I'm pretty good at managing my time, but like many things, I've only truly gotten the hang of it when I hit my 30s and had kids. My husband and I parent without a safety net (AKA extended family) so we are superb at planning and scheduling: Some days it can quite literally be one in one out, but our ability to organise things has always served us well. Of course, it's one thing planning, organising and scheduling, but the REAL trick to making it all work is to be reliable. We have to totally trust each other to do what we say we will, when we say we will.
This is kind of background to the point I want to make.
When I run Time Management workshops, the recurring problem is how to fit more in to an already overstuffed diary. People feel stressed and never seem to finish their to-do lists. I am not stressed and I always complete what I need to complete (barring illness or natural disaster). That's because I'm realistic.
- I'm realistic about how long things take
- I'm realistic about my abilities
- I'm realistic when setting goals and agreeing outcomes with clients.
I'm lucky I know. I work for myself so it's easier for me to take control of my workload than those who get work allocated from someone else and that undoubtedly helps.
But my work is largely creative, and creativity doesn't tend to stick to schedules (Which can very difficult to explain to the highly qualified PRINCE2 project manager you are liasing with). Just yesterday my brain didn't properly switch on until 4pm, and then it was pretty much time to fetch the kids and go into 'mum' mode. I'd faffed around for 6 hours yet had little to show for it.
Today I've been a lot more focussed. I've cracked on, and if tomorrow is the same I'll have totally caught up with where I expected to be at the end of Wednesday.
So you are probably thinking that if I can do 3 day's work in 2, I'm under-utilised. Surely I could do more work? Aren't I taking the mickey and slacking off?
My feeling is 'NO'.
I've been in this game long enough to know that I have brain dead days, and computer-problem days, and days when clients don't get back to me and days when I need to tend to some domestic emergency. So I factor it in. No point in pretending that it isn't going to happen, it is, so I plan for it.
That's why I always build in the 'buggeration factor' and never allocate more than 80% of my time. If I've got 4 days work planned in a week, my diary is full. Because something will cause a set back during the week. We don't live in an ideal world, we live in a real world, and real world planning takes imperfect things into account.
So, my top 3 tips for stree-free time management are:
- Be realistic about how long you have and how long things actually take (not ought to take)
- Set realistic goals - ones that you are 99% sure you can achieve
- Build in the buggeration factor
And if you want to run an interactive bite-size training session to help people plan their time better, we have everything you need!