When helping clients with their time management, one of the most common problems that I see is that they tend to rush into the day without any form of a plan for what they are trying to get done. People who do not have a plan for the day end up wasting a lot of time trying to decide what they should be doing next. Every time that they have to make such a decision, they have to run through every option and weigh up the pro’s and cons. This wastes precious time and can lead to that dreaded thing called the ‘paralysis of analysis’. When this problem strikes, you end up getting nothing of value done because you spend too much time trying to determine the best thing to do.
Another major issue with starting your day without a plan is that you concede control of your time. If you have not taken the time to determine your most important tasks, you end up jumping from task to task based on the demands of others. Whoever screams loudest at you wins the race to get you working on what they want you to do. And so, you end up working on the tasks that are more important to others; which rarely matches the tasks that are most important for you.
When you have a plan
When you take the time to organise your day, you’ll find that you move more effectively and swiftly through the day. You know what needs to be done; you know what jobs you are capable of doing on the day and, you are prepared to do those jobs. There is no need for you to waste time thinking about what you need to do next as you only have to look at your plan and you can spring into action.
When you have an effective plan, you are focused on the importance of each task. Some people like to start with an easy task while others feel more energetic at the beginning of the day and so tackle a difficult task first. However, the most effective way to prioritise is to do so based on importance. If you get your most important task completed early in the day; the rest of the day could go completely off track and you would still have had an effective day. Also, you don’t have to focus on the quantity of work that you do; you simply focus on getting good quality work done. There will be some days when you can’t do as much as you would like but by getting your most important work completed; you will continue to make steady progress.
Simple questions to make a quick plan
The following are just some very quick questions which can help you formulate an effective plan:
- Are there tasks which have to be set up for specific times?
Think through the day. Do you have meetings at work which may take up your time? If so, those should be built in to your schedule first. Be careful to only include tasks/meetings which are time specific.
Once you have done this, you can then see quite clearly how much time you have available for other tasks.
- What resources will I have access to?
There are many tasks which you can only perform if you have access to specific resources e.g. I can only type up this article if I have access to my computer. If I was not going to have access to my computer today, then there is no point putting this task on my plan for the day; as I couldn’t complete it.
When you are planning you will realise what resources you need for each task. In some cases, as with my example, you will not be able to add the task to your plan; in some cases you will just need to ensure that you bring the necessary resources with you. Also, in some cases, you will only have access to the necessary resources at set times so you will have to schedule the relevant tasks for those times.
- What is my most important task?
Of all of the tasks that you need to complete, which one would have the biggest, positive impact? Be sure that you will have the necessary resources to complete the task.
This is your most important task. If you only completed that task today, you will still have a very good day.
- What are the next 2 most important tasks?
If, for any reason, you cannot work on your most important task, then one of these tasks should be substituted. You can then return to the most important task at the first opportunity.
It isn’t always going to be possible to work on the most important task but it is imperative that you always work on the most important task that you can complete at that specific time.
- What are your next 5 most important tasks?
These tasks serve a few purposes. If you cannot perform one of the most important tasks, you can still do some valuable work. Also, if you complete your most important tasks with time to spare, you can move straight onto these tasks and get even more valuable work done. It is important that you maximise the benefits of your best days and these tasks will ensure that you can do so.
When planning, beware of easy or mindless activities that take up your important morning time – such as checking emails and getting stuck on Internet sites which aren’t important. Rather than try to fight the impulse to do these things; schedule some strict time through the day to perform these tasks e.g. I check my email twice per day.
Before you leave work, whether at an office or home desk, take some time to look at what you’ve accomplished during the day and plan your schedule for the next day. Identify the most important tasks that you can complete the following day and, prepare the resources that you will require to complete these tasks. Then, when you begin to work the next day, you will have a clear plan of action for the day ahead so you can hit the ground running. Of course, there will be times when emergencies arise and priorities change but with a properly made plan; you will still be able to make the most of your day and, pick up where you left off once the emergency has passed.