As it’s the start of a brand new year and many of us decide to get into new, healthier, productive habits I thought I would start the year with a guide on productivity. Now I have to hold my hands up right at the start and tell you that there is nothing particularly new or original in the way I get things done. I use a system based broadly on systems, tools and applications created by others. It works for me and it may work for you. It may not but I thought I would share it all the same. It’s certainly going to be better than having no system at all.
I’ve broken it down into 4 parts for you starting with Part 1: Time Management.
Part 1: Time Management
In all my surveys, interviews and conversations with female entrepreneurs lack of time is one of the problems that always comes up. For women with children it goes straight to the top of the list. So let’s talk a bit about time.
There’s a bit of a myth surrounding time. You know, the one that suggests you can manage time. The one people refer to as time management. You can’t manage time though.
Think about it. It can’t be directed like a person. You can’t tell it what to do, send it somewhere else, teach it or improve it. It can’t be contained like a fluid or put under pressure like a gas – even though it may feel like that at times!
We measure time but even that’s not as simple as it sounds. Once every 4 years we add an extra day to February to account for anomalies between the calendar we use (the Gregorian Calendar) and the earth’s rotation round the sun. And did you know that this year a leap second is being added on in June? Apparently the earth’s rotation doesn’t always behave itself and some years an extra second has to be added on. It is the task of scientists and officials at the International Earth Rotation Service based in France to monitor the planet’s rotation and tweak time where necessary. In 2012 (the last time this happened) problems with software were reported by companies such as Mozilla, LinkedIn, Linux and Java as a result of this tweak (read more in this article).
So if scientists have to ‘tweak’ time every so often and big software companies struggle to manage that adjustment, what chance do the rest of us have of managing time?
Time has a life of it’s own.
Does time pass in a uniform manner? We spend half of it (time that is) bemoaning how slow it is, wishing it away. Then we spend the other half desperately wishing for more time. And sometimes time seems to just stand still.
Time is the ultimate paradox. Time has a life of it’s own. If it were a simple matter of managing time surely we would just take that time we wish away and move it to the time we desperately try to claw back.
But like I said, you can’t manage time.
So what can we do?
What we can do is manage our activities (and to a point, the activities of others we are responsible for such as employees, teams and children). In fact management is defined as the organization and co-ordination of activities towards an objective. Now you can see why you can’t manage time. Time isn’t an activity.
The word ‘objective’ is important too. Don’t get too hung up on it sounding a bit corporate. Goal. Aim. For this purpose they are all much the same thing. Time doesn’t matter a jot unless there is some objective associated with it whether that objective is picking the kids up from school or making the next mortgage payment.
What you in fact need to do is change your mindset. As long as you focus on time you are abdicating yourself of responsibility for your productivity. Time is external and therefore outside of your control. It’s only when you focus on yourself and your activities that you can become more productive.
Having said all that, it doesn’t mean you should ignore time completely. The first step to being more productive is knowing how much time you have available. Once you are armed with that information, you can then focus on managing your activities.
How much time do you have available?
If you haven’t sat and properly worked it out how much time you have available to work on your business you need to. Just this week a friend of mine who is incredibly organised and sets herself goals sat and worked out how many days she actually had to work on her business.
She’d never actually done that before. The first thing she did was calculate how many days her children were in school.
She got a bit of a shock. It was far fewer than she thought.
Less than half the year in fact.
If she continued to work on the premise that she had 5 days a week to work on her business with just a few weeks off for holidays she would be unlikely to get everything done that she planned, because rather than there being a few weeks of holiday, it’s actually nearly half the year that one or other or both of her children are at home.
So whether or not you have children you need to work out how many working days you actually have available. Don’t forget to account a few days for sickness, and however many days you want to take as holiday/vacation. Also consider how long your working day is. If you don’t get back from the school run until 9:30 and have to turn right around again at 2:30 to pick them up, with 30 mins for lunch you only actually have 4 and a half hours a day. That’s 22 hours a week, or the equivalent of a 3 day week. I don’t want you to obsess about these numbers and let them get you down but it’s important to be armed with the facts. It’s far better than being despondent every day because you constantly feel like you don’t get enough done.
So the key is:
1. Know how much time you have available
2. Forget about trying to manage that time and focus on managing your activities within that time frame.
In Part 2: Getting Things Done I’m going to tell you the system I use to do just that.
p.s. let me know if you try and manage time in the comments below!