My favorite tool to improve productivity

I'm not a big believer in time management programs and tools. I find that while most people understand them conceptually, they never get the big improvements expected when they were putting them into place.

There are always exceptions of course. However, as a success coach, I try to provide real-world strategies and concepts which will work for the majority of managers and executives. And most will tell me that for them – even after trying the latest ideas or tools or software for time management – it remains a real challenge.

Why? Because it’s hard to manage anything if you don’t have a plan. And the plan has to be based on the actual environment that you, specifically, work in.

In most cases, “global, one-size- fits-all” concepts will sound seductively easy to employ but then won’t help. And if we noodle on it, why would an idea born in one environment be equally applicable for every environment? Success in an organization has as much to do with the interpersonal dynamics and leadership as it does with processes and procedures. Maybe more. So what’s a person to do?

1. Chart your time:

Using whatever means available – an assistant, a PDA, a Franklin Daytimer, notebook, whatever; track where and how you spend your time.

Do it every day. Create 6 to 8 categories to list your meetings and the time spent in each. Use broad categories such as: planned meetings, unplanned meetings, travel, management-by-walking-around time, desk work, time spent with the boss, time spent with each of your direct reports, customer dialogs, research and development - whatever is important in your organization.

By the end of 4 weeks you will see a pattern. Make a pie chart out with each of the categories. Now see in a graph what you really do all the time. I recommend that you do this for 8 weeks to ensure that any anomalies are filtered. By that time, your monthly pie chart will show you, clearly, who and what are taking most of your time.

2. Make a "my real-world" plan: Ask yourself what would be the most productive use of your time. What would result in the best results for you or the company?

For example, “In a perfect world, it makes sense to spend 15% of my time with my staff and not the 30% I am currently spending.” Or perhaps, “Ideally, I will have 20% of my time doing market research and not just the 3% I use now”. So you end up with a plan based on your particular environment.

The new pie chart is your custom plan. At the end of each month compare it to how you really behaved. It will tell you at a glance if you’re doing what you should or want.

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