One of the frustrating things about knowing so much about time management is that I become acutely aware of when I'm not being terribly efficient or effective.
Even worse is that when it really strikes me I feel like such a hypocrite. I feel like the mechanic who has a beaten up old car that barely works, or the builder whose house constantly looks like a building site.
But then I have to remind myself that I'm only human and thus subject to all the other stresses and distractions that we all get. I get caught up in details, taken away on a tangent, wander off on something that needs doing and feels like urgent, and today I was listening to The Specials on my MP3 player and ended up singing along instead of writing a blog post.
So, what's the solution, especially for someone who ought to know better?
Really it boils down to constant reiteration and realignment of what you're meant to be doing. When you realise you're going off topic you should stop, make a note of where you were and then get back to what you're supposed to be doing.
If you do this often enough you'll end up with better focus after only a few weeks.
Overall, I'm more productive than I've been in years. I work more effectively than ever. But it's still not an easy ask at times, I'm often inefficient, I still have to check myself and realign what I'm working on.
So, give it a go and let me know (in the comments below) how it goes.
On Tuesday I went to a meeting organised by a friend of mine, Julia Canham, who is a business coach. At that meeting I reaffirmed some of the things I've had in mind to get on with but the most important thing it brought to mind was to put more into focusing what I want from what I'm doing.
In short, I'm going to put more mental and physical energy into what I want.
Now that might sound simple and obvious but it's actually not that easy.
Let me explain:
In our lives we have constant distraction. We're bring bombarded by messages and things that require our attention and it's easy to spend your life running from one problem to the next.
Do you often think that just surviving is enough and you're struggling to feel as though you're making progress on your goals?
There's no great secret to fixing this, you just need to spend more time thinking about and then working on what you want (or where you want to go).
Bus as I mentioned earlier it's not that straightforward, or even very easy. The biggest problem is that we're all in the habit of responding in certain ways to certain occurrences, even though many of those responses aren't helpful.
Let me give you a couple of good examples:
You're sitting at your desk working on an important task. In the corner of your computer screen a little box pops up letting you know that you've received an email.
Do you stop what you're doing to go and check it out or continue with what you were working on? Or better still, do you switch off your email for a while so you can more easily focus?
Most people would check out that email, then most likely respond and then attempt to get back into what they were originally working on. They've been conditioned to believe that email needs an instant response (it rarely does).
You've decided to use your lunch break to go to the gym and get some exercise. While on the way there you see a friend you've not seen in a little while.
Do you stop for a chat and use your lunchbreak to catch up as best you can or do you stop to say hello but explain that you're on your way somewhere important and will text later to arrange a meetup?
Most people would stop for the chat since we've been conditioned to not be rude to people.
The problem is all about conditioned responses. But to get more out of what we want we need to examine those responses, work out if they're helpful or not and then change them as needed.
So, here's a simple (but not altogether easy) solution to this situation:
When you know you're getting distracted stop what you're doing and ask yourself if it's taking you where you want to go. If the answer is no then ask yourself if you can change what you're doing right now.
You'll be surprised at how often you can make small but positive changes like this when you begin to realise what's going on. Doing this as often as possible will begin to eliminate distraction and give you the room to focus on what you want and thus get more of it done.
At the beginning of November I made a decision to write at least one blog post each week. All went well for the first five weeks and then things seemed to get a little hectic and I've missed a few.
The thing about it is that I'd got into the habit of doing it on Wednesday evening and, even though this will sound a little nerdy, I've even put it into my calendar as a recurring event at 8pm. So every Wednesday, at 7pm, I'd get a text and an email reminding me that I'm scheduled to write.
Now this may sound a little excessive but scheduling things that need to be done, even though they could be done at almost any time, gives you a much better chance if getting stuff done.
If it wasn't in my calendar and if I hadn't received the reminders then it's quite likely that I would have forgotten about writing on a weekly basis. Now that I'm in the habit of writing (and I still get the regular reminders) it means that I don't forget and even start to get a little frustrated if I've not written anything for that week.
Even better is that, because I know that I've scheduled the time to write weekly, it makes me start to think more about writing and I have begun to think about different stuff I can write about.
So if you want to get regular stuff done, why not use a calendar or reminder system to give you a better chance of not only remembering but also actually getting it done?
As I've mentioned before, one of the most difficult things about being self-employed is trying to balance the difference between busy and productive (see http://www.craig-west.co.uk/2011/10/busy-vs-productive-using-time-wisely-can-be-hard-work/).
It's very easy to be 'busy' since there is never nothing to do. But turning that busy into 'business' is very challenging at times. Busy vs productive is a constant battle.
But this time I want to share a few pointers if you find yourself in this kind of situation.
First off: you need to have a clear idea of how you're going to manage deadlines.
Much of what I do is based on my client's expectation of when the work will be done. However, I've become very skilled at making sure I give myself time to get tasks done (see www.craig-west.co.uk/2009/09/cut-stress-by-allowing-time-to-get-things-done/ for my thoughts on this). I'll tell the client when they can expect to have tasks complete and then ask if they are ok with that. Very rarely has anyone said no.
Second: if you do meetings, can you get several done in a day?
This works well for me. If I'm going to be out for a daytime networking event or meeting it often takes up so much of the day that I get little opportunity to sit and actually work.
So I have 'meeting days'. This is where I stack up appointments on the same day, which leaves other days completely free.
Yesterday was a good example. I arranged 2 appointments in the city centre for the morning so I didn't have to go into the city more than once. This approach saves time, money and minimises the impact on the environment due to less driving.
Third: when you sit down to work, have a list of things to do or a clear goal for accomplishment for that time.
This is a biggie. Unless you have a clear idea of what you're working on you're more likely to spend time on non-urgent and non-important stuff (such as so-called 'marketing' on Linked-In or Twitter).
So make sure you know what you're working on every single time you sit down to work.
I use a to-do list. I re-write it each day and always have a minimum expectation of what I want to get done.
These are just a few of the things I do to help me maximise my time in the juggling act that is my world.
If you have any other ideas or thoughts on dealing with busy vs productive then please feel free to comment below.
Today I went to see a business coach. I've never had a coach before (outside of sport that is) and I have to admit that it was a very useful experience, despite my initial scepticism.
You see, I'm very good at being organised, I work well when I know what I have to get done. I write comprehensive to-do lists and usually get things crossed off quite successfully.
My biggest business (and arguably personal) challenge has always been the lack of a longer term picture, a wider view.
So the crux of my business coaching session today was to begin to think on what my next year (2012) is going to look like. This was in terms of income targets, level and size of business activity, number of new clients, types of business activity, and also some personal aims as well.
We then looked at areas where I could set some shorter term targets that would contribute to this 14 month plan. This was all about getting the ball rolling and getting into some new habits, such as blog writing more consistently and frequently.
And then to complete this I was encouraged to set out an action plan for achieving these targets. These are specific things to do (along with expected completion dates) that will help to ensure that the long-term aims are achieved.
Now, those who know will simply call this stuff 'goal setting' and they'd be right. The thing is, from my point of view, I've never really taken uninterrupted time out to do this stuff.
Despite knowing that it's important, I've never taken some time out to work 'on' my business rather than simply work 'in' it. On the drive back home I was mentally kicking myself for not taking this notion more seriously much sooner.
So what's the upshot really, what has this goal setting / business coaching session achieved?
Well, for the first time in quite a while I have a reasonable idea of the things I will be doing in the coming months to develop my business and personal life. I have some targets and some actions to get me there.
I also have a renewed mind, to some extent. I am now, more than ever, able to think more clearly about my to do lists and ensure that they contain actions that are taking me where I want to go, since I now have a better idea of where I want to go.
And finally, I'm going to make sure that I take a a couple of hours away from my desk each month to ensure that I'm working on my action plan and that I'm still doing the things that take me in my desired direction.
So many thanks to Karen Chambers of KC Coaching (http://kccoaching.co.uk) for getting the ball rolling.