Posts

Achieving Change and Progress

Chop the wood and carry the water: use small, daily actions to achieve big things

There’s a great Zen koan which goes:

Before enlightenment, chop the wood and carry the water;

After enlightenment, chop the wood and carry the water.

Like all those koans, this can be interpreted in a few different ways but I like it because of the importance of just doing the small, daily stuff. Even when working towards something as big as Enlightenment, the fire still needs to be kept going, the water still needs drawing. Even afterwards, we still need to cook, eat and drink.

I don’t think we always find it easy to adopt this mind-set. Perhaps it’s because popular culture emphasises the dramatic, heroic interventions, or the long-shot that finally pays off big-time.

Some changes, even good ones, do happen suddenly and with huge impact. But my belief is that even those are usually just the visible tipping points that result from an accumulation of force over time.

In reality, most change, progress and innovation is the result of small, daily actions that build and build. Daily actions that become habits, habits that become traits, traits that lead to paradigm shifts.

I’ve written elsewhere on this website about the importance of linking long-term goals to short-term activity. For example, see here: Planning, productivity and the cumulative S curve and here: Productivity, prioritisation and the rule of threes

The kind of daily, chopping the wood and carrying the water-type actions I’m looking at here are the most granular level of achieving your long-term objectives. We should ask ourselves:

“What’s the small thing I could do in the next five minutes that will at least keep the fires burning?
What small task can I choose every day to help water this year’s crop?”


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What’s your current equivalent of needing to chop the wood and carry the water?


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers




Too much to do?

Slow is Smooth; Smooth is Fast. The 3S’s of making hard work easy.

This is a saying that I like to remember whenever I find myself frantically trying to catch-up on too much at once. Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

I couldn’t find any definitive reference for where it originally comes from, although it often gets attributed to US Special Forces and even Napoleon is credited with saying something alone the lines of “Dress me slowly; I’m in a hurry.”

I first heard it listening to a talk from Formula racing drivers – it’s apparently a good mindset for winning races and not spilling off the track in a corner!


The principle is easy to understand.

Rushing into things gives you less chance to assess the ultra-important 3S’s:

  • Sequence (what’s the best order in which to do things);
  • Strategy (what’s the best way to do them); and
  • Simultaneity (what’s the best number of things to be doing at once).

Over the years I’ve tried to figure out if Slow is Smooth; Smooth is Fast is best applied to either standard or non-standard tasks, but I think it works equally well both with things you’re familiar with doing (but have a lot of) and tasks that are unfamiliar.

Getting into the mindset of doing this well is similar to a flow-state (the subject of a future article on this website), in that it’s not something you push or try hard at. Instead, it’s about relaxing into things. As Yoda might have said: “Don’t try too hard; just do.”

Similarly, instead of trying to catch the racing car in front of you, it’s about making sure that you take the best line through the next corner, and the next corner and the one after that. That is fast.

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water into a cup, it becomes the cup. Become like water.”

Bruce Lee

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach. What’s your approach when you’ve got way too much to do and not enough time to do it?


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers




Can’t Keep Up?

Feel like you can’t keep up?
12 ways to simplify your leadership

Do you want to work as quickly and efficiently as possible, so you can finish early and still have time and energy to do other stuff? You’re not alone. More and more I’m seeing people who say they want to do more at work, enjoy more time with their family, and have more time to relax, but that their actual focus is on “keeping up.”

It may be that you’re temporarily in a really tricky situation and you just need to get out the other side of it. But if not; if that sense of not being able to keep up at work is persisting longer than it should, take a look at these short tips for breaking the pattern.

1. Identify your Top 1 – 3 priorities for the day

And once you’ve identified them, do these first thing in your day, or do them in your quality time, or scrub-out something else. Remember, you’ve either chosen to work on your own priorities, or you’ve chosen to forward somebody else’s agenda.

2. 80% is More Than Good Enough

Identify what level of %age completion/quality is right for the task you’re involved with and don’t go 1% over. Perfect is the enemy of good.

3. Delegate the ‘What’ not the ‘How’

Make sure you’re only delegating ‘outcomes’ and not telling people how to achieve those outcomes. Be prepared to live with people taking a different approach to the way you might have done it. This is the ONLY option if you don’t want to, or can’t, do everything yourself – which you don’t and cant’!

4. Don’t use your Email In-tray as a To-Do app

It doesn’t work. It DOESN’T work. Email is for communication, not task-management. Get a simple to-do app and use that instead. If your email in-tray is overflowing, make a separate folder, dump everything into there and start again with a blank in-tray, this time using a separate app to record to-do’s.

5. Manage all your Emails (and other In-boxes) using the 5-Minute RAFT Formula

Everything that arrives in your various inboxes should be dealt with using the 5-minute RAFT approach, as follows:

  • R is for Reading – can you read an item in 5 minutes or less – and do you really, really need to read it? If so, read it when it arrives, otherwise, bung it into a Reading File and wait ‘til it’s a priority. Or Trash it.
  • A is for Action – can you action item in 5 minutes or less – and do you really, really need to do it? If so, action it when it arrives, otherwise, bung it into your To-Do app and do it when it’s a priority. Or Trash it.
  • F is for File – can you file an item in 5 minutes or less? If so, file it now. If not, wtf is it!?
  • T is for Trash – this is my favourite. Trash it. Hit delete. Gone and forgotten. Should be your default setting – can I legitimately just hit delete or chuck this in the bin and not get emotionally-hooked.

6. Under-schedule and Over-deliver

Rather then over-schedule and under-deliver! This is strongly linked with Items 1 and 12. The best way to do more is to try and do less. Focus, focus, focus. How jammed is your calendar, how hectic is your travel schedule? “Less is more” people.

7. Ask people for their ideas

Not only is this a good way to get and stay engaged with people, you’ll end up with new and different solutions that you wouldn’t have thought. Takes a bit longer in the short-term, delivers better quality and takes the load off of you in the medium-term.

8. Know and Say your Leadership Mantra

All leaders should be able to say what the strategic aim for their organisation or department is. “What we need to do is X, Y and Z.” Repeat this whenever and wherever until you’re sick of hearing it. And then repeat it some more. This way of simplifying really helps others to get behind the programme and take-up more of the effort themselves. You’ll be more than pleasantly surprised when you hear people repeating your mantra unprompted.

9. Work through People and on Tasks

And the more senior you become, the less you should be working on tasks and the more you should be working through people. Check how your current balance is on this and see if you need to spend more time leading and less time doing. See also 10 below.

10. One-to-one Meetings are your Main Tool for Working through People

There isn’t a better way to get things done than to sit down with your people individually and coach them through their own priorities. I’d give at least one day a week to doing this for every four team members I have. Use this Coaching formula:

  • What Outcomes are they working towards?
  • What’s in the Current Situation that you and they need to be aware of?
  • What Approaches have they tried or do they want to take?
  • What Support do they need?
  • How will you know when it’s Worked?

11. Build Relationships

I bang on about this all the time. Relationships are the key to getting stuff one in organisations.

“It’s not what you know.

It’s not even who you know.

It’s how well do you know the right people?”

Nick Robinson

When was the last time you prioritised coffee with a colleague just for the sake getting to know each other better?

12. Leaders think Short, Medium AND Long-term

So often we under-estimate what can be done in the long-term and over-estimate what can be done in the short-term. The key is to plan on all three time-horizons. What’s my priority for this year, for this month, for today – and how do they link together?


I hope those help a little? Give me a shout – add a comment below if they’re still open, contact me here, or tweet me @NickRobCoach if there’s something not covered or if you’d like to add one of your own tips.


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

Planning, Productivity and the Cumulative S-Curve

Time to focus on that small, regular progress which builds into really significant long-term achievement

I’m writing this in early September, just back from family holidays. It’s time to commit to and to get down on paper the priorities and achievements I want to focus on for the remainder of this calendar year. If you run your year quarterly:

  • Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep, Oct-Dec, Jan-Mar

then the start of the month before the next quarter starts is a great time to get this kind of planning done. (Which is why I’m doing planning for the Oct-Dec quarter at the beginning of September).

And, of course, any other periodic structure that works for you is just as good.


You might already know that people generally tend to under-estimate what they can achieve in the long-term, and over-estimate what they can achieve in the short-term.


One of the consequences of this tendency is that it’s really important to plan what you want to achieve in a cyclical way. To look at both long-term and short-term, and to link those together. Longer-term planning needs some ambition and vision. Shorter-term needs more realism. I’ve written before about how you might use the Rule of Threes to help with this.

Another way to think of it, is as a series of linked S-Curves.

Any project managers reading this will be familiar with the concept of the ‘S-Curve’: a graph showing how costs, labour hours, profitability or outputs in a project typically flow over time. Slower at the beginning, accelerating in the middle and slowing down again towards the end. There may even be downward slopes at the beginning and again at the end, as the rate of the input/output measure tends to drop at those points.

When it comes to how much you might achieve over time, your own S-Curve graph might look something like this:

If you can take the time each quarter to refresh this work and to intentionally plan the priorities and achievements that you want to focus on then, over time, you’ve got more chance of your overall achievements building into a kind of much bigger cumulative S-Curve. This is how small, regular progress builds into quite significant longer-term progress. I think it’s the accumulation of achievement in this way that’s behind our tendency to under-estimate just how much we can achieve in the longer-term.

If you were to make a graph of it, most project-managers (and technologists, who love this kind of stuff) will be familiar with the cumulative S-Curve graph, which looks something like this:

I often feel in this kind of planning process that the joy, spirit and motivation can all too easily get sucked out of the whole thing. Even if you’re somebody who does get excited about the planning part, it’s just as easy to lose heart when the weight of everything that needs doing becomes clear. Again, this is why it’s so important to approach this in a cyclical way. In the longer-term, a great deal can be achieved. In the shorter-term, we have to be realistic about what’s possible and find ways of motivating ourselves about it. I’ll leave you with some thoughts about stuff that does seem to help with that motivation part.

Whenever you do it, as you’re refreshing and planning the priorities and achievements you want to focus on, does it help you to also include things like these:

  • How do you want things to ‘feel’?
  • What’s exciting, attractive or rewarding about your priorities?
  • What needs to happen in order to stop the sky from falling in?
  • What does it look like? I mean, if we could jump in a time machine and travel forwards to when you’d achieved it, to the end of that S-Curve, what would we see, hear or feel in relation to each of your priority achievements?
  • How will you know when the end-point of an S-Curve has been reached?

Let me know how you get on please. What are your priorities? What timescales work for your regular planning and focussing?


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

Leadership Quickies

Four leadership mistakes you probably don’t even know you’re making

1. Not giving one-to-one attention to each of your team members
Leaders should act as a mentor or coach and listen to each person’s concerns, needs and ambitions, giving empathy and support, keeping communications open and setting challenges. This fulfills a deep need for respect and celebrates the individual contribution that people can make to the team. You’ll very quickly lose the right people and bring out the worst in the wrong people if you don’t do this.

2. Being safe and boring
A steady pace is all very well, but people and organisations sometimes need a leader to challenge assumptions, take risks and ask other people for their ideas. This helps stimulate creativity and develop independent thinking. When times become hard, you’ll wish you’d fixed this particular roof when the sun was shining.

3. Not having a Vision
Being able to talk about an inspiring and attractive view of the future position of your team, department or organisation is perhaps the key factor that sets great leaders apart. It isn’t difficult and it doesn’t have to be grand or world-changing (unless it is); but you do need to do it.

4. Forgetting that You’re a 24/7 Role-model
I get that it’s a tough thing to be an always-on role-model. Everybody looking to what you say and do, all the time. It is wearing. And it also just comes with the territory. People will adopt their way of doing things from watching you. Please remember that you need to be a role model for the right behavior, so that this instills pride and gains respect and trust. You don’t need to always be perfect – that isn’t possible for anyone – but you do need to visibly put it right when you haven’t been.


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

What Time-type Are You?

How to use your brain’s view of time to understand and develop yourself at work – The Ultimate Guide

Try this simple experiment please:

  1. Stand-up.
  2. Now point to where the Future is.
  3. And now point to where the Past is.
  4. Now imagine the past and the future connected by a line.
  5. Does any part of that line run through your body?

If you answered “Yes”, and part of the timeline is inside you, you may be a Time-type A person (see diagram above).

If you answered “No” and no part of the timeline is inside you (see diagram above), you may be a Time-type B person.

The way our brains perceive, sort and use time can be quite different for different people.

As with all of this stuff, there’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ way of looking at time. Just differences which have varying implications.

Similarly, this way of perceiving and sorting time is just a ‘preference’ – that is, it’s not a fixed and immutable aspect of who you are, it can develop, change and adapt over time and in different circumstances.

I’ve set out below some of the key aspects of each Time-type and given some development suggestions that I typically use with my executive coaching clients.

Time-type A Characteristics

(Time-type A = part of the timeline is inside you)

  • Usually able to stay very focused in times of crises or when chaos surrounds them
  • Great at “Just do it now” and of getting into action
  • Able to be ‘in the moment’ and enjoy life as it unfolds
  • Good at starting things spontaneously
  • May avoid setting goals or deadlines (or set unrealistic ones)
  • Tend not to plan things step-by-step or to think through the consequences of things
  • Like to keep their options open and may resist commitments or find decisions hard work
  • Unless they’ve worked on this (and most of my clients have) they can tend to be late and will regard even fairly big amounts of lateness as being “roughly on time”.

Time-type B Characteristics

(Time-type B = no part of the timeline is inside you)

  • Usually great at seeing projects through to completion
  • Tend to plan thoroughly, drawing on their learning from past experiences
  • Often live an orderly, planned life
  • Like to work to realistic timetables and will expect others to set and stick to deadlines
  • Will arrive on time and/or feel very bad about being even slightly late
  • Can see how events are related to each other
  • Find it hard to respond swiftly to a crisis
  • May struggle to focus in chaotic surroundings
  • Often find it difficult to be ‘in the moment’.

Development Suggestions

Development activities for Time-type A people often need to focus on two areas:

First, the way they plan and set goals so that they can realistically deliver something and see it through to completion.

The trick here is to deliberately and visually swing their timeline around so that it’s in front of them, just as it is for a type B person (see diagram above). Any kind of visual planning method, particularly something using ‘swim lanes’ and running from left to right seems to really help. Working backwards from the future (from right to left) having established some clear and visualised goals also helps them be realistic about what can be achieved (whether they are being overly-optimistic OR overly pessimistic).

Second, their ability to take the learning from their past experiences and to fully process the emotions associated with them.

This is a little harder to do without some training, but I like to use methods which draw-on Type-A people’s ability to be in the moment. Take them back to a past experience. Discover what learning was in it. Then remind them how they are now and what new resourcefulness they have now as a result. Then project that forward (“How might you usefully apply that in future?”).

Development activities for Time-type B people often need to focus on these areas:

First, their ability to respond swiftly at work when unexpected stuff happens.

What makes this hard for Type-B people to do is that they’re great at seeing how one thing connects to another and of the consequences. Trying to make sense of all this quickly in a crisis is tough. The trick seems to be to take advantage of their abilities to plan and decide BUT to drastically scale-down their frame of reference. It’s as if, in the diagram above, you had completely chopped-off the future time-line so the range of options they need to consider is now very small. Anything which brings that frame of reference as close in to the ‘now’ as possible will help.

Second, their ability to enjoy themselves in the now.

Simple mindfulness meditation exercises, which focus on the breath, are very useful for this if practised over time.

Similarly, focusing on sensory experiences (what my American trainers would call “getting out of your head Nick”) also help. What can you see, feel, hear and smell right now? What colours are there? What are the textures? What are the different qualities of the sounds you notice?

Hope that helps a little?

Write and tell me or tweet me @NickRobCoach to let me know which Time-type you are and whether this matches your experiences please.


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

No-one rises to low expectations

Six little-known leadership tips to raise your people’s performance

I love this saying, because it’s so true. “No-one rises to low expectations.
The standard you set becomes the standard you can expect. Whatever you regard as normal around here becomes the ‘norm’ – the benchmark for people’s behaviours and the outcomes they strive to achieve.

In my experience, people want their leaders to ask for more than this. Otherwise, what’s the point in having a leader at all!

Don’t you feel like this too? Like you want your leaders to see the best in you, even when you yourself don’t? That you want them to inspire you to go beyond the point you’ve always settled for previously, and help you to find out what you’re really capable of?

But some of the best leaders I know can come unstuck when it comes to asking people to rise and be better. Two of the biggest problems I see again and again are these:

  • A pace-setting leader, who sets very high standards for themselves, can come unstuck when faced with someone who doesn’t hold themselves to a high standard, or who doesn’t feel confident about being able to keep up with that leader. Those leaders don’t always know how to help someone bridge that gap.
  • A strong, person-centred leader, someone who is highly-resilient themselves and who knows how to take care of the people around them, can be afraid of ‘breaking’ people. Instead, they try to protect them, to shield them from all the tough stuff that they themselves have to deal with.

Here’s my top tips for setting high expectations in a really effective way:

1. Be exemplary yourself
Not just in the outputs you achieve, or the pace of your work, but in your leadership style, your emotional intelligence and your own behaviours too.

As Socrates said: “Know thyself, Control thyself, Give thyself.”

2. Build your understanding of others
Different folks need different strokes.
Learn what makes the individuals in your care tick. Learn their fears, learn their ambitions. Modify your approach to suit their needs.

3. Relationships, Relationships, Relationships
Relationships are the oil in the engine, the glue that binds a team together (and any number of other mixed metaphors). Build relationships. That means a two-way flow of attention, care and trust. You can set high expectations for people without having a great relationship. And it’ll work for a while (especially if they’re afraid enough and if the task is simple enough). But in the long-run, great relationships are a must-have for getting people to raise their game.

4. Show people it’s OK to fail
So long as you manage the risks and learn from the outcomes.
I often quote Batman to leaders who are worried about people failing. Of falling down and hurting themselves.

“Why do we fall down Bruce?
So we can learn to get up.”
Thomas Wayne, Batman’s father

If you never ask someone to risk falling, they’ll never learn to rise up.

5. Ask for what you need
Sometimes we forget the simple stage of asking. And then we get annoyed that people can’t mind-read. Ask people to raise their game. Tell them what you need from them.

6. Coach the Learning
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of ‘feedback’. “Oh, I’ve got some feedback for you.” Go away, I know what went wrong. What I need, is someone who cares enough to coach the learning out of me. “What did you notice while that was happening?” “What else did you need?” “What would you do differently next time?”

 


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

Sweet Spot

Getting into the “Sweet Spot” – right on top of your game, in the moment and making a difference

I’ve been thinking again recently about what it takes to get into that “Sweet Spot” – the point where you’re feeling right on top of your game, totally in the moment and like you’re actually making a difference.

There’s lots of things involved in achieving this it seems and those who are really interested could do worse than read the book “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Although I actually found this to be an ultimately slightly frustrating book, because it concludes, more or less, that you can’t actually ‘achieve’ a flow-state, it’s something that just happens to you. And that isn’t really good enough for the control freak in me!

Seeing as I have a great laboratory in my coaching practice, and clients who are crazy and willing enough to play around with this stuff, I’ve been looking at two of the dimensions that I reckon might required to get into that Sweet Spot. Have a go with these yourself if you’re up for some experimenting, and let me know if it helps you find your own Sweet Spot.

The first dimension is our Comfort Level

It’s my experience that one of the best ways to regard this, is to think in terms of familiarity. That is, the extent to which you’ve been there and done that – or not.

 


Studies have shown that being too comfortable means we don’t build up or maintain the resilience required to handle life and work. I’m calling this the ‘nilstress’ position.

At the other end of the scale, is the ‘distress’ position, where we’re so far out of our comfort zones, that our challenges are not able to be resolved through coping or adaptation. This may lead to anxiety, withdrawal, and depressive behavior.

In the middle, is the point that psychologist Hans Selye labelled ‘Eustress‘ – ‘Good Stress’. This occurs when we’re slightly pushed out of our comfort zones, but are not overwhelmed by it. Our goals are familiar enough but still require us to stretch. This fosters challenge and motivation and is indicated by hope and active engagement. (But note that even good stress which carries on for too long, i.e. is ‘chronic’, can be damaging to people’s health).

The second dimension to consider in your experiments is Chunksize

Chunksize refers to the size of tasks or goals you’re working on. As much as anything, it’s about how you measure or perceive that you’re making progress.

Set your Chunksize too small, and it feels like you’re crawling along, never actually getting anywhere, and just forced to work on things that are Meaningless and don’t make a difference.

Set your Chunksize too big, and every task, goal or problem just becomes totally overwhelming. If you’re stuck at this end, it may be you’ve developed a nasty case of Meaningitis!

In the middle there is the point we want to get to. At this Meaningful point, our tasks and goals are broken down into a size where we can see that we’re making progress. And where we can predict with a reasonable amount of certainty how much time and effort it’ll take to achieve our next objective.

If you can manage to put all of this together, then it might just be that you’ve hit the Sweet Spot. You’ve got challenges that take you far enough out of your comfort zone to be slightly unfamiliar and that require you to stretch. And you’ve got a chunksize set just right, so that you can see and predict how you’re making meaningful progress.

I hope you get a chance to play around with these two dimensions. Please drop me a line to let me know what you find, even (or especially) if your experience is different to mine!


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

Solve One Problem at a Time

How to deal with intractable problems and make powerful progress without having to kill an elephant

You’d have been proud of me last week, because just occasionally us coaches do actually take our own advice!

When the Film ‘The Martian’ came out at the end of 2015 I was very happy to start using it as a fictional example of how to deal with potential overwhelm, overcome seemingly intractable problems and make powerful progress towards our goals.

I don’t know about you, but the thing that people always used to say to me, when I was faced with projects, tasks, problems or goals that just seemed waaaay too big to handle, was this:

Question: How do you eat an elephant?

Answer: One bite at a time.

But instead of helping, this just used to make me feel guilty and sick. Who in their right mind would eat an elephant!?

I much preferred the engineer’s approach: break the problem down into components and solve one problem at a time, and so it was great to see this exemplified in that film.

Anyway, last week, having perhaps bitten-off more than I could chew (although at least it wasn’t elephant), I did take my own advice.

You know already I’m a big fan of being focused. I reckon that solving one problem at a time is a great partner to that approach. These days, when there are so many ways in which we can be interrupted or have our attention diverted to something else, it seems that breaking things down into manageable components and then dealing with each one in turn, is a really powerful way of forging ahead.

So that’s the place to start then, if you’re faced with overwhelming projects, tasks that seem intractable, are feeling lost in the frenetic race to balance too many demands, or have big goals to achieve:

  1. Break them down into components
  2. Solve one problem at a time

And if you’re still  finding it hard to solve anything at all – and this often happens because it seems like everything is connected to and dependent on everything else – then you need to go back and think smaller at step one.


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers

Time Management – Evolving

As your career and your leadership roles progress, how should your Time Management evolve to keep up?

I had a very interesting coaching session this afternoon, talking with one of my clients about his time management.

Time management isn’t one of those subjects that comes up so often in my coaching sessions these days, I think because I’m more often asked to work on the less tangible but more transformational issues that help people be the best possible version of themselves as a leader.

But I still feel it’s an important topic for people to look at.

I used to run a workshop called “Creating Time”, designed for professional people who wanted to make more of themselves and their efforts at work. My opening gambit was that it isn’t actually (yet!) possible to create time and that we must instead focus on those issues around attention-control, decision-making and task-management that are part of great time management.

Some of the discussion with my client this afternoon was around how his time management system might not have evolved as his work situation had changed. We found this a really useful area to explore. We reckoned that what happens as your career progresses and the organisation grows is that:

  • the complexity of the tasks you’re working on increases
  • the number of other people involved in the chain of getting individual activities done increases
  • as you become more of a leader and less of a doer, less of your activity is about tasks themselves and more is about your relationships with others
  • the timescales of the tasks themselves lengthens, as you’re likely to be leading on work such as organisational change projects or new product developments, and these need to be tracked over much longer periods
  • the number of people you answer to actually increases, as more and more stakeholders become affected by things you are responsible for.

All of this puts a great deal of demand on your time management skills and process – so they need to evolve to keep up. What worked for you as a junior manager might not be so useful as a senior leader.

These days, I’m a big believer that one person’s great Time Management System is another person’s admin nightmare. What works for me, might be really counter-productive for you.

I really like David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) approach and I’ve been using it since 2015. But, it has a really steep learning curve and requires at least a couple of dedicated days (if not more) to implement. It also needs constant attention and discipline. And, of course GTD is a task-management system, not a time-management one.  Great time-management also requires those additional aspects of attention-control and decision-making I mentioned earlier.

On the whole, I think people should experiment with their own systems and adapt them to suit  their own circumstances and preferences.

But that said, are there any principles or general rules of thumb which people should look at if they want to evolve or upgrade their own approach to Time Management? Here are a few things that might be useful to consider:

1. Do you feel in control?
If not, then you need to change part of your system so that you can clearly see where you need to take control.

2. Is your brain clear, rested and able to create solutions and face tough decisions?
There are two aspects to this, I reckon. First (and I think this is from David Allen’s book) your brain shouldn’t be your main tool for remembering stuff. It’s the best thing you’ve got for finding solutions and making decisions. Use some other system for remembering stuff.
Second, if part of your schedule doesn’t include time for you to be healthy, happy and whole, you’ll be operating at way below maximum potential – and who wants to function like that!?

3. Do you have one place, one reference point, that captures ALL of your to-do’s?
I know some systems don’t advocate this, but it’s one point I strongly recommend. Those of us who are responsible, can-do people, who want to make a difference and be at our best, should not be spending any of our attention or our ‘worry-quota’ on wondering if there’s something we’ve forgotten.

4. Do you consciously know what you’ve decided NOT to do?
This is kind of a follow-on point from 3. Having some certainty that you know everything that needs doing, can enable you to focus on what leaders should be focussing on – deciding what gets done and what doesn’t.

5. Does your system help you decide in what Sequence to do things?
For some people, sequence comes quite naturally. Actually, for about 40% of the working population, it’s one of the first things that comes to mind when deciding priorities. People who are natural sequencers need a system that allows them to work with this transparently, but which also takes into account importance – because of course the first thing that could be done isn’t necessarily the first thing that should be done.
People whose natural preference is not to work in sequence (and that’s also about 40% of the working population) need systems that give them a bit more flexibility, so that they don’t feel the time management system itself has ended-up railroading all their decisions. I personally feel that this is where a lot of time management falls down, forcing people to work in ways which run counter to their natural strengths.

6. Does your system support your oversight of other people’s activities?
I know leaders in very senior positions who have responsibility for up to 20 other people – who themselves are leading teams too. These are big spans of control. When I’ve been in similar situations, I’ve actually really enjoyed the buzz of it, of being at the service of those people, making sure that they can do what they need to do. And I think it’s a powerful way to make a difference. And, you soon find that you need some kind of system which helps you see progress on some important tasks, but which also helps you coach, guide and support those people. The rise of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) as a way of doing this is part of an organisational response to these issues that goes back over 20 years.
Bottom-line – choose a system which supports your style of leadership, in your circumstances.

7. Do you have a way for deciding what task is most deserving of your attention right now?
And does that way of prioritising actually get the results that you want – if not, how might you need to change it?

8. Do you have ways of controlling your attention?
This is absolutely essential if you want to get the most out of your problem-solving and higher-cognitive functions. The distractions caused by email and other forms of interruptions will steal your day out from under your nose if you let them. Please find structures and ways of doing things that don’t have you working on some kind of knee-jerk autopilot, pulled all over the place by less important interruptions.

 

I’m sure we just scratched the surface of how your time management systems need to evolve as your career progresses, and of the general principles that need to support great time management. Let me know what else is important for you?


Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers