Secrets of the Time Lords

Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 12:34

In today's fast-paced world, everyone seems time-poor. But there are ways to make the most of our hours to achieve our goals, writes Hannah Flannery.

Force yourself to spend the next five minutes on a task you have been putting off. "It's incredibly energising," says Glenda May, executive coach, organisational psychologist and author.

The five-minute secret is just one of May's 52 tips for making the best use of precious time. We have all the time we need, but the challenge is to use it wisely.

"Every week you have 168 hours to get it all done," May says.

Her approach to coaching executives on time-management focuses on accepting we will never get more time in our lives.

"You'll never get this day again," she says.

"Spend your time doing things that will bring you closer to your goal and you'll be able to feel that real sense of achievement."

The Melbourne-based consultant suggests that when we boost our purpose, we inevitably improve output, lower stress and save time.

In her recent book, 52 Ways To Get More Time In Your Life, May alerts us to the fact we all have the same amount of time each day, but how we choose to spend that time is what sets us apart.

"We have exactly the same amount of time each day as was given to Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Bill Gates," she says. And, as May points out, time did not appear to be a problem for these great achievers and nor should it be for us.

Worrying about all the things we want to accomplish won't make them happen.

Being at your most effective is about knowing what matters most.

Work out what it is you want to accomplish and master the art of doing it - right now.

May's tips remind us there are certain things that just happen every day, almost mechanically, but others need careful planning to make sure they do happen.

Managing your paper flow

With so many things competing for our attention at every moment of the day, it can sometimes be hard to prioritise our work. If the smaller tasks (such as paperwork) are better managed, we will have more time to focus on more important things.

Australian authors MaryAnne Bennie and Brigitte Hinneberg's best-selling book Paper Flow provides hundreds of practical tips on how to do this.

Being on top of your paperwork and knowing you can access information or a certain document quickly is essential to avoid chaos in the office, according to Bennie and Hinneberg.

It's easy to lose sleep over a disorganised workspace and if you're worrying about where you have put receipts, acquiring late fees for bills, and missing events because they are not marked in your diary, then it is time to focus on your paper flow.

With bills, newsletters, receipts, letters, policy documents and reminder notices filling the mail box each day, "the pile" that builds up in the home and office can quickly become enormous.

Bennie and Hinneberg recommend setting aside designated times in your week to deal with paperwork to keep your pile from growing and help you relax about getting on with bigger projects.

Make sure there is adequate space in your filing system and establish a schedule that identifies different times in your week where you deal with your personal administration.

Meaningful time in the office

Simply listening to a colleague and responding precisely to their comments can yield significant gains for productivity, says Dr Hilary Armstrong, director of education at the Institute of Executive Coaching.

"If a meeting is full of monologues, it's not a meeting," she says.

Dr Armstrong delivers programs to coach executives on productive conversation and says it's time to bring back the art of conversation.

"Relationships are formed one conversation at a time and if we learn to listen with interest, pause and acknowledge comments, then we can engage in a useful conversation," she says.

Some of the most productive people are those who can engage in a conversation that is moving towards a point of conclusion.

Encouraging productive conversations means addressing disagreements and allowing necessary conversations to happen in a non-aggressive manner.

"Don't avoid conflict, deal with it," Dr Armstrong says.

"When people interact with each other, they should be responding to each other with comments such as 'yes, and …' rather than 'yes, but'."

When there is inadequate communication between colleagues, enormous amounts of time can be wasted by miscommunication mistakes.

Set deadlines

"Have you ever noticed if you have a day to do something, you'll drag it out to fill the entire day? Yet, if you only have an hour to do it, you'll find a way to get it done?" May asks.

May refers to the phenomenon as Parkinson's Law - where work expands (and shrinks) to fill the time available for its completion.

"Set yourself deadlines. They'll keep you focused and allow you to finish the task," she says.

Tips for reducing email

It is easy to spend half the day responding to emails. "A quick phone call where we actually nut out an issue in one go is often the most efficient and sensible way to cut out an unnecessary chain of emails," May says.

May recommends reducing the number of emails coming into your inbox by unsubscribing from as many unnecessary lists as possible.

Schedule regular times to check and respond to emails each day rather than having constant access - or else you can make it impossible for yourself to get any other work done.

Exercise every day

Exercise is by far the most effective way to clear your head and keep you feeling on top of things.

Personal productivity receives a huge boost by the incorporation of daily physical activity.

Exercise significantly increases happiness, productivity and cognition: a claim well supported by a recent study by the Brain Sciences Institute at Swinburne University.

The study measured important aspects of brain function typical for people in management and executive positions, such as the ability to plan, remember, simulate future scenarios and make decisions.

The institute's founder, professor Paul Taylor, said the research showed there was a very clear link between physical fitness and brain function.

"There were improvements in the employees' mood and cognition, with the exercise group surpassing the results of the control group."

Task masters

AIM runs courses that give you the tools, techniques and strategies to maximise your effectiveness, minimise wasted time and get control of your workload, whatever level you're at in your organisation - from just starting out to high-level management.

You'll learn how to:

  • Recognise the effect of poor organisation and its relationship to stress.
  • Analyse your time utilisation.
  • Identify major time wasters and learn to control them.
  • Achieve a better balance between work and external commitments.
  • Set up and use the time management system that is right for you.