act responsibly, of course, and to return to their tasks after the break. The point is to allow people to work according to the way their mind and body work best.

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ATTENTION-GETTING EMAILS

  • Subject lines – summarize your entire message in 12 words or less
  • Include one message per email.
  • The first 1st paragraph should say all that needs to be said
  • Keep your email short enough so that the opening and close are visible on the same screen. This encourages people to read.
  • Use a P.S. (postscript) as a place to repeat your message or call to action. The human eye is attractoed to graphic elements like post scripts

Resources I mention in this segment are collaborative workspaces, which I hope will replace most email in future years. These include:

STANDING TO ATTENTION
Examples of standing desk furniture:

Storkstand – this is what a Storkstand looks like.

storkstand

Stirworks offers a full sizes standing desk.

stirworks

MEMORIZING NAMES AND FACTS
To remember people’s names, use the act of shaking hands as a cue to start up the silent technique of word association. Find something about the person – their hairstyle, clothing or resemblance to a celebrity or friend – and connect that phonetically or visually to their name/

So there you have it, our podcast on attention. I hope it caught yours. Let me know by leaving a message on our comments form at the bottom of the MY PODCAST page.

CoolTimeLife Podcast Episode 1 (Light) Show Notes

cooltimelife-cover-smallEpisode 1 (January 2017): Light: how the darkness of winter and the brightness of your workplace affect productivity and health. Also, how to use light to get up more easily in the morning, and to run more effective meetings. And finally, vacations, (the light at the end of the tunnel) – three ways they contribute to career and life success, and how to make the most of them.

The Guardian article that I referred to was written by Jana Kasperkevic and can be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/sep/07/america-vacation-workaholic-culture-labor-day

The theme music for the CoolTimeLife was purchased through PodCastThemes.com.

Our sponsor for this episode is: The Bristall Group. Soft skills for today’s workplace.

NOTES: LOW LIGHT AND HIGH LIGHT
The presence of sunlight stimulates the body to release positive stress hormones get it moving. Low light does the opposite, prompting your body to create melatonin, which is the hormone that contributes to sleepiness and sleep. Melatonin can only be manufactured in low-light conditions. The presence of sunlight on a bright summer morning tends to sweep it away.

80% of the world’s population is oriented towards the morning. That means all of these people will be at their best basically between 9:00 and noon, and more specifically between 9:00 and 10:30, when the presence of strong morning light combines with caffeine and the energy of getting to work, to create the most alert period of the day.
This is a highly valuable slice of time, because you will be able to get more of your most important work done during this time, and you will be able to do it better – than in any other period in the day, especially mid-afternoon.

Beware! The light coming from your phone or tablet is bright and is bluish. It tricks the body into thinking the sun is coming up and consequently reverses the process of melatonin production just when you need it the most. If you want to use your devices any time after the sun has set, make sure to download an app that switched your display over to a lower light, lower contrast colour palette. Some phones have this included in their most recent operating system, and there are computer apps like F.lux that you can download too.

Get yourself a wall socket timer, and plug a lamp into it. Set it up with a lamp that is somewhere between your pillow and the coffeemaker, maybe in the hallway. Set the timer so that it turns the lamp on just 5 minutes before your alarm clock rips you from sleep.

Try to work somewhere where there is an abundance of natural light.

In any situation where you have to work or meet, try to get those fluorescent lights turned off. If you’re having a meeting, make it part of your meeting room setup list.  Turn off the fluorescents to and turn up the pot lights – you know, the incandescents. Open the drapes.  When you’re booking a meeting room, seek one out that has windows, and yes, book the meeting for first thing in the morning when 80% of your attendees will be at their best.

Try using a desk lamp. It doesn’t have to be a pricey full-spectrum lamp, just a regular one that uses a regular light bulb to cast some warmer light onto your working surface.

VACATIONS

From a productivity perspective, vacations are huge. They are a major contributor not only to health and life balance, but to productivity.

Jana Kasperkevic in The Guardian writes:

In the U.S,  the number of unused vacation days in the US recently was 169 million days, equivalent to $52.4bn in lost benefits. The reason for this, she writes, is that many employees are afraid to take it, while others just don’t get any at all, in fact she points out that only about 77% of Americans working for privately owned companies got paid vacation days. Those who choose not to go fear the face time problem, and they also feel that too much work will pile up while they are gone and they will be so stressed when they return that time off won’t be worth it.”

There are three distinct ways in which vacations work as a productivity and time management tool:

  1. The most obvious is the vacation itself. It is supposed to be a time when you let go of all of the stresses and pressures of the working year and do the things you really want to do. Most people find the first three days or so to be a major period of transition as they catch up on all the sleep they have missed, and actually gear down from the pace of business. After those first few days, the restorative effects of the vacation start to take shape, and like so many other areas of life, this does not exist only in the mind. It has profound effects on the body, particularly the immune system, as you start to actually feel relaxed and feel good.
  2. There is also the anticipation of a vacation to consider. If you find yourself in a stressful work situation, putting in extra hours and dealing with crisis after crisis, one of the best ways of mitigating the stress of that moment is to look forward to a break or vacation on the horizon – this is the light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing there is an end in sight has both a motivating and calming effect on your mind and body.
  3. Third, there’s the memory of the vacation. Once you have had some time off, hopefully you have done something great with that time, those pleasant memories of the activities – or just the rest – will stay with you forever. Those are good memories, and feeling good always has long term physiological rewards. As the old expression goes, no one on their deathbed ever wishes they had spent more time at the office. Great memories flood your brain with endorphins. They make you feel good, and this too serves as insulation against the stressors of the workday.

HOW CAN YOU PREPARE FOR A VACATION?

Your vacation should be treated as one of the most important parts of your job, because that’s just what it is. Consequently, vacation days must be defended if year-round productivity and achievement are your goals. This means you must take the time to plan your vacation period carefully to help ensure a smooth, stress-free departure and a smooth, stress-free return.

First, plan ahead to avoid that pre-vacation crunch. The last few days at the office before a vacation can actually be more stressful than usual, because it seems that all the work that you would have done if you were not going on vacation becomes immediate top-priority. Everyone around you feels you absolutely must get it all finished before your departure.  Start planning your departure a few weeks or months before the actual date, and you can influence the timelines of your projects, meetings, and other office events.

Draw a protective barrier around the period of your vacation, especially including the ten business days leading up to it and the ten immediately following it. Make sure those days before your vacation are carefully planned, so that you can hand off responsibilities to others and wrap up your projects. The days preceding a vacation should not be just business as usual for you. They should be about winding down and handing off.  If you try to keep on working on your normal tasks at your normal pace on these days, you will simply generate more stress and overwork than the holiday could possibly alleviate.

Plan your return before you leave. Though most people don’t want to even think about their return to work as they start their holiday, a smooth return will help to ease the stress of stepping back into the rat race. The day of your return should not include any meetings. It should be a transition day, in which time is given over to catching up on the events that happened during your absence, returning returning calls and emails, updating your agenda, and getting back up to speed.

Why is this so important? Because too many people simply return to the office and hit the ground running, trying to immediately regain the pace they were at when they left. They return straight away to the stress levels and pressures that they left behind, erasing much of the therapeutic benefits that a vacation brings. Remember: your vacation is a tool for relaxation and rebuilding. It is part of your job. You benefit, your family benefits, and your company benefits. Ease your way back into the momentum of work, just like a runner warming up before a marathon, and you will be better prepared to handle it. Start planning your next vacation immediately.

So there you have it, our podcast on light. Light in front of your eyes and light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Those Annoying LinkedIn Reminders

A short while back I read a comment on LinkedIn concerning those “annoying” work anniversary reminders. The complaint was about LinkedIn jamming people’s inboxes with needless reminders that “nobody reads or cares about anyway.” The comment had thousands of “likes,” suggesting many other people feel the same way.

But hold on a second. There’s so much reason to read and care about these notifications, if you just take a moment to to consider who they are there for. They are there for you.

These anniversary/achievement announcements provide each of us with a reason to reach out and reconnect with a person in our networks. Don’t forget: your personal network of the people you know, trust and respect, and who feel the same about you, is your greatest career safety net.

Too often the people we meet in the course of business fade away through neglect. We are all too busy to keep in touch, go to events, have lunch with people in a proactive manner. It all seems like a huge waste of time. But it is these people who provide leads, references, guidance, mentorship, and maybe even that next job opportunity for you or someone in your family. Your network is a net. No one should work without a net.

Those Notifications are for You, not Them

When an anniversary notification appears, either on the LinkedIn home screen, in your in-box, this is your chance to say “hi” once again. To keep the memory of you alive in the heart and mind of that individual. By sending them a quick heartfelt message (not just clicking the “Like” button, but an actual message), you are acknowledging that person’s dignity, hard work, and achievement. Even if they themselves have forgotten that it is their “5 year anniversary,” your reminder will touch them on an emotional level and will mean a great deal. As the expression goes, it’s not what you do with people, it is how you make them feel, that counts the most.

If the person whose work anniversary it is, is someone you don’t know, then they either a.) should not be in your collection of contacts; or b.) should be contacted in order that you get to know that person better. It is the Achilles Heel of LinkedIn that you can connect with anybody and everybody, for that is not its purpose.

Your Little Black Book

The value of LinkedIn is in the pedigree of your contacts. Every person you connect to should be someone you know, trust and respect. Someone who you would recognize if you met them on the street. Someone you would gladly shake hands with. LinkedIn is not a phonebook. It should not be a directory of every person you have every encountered or who has asked you to connect. LinkedIn should be your little black book, consisting of those people who are special to you – people with whom you have a great history.

If there are people in your collection that you do not know, then they should be pruned out of there, or improved. Not left as anonymous, meaningless people.

When these people mean something to you, the notifications will no longer be annoyances, clogging your inbox or screen. They will appear as what they should be: opportunity knocking. They represent a chance for you to quickly refine and add value to that most important of career assets: your network.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, Bristall.com. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. If you would like to listen to my podcast, check it out here. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

How a Warehouse Teach Us Control Over Our Schedule

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One of the most important principles that I teach to my audiences is to use the first 10-15 minutes of your day to plan the rest of the day. Book it as a recurring appointment that happens before any other business. Even after you have physically arrived at your workplace, even if you work from home, the day should not begin until you have reviewed and updated your project plan.

There is an all-too-human tendency for people to expect you to be available the moment they see you, even if you haven’t sat down yet. Not only should you be able to find time to take off your coat and get a coffee, but those first ten to fifteen minutes must also be defended as “not-yet-open-for-business” time. Think, once again, of the chef at a restaurant, or the owner of a store. There is much to be done before opening the doors to paying customers.

Reserving time in this way might seem tricky when you first start doing it, because people are used to talking with you the moment they see you, and you are likely used to getting started on the first of your many tasks. It is essential to condition your people as well as yourself to understand your new ways and to learn what’s in it for them to play along. Just because you haven’t been doing it a certain way in the past doesn’t mean you can’t start a new practice now. It’s all in how you communicate it.

  1. Identify your fixed appointments and be brutally realistic about their durations and other items like travel time. Although meetings and discussions should always be kept as short and effective as possible, some things will always take longer than we would like, and time must be reserved for this.
  2. Next, convert your To Do’s into appointments. Some To Do’s occupy a list on the edge of your calendar; others come disguised as emails, which request your action and attention. Any email that needs more than a couple of minutes of your time to respond to, either because it needs a lot of writing, or because it is requesting action on your part – is no longer an email. It deserves to be promoted into an appointment and assigned to your calendar. Because these tasks lack a specific start or end time, it is too easy to acknowledge their existence yet still overlook their duration – a fatal mistake, because, even the smallest of them will eat more of your time than you’d expect. Move them off the To-do list and directly onto your calendar as appointments,
  3. Next, schedule time for lunch. Nutrition and refreshment are essential but too often overlooks elements for productivity and success. Reserve a block of time for lunch. An hour is idea, but anything down to 15 minutes would do, providing it gives you enough time to eat – away from your work. Defend this small block of time. It is sacrosanct.
  4. Finally, ensure that some space on your daily calendar is left open for those unplanned events, whether they present themselves as crises or opportunities. This is a direct application of the 80/20 rule. A calendar should never be booked one hundred percent full, since this creates more problems than it solves.

Do you think it is impossible to insist on leaving some time in the day unassigned? That’s because as human beings we see most things in black and white concepts. The vagueness of the unknown is uncomfortable and we feel it should be replaced with an absolute. So to help justify the existence of spaces in your calendar, think about warehouses. A warehouse is a space whose success is based on having a certain portion of its volume as nothing but empty space. In order for fork-lift trucks or people to place items on shelves and retrieve them again, there has to be space – aisles and between shelving units and even vertical space above each shelf. If this 20 percent of the internal warehouse space was reassigned to the storage of more items, the total capacity of the warehouse would increase, but its functionality and practicality would be substantially reduced, since nothing could move.

Taking the time to structure your day in this way sets it on a positive, realistic course. It liberates your mind from having to make logistical decisions on the spot, and also gives you a great working stance to handle crises and the even unexpected events. Yes, it takes 15 minutes of your day to do this, but it means that the rest of your working day remains under your control.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, Bristall.com. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. If you would like to listen to my podcast, check it out here. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

What A Parking Lot Can Teach Us About Time Management

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Think how many times you have set out somewhere, perhaps to a shopping mall or downtown, only to find your plans delayed while you circle the block or cruise the parking lot looking for a space. It takes the momentum out of your trip, at least for a short while, yet parking is something we usually don’t think about until we actually need to do it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a series of permanent, personal parking spaces at all of our regular destinations to just slide into whenever we want? This would allow time to be spent on tasks rather than on travel.

In the context of your busy workday, that’s what you can do when you schedule your regular day-to-day events, and actually put them into your calendar, turning them into reserved, repeating activities. Most people schedule only the unique activities, such as a specific meeting or a dental appointment, and that’s where the problems start. Suppose a colleague messages you and says, “We need to meet next Tuesday. What does your day look like?” (Or worse, he simply looks at your calendar online, and books the meeting on your behalf.) The odds are that currently, your schedule for next Tuesday, shows only show the unique items, leaving the rest of the day misleadingly empty.

However, if you have scheduled your predictable and expectable activities as daily reserved events, Tuesday’s calendar will clearly show a block of time already reserved for the realistic work of the day.

This reserved time will not take up 100 percent of the day. There will still be time available to meet with your colleague. However the power of the reserved activity helps ensure that even those days you haven’t thought much about yet are already well prepared for the work that’s to come.

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The image above shows just how much or how little time is really available to you after accounting for the predictable and expectable events. It doesn’t mean that all your phone calls will happen between 8:00 and 9:00 every day – the blocks here are to show the amount of time required in total. Nor does this graphic mean you’re only free to meet with your colleague between 3:30 and 5:00. The component activities can be moved around to suit your needs. But by making these elements tangible, you develop a better understanding of what your day already entails, and secondly, such clear imagery allows you to question whether your time is being used most efficiently – or whether some refinement is required.

If you use online scheduling applications to schedule your day, then set each predictable activity as a recurring activity. But even if you use a paper day planner, you can mark off these recurring spaces activities with a pencil.

Remember, the phrase “time management” has two words in it, and the second one is management. This blocking system goes a long way towards effective management.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, Bristall.com. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

Reserved: What a Restaurant Table Can Teach Us About Time Management

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Picture this: You walk into a restaurant. The sign says, “Please seat yourselves.” So you enter and look around. Two tables are empty. One has a “Reserved” sign on it. Which one do you choose?

The choice is obvious: the one that does not have a “Reserved” sign on it. That tiny little sign had the power to divert you away from the table it was guarding. That’s power!

Now, picture your working week: it’s pretty much guaranteed that today, tomorrow, and into the foreseeable future, you will have emails, phone calls and meetings to attend to. These can be considered predictable tasks, because we know they will occur each day. These tasks are like the other restaurant customers. They walk in and sit themselves down on your calendar, wherever they find a place.

But there’s another category of tasks, the unplanned tasks, that come at you from left field, unannounced, to derail your nice, neat schedule. These events are the reason most time management approaches fail. It’s reasonably easy to plan for what you know is coming, but what about what you can’t foresee?

These unplanned events can take many forms, depending on your line of work, but examples could include:

  • Your manager or colleague drops an additional task onto your desk
  • A much-needed team member calls in sick
  • An unhappy customer shows up, loudly demanding satisfaction
  • A defective product is returned
  • A weather related event closes business for the day
  • The CEO pays a visit.

I propose that these events can and should be planned regardless, using hindsight as your lens upon the future.   They are activities that have happened before, and as unwelcome as they may be, they will likely happen again. Though you can’t predict when, the event will happen, your experience and wisdom will give good insight into playing the odds.

Here’s an example: weather. No matter where you live, there is always some sort of weather event that threatens to disrupt things once in a while. It could be a blizzard or an ice storm, a tornado, a flood or a weather-related power outage. Now no one can truly predict when one of these is going to happen, but your past experience of living and working in your area of the country is already sufficient enough to say, ” the odds of having a weather event in the next four months, one that calls for a day away from normal work, are pretty good. You might be able to anticipate at least three big snowfalls happening over the period of January to March for example. If, in your experience, these three events have each caused a day’s delay in the past, then it means that your calendar should reflect this, by scheduling them now.

So how do you schedule a storm? You don’t. But what you do instead is to reserve the time in advance. The period January to March includes 64 weekdays. But if three of these days have a good chance of being eclipsed by weather, you now only have 61 days to get your work done.

By entering your “anticipated storm hours” into your calendar, you make them real. They speak for themselves. This makes it easier to more accurately calculate how many hours you actually, realistically have, for all those other expectable activities. If the storm never comes, there’s always something else you can do with those hours. But if it does, you will be in a better position to manage your workload.

Don’t forget, weather is not the only unplanned event in your basket. Think of all the surprise events that have happened to you in weeks and months past. It usually becomes pretty evident that every day there will be something that comes along that forces you to put everything else aside to deal with it. If that’s the case, then the math is easy: reserve an hour every day for the crisis to come. Make it a recurring activity. Every day, 12 noon: crisis of the day.

It doesn’t mean the unplanned event will happen at 12:00, but it does mean that the hour needed has been reserved for it. This tangible reservation fends off other activities and meeting requests, just like that “Reserved” sign does at a restaurant table

A crisis is not so much an unexpected event as an irregular and unwelcome one. By identifying them, planning for them and reserving time for them, you are not adding more to your plate. Quite the opposite: you are taking control, by replacing random events with predictable ones, making reservations and guiding other people around them rather than allowing everything to become a time-wasting blur.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, Bristall.com. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.