She seemed to be a step behind all the way through the day, and unable to catch up on lost time. She was really busy all day with tasks, but totally at a loss as to why other people seemed to get a lot more done – no matter how busy she made herself.
I asked her how she tackled her tasks – and she said (as most of us do) that she just writes them down and works her way through the list each day.
So whats wrong with that?
Why lists are sometimes not enough
Sometimes we have to go a step further when writing a TO DO list – so that we get as much done in the time we have available as possible.
Let me ask you – Do you simply write down your TO DO list and then work your way through it?
Most people do – and theres really nothing wrong with that – at least you are working through it – but you could be missing a huge time management trick that saves you time each and every time you do something.
Its basically this – If you don’t give yourself a time limit on a task, then you will take longer than necessary to complete it.
Let me explain.
You may feel that you are doing everything quickly and getting things ticked off the list, but chances are you will be getting distracted in the middle of things, or thinking about something else, or trying to multitask at the same time, and that will affect how much you actually get done.
You will feel you are busy, you are working through your tasks – but still end up not doing as much as you could each day and feeling overwhelmed.
So whats the answer?
Get to know Parkinsons Law
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
Let me ask you something right now – do you know how long it takes to mow the lawn, or to sort a load of washing, or to clean the kitchen?
Most of us either have no idea, or a very vague idea which may or may not be accurate – we just work on a task until its done and then move on to the next one.
Allowing yourself as much time as you need to get something done without thinking how long it actually should take means that you take a little bit of extra time for each and every task you do – and those small amounts of time soon add up to make a real difference in how much you are getting done.
To get the most out of our time, its crucial to know roughly how long things take to do.
That way you can allocate slots of time for tasks, and fill your schedule more easily as you will know whether you can fit in a certain tasks into a certain time slot. You will feel less overwhelmed, and be more aware of whats really possible each day.
How can I know how long tasks take?
The key here is to simply keep a time diary for a week.
Its a bit of an effort to do, but will be worth it as it will really identify where you are wasting time, and where you can save it.
It will also show you how long your routine tasks are actually taking.
Simply write down what you do each day and give times that you start and finish each task.
With that information you can then work out more easily how much time things take on average to do, and allocate time slots to tasks.
You should then be able to focus more on each task as you will create a sense of urgency by giving yourself a time limit – and that small change alone should allow you to fit more into the day.
Take a leaf from Donald Trump
I heard that Donald Trump only allows meetings to last 15 minutes – that way he focuses people on what they actually want to talk about and gets to the point much more quickly rather than spending loads of time on general chit chat.
Maybe thats why hes so successful.
He can fit more into the day by having shorter meetings, by simply creating an urgency and a focus.
This all sounds perfect in the office – but can it work at home too?
I tried this a while back, and when I was consciously looking at the clock and trying to do things in certain times, I genuinely got more done. I felt more productive and I felt I had something to aim at at each stage of my day.
I also found as a nice side effect that, rather than feeling rushed and more stressed by having things timed, as I thought I might – the opposite was true. I had more focus, was more sure that I would be able to fit things into the time I had given it, and generally felt calmer.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a robot – I sometimes did it fine, but sometimes I went overtime slightly. I didn’t stress over those times, merely using the time allocated as a guide – but what I learnt was that I was getting so much more done, as I wasn’t dragging my heels from task to task.
I used the time I had available (that which I had set) and got the task done – and who can argue with that?
The most productive people will have made this way of doing tasks a habit so that they now don’t even realise they are doing it – its sort of an internal stopwatch.
They will complete tasks with more of an urgency than other, less productive people, even though both people seem just as busy as each other.
Always allow yourself a reasonable amount of time to do each task, theres no need to get stressed by this at all, but be aware of the clock (you could use a stopwatch for a real race against time!), and focus on the task in hand.
So – how much more could you get done if you knew how long things took? Theres a challenge for you….