We all start out with the same time. Everyone gets 24 hours a day whether we like it or not. What we do with our 24 hours day in and day out determines ultimately where we end up. How we use those 24 hours is totally our choice. Once we see that each of these 24 hours is a gift the whole idea of time management changes. With technology available 24*7 the whole concept of compartmentalization of personal and work life is no longer valid. We are connected to our emails all through the day and we hardly switch off. As we have heard a million times all time management experts say we should only check emails 2-3 times a day. This is easier said than done and personally I don’t agree with this approach. For many of us our work lives involve email and speed is the essence especially if your customer or team needs something urgent.
I think the better way to manage email is to give it the respect it deserves. Leaving unanswered email (I am talking about official email) which is important doesn’t look good and for most of us part of our job description is to be responsive and that does get admiration from others. I am going to go against what most of the experts say but my aim is to be truthful on what works for me. I do spend my first 20 min after waking up checking my email and responding to important items as applicable. I feel this keeps me in check on what to expect the rest of the day and also leaves me less anxious by the time I reach work. Again this may not be applicable for everyone. I also do wake up early so I do have some time for exercise or reading.
During my work hours I am connected throughout (of course there are exceptions with meetings) and ensure that I answer my emails quickly and promptly as applicable. Of course if you are working on a deliverable that needs complete attention then by all means you can switch off from email for 2-3 hours before you check. You can setup automatic replies to indicate that you will check emails for that day only on certain times. You can also give a call back number for anything urgent. As I said each day and each situation is different so you have to be flexible in changing your plans for the day.
However I ensure that any email I get on my phone works only when I open that mail application manually in other words I don’t setup notifications which again enhance a sense of control. That’s the same way I handle Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp – I don’t setup any notifications. Only when I login to the application can I see the notifications. This makes me feel that I am in control. Psychologists have also confirmed that a sense of control is absolutely necessary to feel good about yourself. This also gives an enhanced sense that you are in control of your time. In Smarter Faster Better Charles Duhigg argues that people who have an internal locus of control experience higher self motivation and success. They also tend to earn more money. Having an external locus of control relates to higher stress.
Once I come back home I don’t check email for a couple of hours and check once more before going to sleep. Ultimately I don’t believe there is a single approach to time management and there is no rule that you shouldn’t check email first thing in the morning or last thing at night. I do listen to the experts but ultimately I decide what I want to do with my time and the way that makes me feel like I am in control. So I encourage you to think on what works best for you and if you found what I shared useful you can take some portion of it and integrate it with your time management program. Again we have to really decide what works best for us. Another way to manage emails is to send lesser emails which means we will also receive lesser. Whenever possible have a call or meet in person to resolve disputes.
Some other quickies on time management
1.Set clear goals on what you want to accomplish for a particular day or week. Think of the big picture whenever possible as this will help you overcome short term setbacks faster. Recently I came across the Resilient podcast by host Mike Kearney Host of Deloitte Advisory’s Resilient Podcast with Frank Tirelli who was CEO of Deloitte Italy and CEO of Herbalife International Inc. It was a fascinating conversation and he says every day he has a 3 page plan he looks at. It consists of what he should do every morning, his goals in all areas of his life, values, the things he is thankful for, quotes and much more. The Resilient Podcast is a wonderful resource for all leaders. If you have not checked it out here it is Resilient Podcast
2. Maintain lists on what needs to be done. You can also schedule activities or tasks directly into your calendar. This seems to be the popular way now.
3. Another popular approach is to just focus on what has to be done for that day. This keeps your anxiety under check. A good book which I liked on time management is “How to Have a Good Day” by Caroline Webb.
4. Once you complete an item on the list move it to completed status which makes you feel good.
5. Take some time for yourself (it can be as less as 15 min) in the allotted 24 hours to do something you like. It can be exercising, watching TV, reading, walking or listening to music.
6. Once or twice in a week write down in your journal what went well in the week and what can be done better. You can also track your accomplishments. Writing in a journal is a life enhancing activity.
7. Always focus on doing the most important task on your list first. This gives you the best return on your investment of time. In hospitals patients are not treated in terms of arrival but are treated in terms of severity. The same holds good for the items on the list.
8. Ensure 7-8 hours of sleep on average. When you sleep well you are completely recharged and can handle the tasks with much more enthusiasm and passion.
9. Exercise again boosts your energy and once you get it out of the way at the start of the day it gives a sense of accomplishment. The more stress you have the more you need to dedicate time for renewal. In fact what I have found is to never stop exercising for any long period of time and it is much easier to maintain the momentum that way.
10. This is a bummer but worth repeating that when you are grateful you feel a lot happier and less stressful. Take some time in a day to say thanks for everything good in your life. This puts the mind back on gratitude and it’s hard to be grumpy when you are grateful. It also increases the happiness levels.
11. Jim Collins the author of Good to Great advises us to use stop doing lists. We all have to do lists but he says you can be truly effective only when you stop doing certain things that are draining your time and energy.
12. Learn to say no. We can’t do everything so it is absolutely imperative that we assess our capabilities and ensure that we say no to things which will overwhelm us.
13. Yes ambition is great, without it much of the progress made would not have happened. However it should be married with a pragmatic approach meaning that you have to ensure that being overly ambitious should not hinder your peace of mind. Ultimately peace of mind is the ultimate goal.
14. Taking some time off completely from technology on one day of the week is good and recharges you. I can’t do it for an entire day but even a few hours without technology can be a good start. Padmasree Warrior takes this digital detox every Saturday. She says “I’ve taken Saturdays to be the day I pull back completely, I do things that are more creative and I’ve actually found that helps me when I get back into work to be more thoughtful, and I truly believe that feeding your creative soul is really important to being more analytical.” Read the complete article in Huffington Post Digital Detox.
As I mentioned earlier every field is different and there is no cookie cutter strategy for effective time management. You should develop your own time management philosophy that works for your career and life. I hope you found some of the ideas useful.
Thanks for reading this post.