Two Simple Time Management Strategies You Need…Now

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Why is it that all managers complain of not having enough time in the day, while at the same time, these same managers are struggling to ensure that their staff have enough tasks to keep them busy? One of the greatest challenges facing leaders is developing effective time management strategies, and a caring, supportive culture can further complicate the picture.

The Time Management Rabbit Hole

For example, at Decision Toolbox, the leadership team “reports” to the employees and we strive for a very “human” and personal relationship with our team members. “Family” is a cliché, so I’ll stick with “community” to describe our culture. It is human nature for good managers to want to solve problems for their direct reports, but usually this means taking ownership of the problem and completely relieving the employee of any responsibility.

In taking the employees’ problems onboard and making them her own, the leader becomes trapped in the minutiae of day-to-day operations. Much like Alice heading down the rabbit hole, these tactical tasks eat up an entire day—and eventually the entire week—and the leader never has a chance to pause, raise her head, assess, and see the forest for the trees.

Time Management Strategy #1:  Prioritize Your Big Rocks

There are many parables about time management, but perhaps the simplest and most visual is from Stephen Covey in his book “First Things First.” In it, he shares the following story experienced by one of his associates:

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I attended a seminar once where the instructor was lecturing on time. At one point, he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” He reached under the table and pulled out a wide-mouthed gallon jar. He set it on the table next to a platter with some fist-sized rocks on it. “How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?” he asked.
After we made our guess, he said, “Okay. Let’s find out.”
He set one rock in the jar . . . then another . . . then another. I don’t remember how many he got in, but he got the jar full. Then he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone looked at the rocks and said, “Yes.”
Then he said, “Ahhh.” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar and the gravel went in all the little spaces left by the big rocks. Then he grinned and said once more, “Is the jar full?”
By this time the class was on to him. “Probably not,” we said. “Good!” he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all of the little spaces left by the rocks and the gravel. Once more he looked and said, “Is this jar full?” “No!” we roared.
He said, “Good!” and he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in. He got something like a quart of water in that jar. Then he said, ” Well, what’s the point?” Somebody said, “Well, there are gaps, and if you work really hard you can always fit some more things into your life.”
“No,” he said, “that’s not the point. The point is this: If you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in?”

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This is a fun parable with an important lesson:

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Accomplishing small tasks that don’t amount to solving your fundamental business problems are not helping you achieve your goals.  Start by prioritizing what’s most important and aim to tackle those big rocks first.

Time Management Strategy #2: The Egg Timer Solution

So how do you find the time to focus on those big rocks?  Some days, being the visionary is harder than others, and if I don’t live every day by design, I end up losing focus—and lost battles aren’t too far behind. I’ve solved this problem with a $3 egg timer. My theory is that anyone can sprint for 45 minutes, no matter how distasteful the task at hand. Except for the rare long-distance runner who can grind it out all day, most of us cannot focus for extended periods and still be highly productive.

It must sound simplistic, but it is powerful. For any unstructured time in my day, I take one of my Big Rocks and list a series of tasks related to it. Sometimes my Big Rock is driving sales; sometimes it is to simply be the visionary. Then, I set my egg timer for 45 minutes and spend that time completing as many tasks as possible. When the buzzer goes off, I take a break—I have some coffee, go for a quick walk, phone a friend—and then prepare for my next 45-minute sprint. By spending my minutes in a structured manner, I use my day by design and keep my focus where it needs to be: on my Big Rocks.

Do you have any secrets for effective time management? Share in the comments below!

Kim Shepherd
Kim Shepherdhttp://www.dtoolbox.com/
AS CEO of Decision Toolbox, Kim Shepherd leads the company’s growth strategy, primarily through developing partnerships, alliances and as an active member of the Los Angeles and Orange County human resources community. A recognized thought leader by HR organizations nationwide including the Human Capital Institute, Kim is a regular speaker at national and regional events on various business models. Kim joined Decision Toolbox in 2000, and brought her unconventional approach to the company she had admired as a client. Today Decision Toolbox is 100% virtual, with more than 100 team members working remotely across the U.S. This company is a Certified Women’s Business Enterprise. This unique business model has played a key role in the company being awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Decision Toolbox was also named one of the "Fastest Growing Private Companies" by the Orange County Business Journal in 2012. In addition, they have been named 3 years running to the INC 500/5000 List of Fastest Growing Private Companies and have been a 7-time recipient of the HRO Today’s Baker’s Dozen for Midmarket and Emerging Markets. Calling Kim unconventional is an understatement – her former endeavors include 10 years as a TV and Foreign Correspondent, a stint at Club Med and a near miss at a spot on the Olympic ski team. Kim is an active member of the Adaptive Business Leaders Executive Roundtable and the National Association for Women Business Owners (Orange County Chapter). She served on the Executive Board of Trustees for Girls Incorporated of Orange County and is also the Board Chair for Working Wardrobes. She is also a former member of Impact Giving. Kim is the recipient of the National Association of Women Business Owners (Orange County Chapter) 2013 Innovator of the Year Award, the 2014 Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year, and the 2015 Family Matters Award from WomanSage.
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JaneAnderson
JaneAnderson

I enjoyed your article. I read that book and the 7 Habits and Living the 7 Habits. I shouldn’t have issues with time management, but still do. I don’t have secrets of effective time management. I have tried the ‘only list 3 tasks’ and don’t add more until those are done – but that only served to rob my focus because I couldn’t see all the 52 other things on my list. Hand me a big rock and a chisel. I need to see the pieces or my focus is gone. Chunking like tasks and working on them, like you advised, a set amount of time while avoiding distractions.

I find that my best time management comes from being disciplined about how many minutes (hours) I allow myself to be on social media. Today for example, I have spent nearly the entire day on social media. That means tomorrow and the next day I have to restrict my hours to the bare minimum. I do social media as a job so of necessity I have to be on a certain part of each day. Today I gave myself a special dispensation because I have had computer issues for 2 weeks and had only my phone for the majority of social media tasks. I’ve become quite skilled at staying off social media to the point where people ask me if everything is OK or are you still on Facebook? It’s a love hate thing with time management. I want to do it all and have to back off from all and be satisfied with most important.

kim shepherd
kim shepherd

Jane – at least you are thinking about the value of your available time. Let me suggest that you make a weekly list of things you would like to accomplish. Select 3 tasks per day and use the 45-minute egg timer plan. Do those 3 task in the morning to get you in this habit for the balance of the day. Then, fill in the 4 other blocks of time for tasks that suddenly feel urgent to you. Be sure to take 10 minutes at the end of each day to review and acknowledge what did and did not work for you. Time management has to be proactive to work properly.

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