Most people have been on a time management course or read the books, yet neither seem to improve their feeling of control over our most limited resource – time.
One of the reasons is that conventional wisdom helps us prioritise, prepare task lists, develop protocols for managing paper and so on. However, this often creates a bigger issue, because it makes us ruthlessly efficient at being ineffective. We churn through tasks at break-neck speed, but don’t spent enough effort on deciding whether we should be doing those tasks in the first place.
My tip is to have a simple “task acceptance process”. Sounds grand doesn’t it? It isn’t. Every task that comes your way (by post, email, social media or in person) should be subject to an entry test:
- Ask: “Does this task need doing?”
- If not, ignore it or politely turn it away.
- If so, ask: “Must this task be done by me?” (Don’t make yourself the default by the way)
- If not, deflect it elsewhere before it lands. Never allow tasks to arrive in a way that by-passes your entry test.
- If so, ask “when must it be done by?” (This is the crucial step that most people avoid, making all outstanding tasks due “as soon as possible” and all compete for your attention)
- Carefully schedule when you will do the task in your calendar at a time to suit you, your other responsibilities and the deadline.
Now you can simply focus on the tasks in your calendar today. My experience shows there will only be a few.
This simple system will stop piles of unsorted papers or emails building up. It also prevents the anxiety that comes from fretting about things that haven’t been done or missed deadlines.
Yes, I know it’s simple common sense, but this is how a good PA will operate. My own personality traits enable me to do this naturally but many of my clients with more creative/entrepreneurial styles find it much harder and benefit from developing their own system. Why not give it a try?
Good luck and let me know how you go.