Where does all the time go? Long hours. Late nights. Snatched lunches. Some people boast about their overwhelming work schedule as if it’s a badge of honor: “I start work at 7:00 a.m. and work right though until 8:00 p.m.” Often their Herculean claims border on the absurd. “Last night I went to bed at three a.m. and had to get up two hours earlier to finish a report.” Or, “I used to eat lunch at my desk. But I need to save more time, so I’m giving up eating…”
The problem is NOT that there isn’t enough time. Time doesn’t expand. The problem is that people burden themselves with too many activities. The key to success is how you allocate your time to what matters most. In time study research we’ve conducted for clients, most employees spend about 50% of their time on value-added work. But among the top performers, time spent on important activities approaches 60%. That’s an increase of 5 hours per week that can make all the difference.
Improving productivity means spending your time on the right things. And that starts with planning. Here’s what to think about when you plan your day. Ask yourself, if you had nothing else to do tomorrow, what would you do to affect your results one month from now? The answers would be your “A” priorities—activities that affect your long-term results. They might include hiring a new account manager, developing a major proposal, opening a new branch location, or launching a new marketing campaign. These top priority items should take up 20 to 30 percent of your time.
“B” activities are the things you are responsible for. They are the activities in your job description that must get done today, the things that keep you busy. They might include corresponding with clients, handling claims, supervising staff, inputting data, checking contracts, shipping materials, or updating a database. For most people, “B” responsibilities represent another 30 – 40 percent of the time.
The “C” activities are requirements—those unplanned or unwritten aspects of your job that have to be done. “A” priorities are planned by you whereas “C” requirements are often planned for you. They include department meetings, routine requests, expense reports, filing, sorting, and reading updates. Our time study research using the proprietary TimeCorder device indicates that administrative tasks take up 20-25 percent of the time. Within this, paperwork alone can be five hours per week.
Travel is a “C” requirement. It has to be done, but isn’t a key factor in the success of your job. And, let’s not forget lunches and breaks. It’s ironic how people will plan a lunch meeting or coffee break to the minute. Yet they never get around to planning their major projects. Breaks are necessary—sometimes incubation time away from work can help you solve problems better. But breaks are still just “C” activities.
Finally there are “D” activities. “D” stands for delete, delay, delegate or drop. Get rid of them. They include random web surfing, handling tasks that should be delegated and reading email newsletters. Some “D” tasks are technological time hogs; fixing a photocopier jam, waiting for software to load, or accessing the help desk. Beware of them. Miscellaneous time can be as much as 5 percent of the week.
So how do you spend more time on for your high priorities? First, take the time to plan for them. The sweet spot for general planning is about 2.5 hours per week, or 10 sessions of 15 minutes each. Anything more than that and our research shows no extra impact on results.
Here’s how to plan:
Create a list of activities each day. Make a list of things to do with A, B and C priorities written beside each. Write your list in your time planner, on an app, or even on a Post-It note. At the end of the day, check off the items you’ve completed.
Be specific. When you plan your day, don’t just say, “I’ll work on the budget” or “I’ll work on my recruiting plan.” Be specific by listing activities you can complete today. You can’t do the entire budget in a day, but you can set up a spreadsheet for salaries. You can’t recruit a new employee today, but you can update the job profile.
Block your time. Schedule time for your “A” priorities first. Plan to do them when you’re at your peak and when interruptions are least likely to occur. Make an appointment in your planner, and allocate that time for high priority activities. Then, if someone asks you to meet during that time, say “Sorry, I have an appointment.” No one will ask whom it’s with. It’s an appointment with yourself.
Delegate the things that only you can do. If you think you’re the only person who knows how to do something, you’re probably mistaken and need to delegate more. And if you’re worried that someone isn’t quite ready for a new task, just remind yourself; they’re ready! Delegate the objective, the standards to be met and then ask the person what they need to get started. If they need help, they’ll let you know. Then watch them wow you with results.
Put a value on your time. People say, “time is money”, but for many of them it isn’t. They spend time to save money by driving across town just to save a dollar on a tank of gas. On the other hand, successful people spend money to save time. They’ll hire others to do the things they don’t like doing or aren’t good at. They don’t worry about spending a dollar if it will save them an hour.
Know how you spend your time. Allocate it to the things that matter most. Your time is worth it.
Mark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training.
I am working in IT industry. I find it difficult to manage my time. There are so much stuff to be done wihtin 8 hours time frame. I spend lot of hours reading email and answering support calls. As a programmer its very hard to shift from one program to other. It would be great if you could give me some tips.
I am a regular reader of your blog. Thanks for the great tips.
Thank you for sharing this great article. When I sit back and think about my life, I think I have spent most of my time for “B” tasks. I did my studies well and that’s “A” task and I am enjoying the long term benefit of it.
But, within my career there were stuff I should have done to make a bright future but I didn’t have time to attend to them as I was busy with other daily activities. Even when I do have time, I felt lazy to attend.
I am 100% agree with you. If I can stress myself to do “A” priorities, it can make a big change in my future.
I will try my best.
Putting a priority on time is the key for time management.
I am a marketing executive for a reputed company. First thing in the morning is checking my inbox. I am bit addicted to it. But I don’t take my inbox as my priority list. I write a to-do-list every morning. I check email twice a day and visit Facebook late night.
I account for distractions when I create my priority list. There are compulsory tasks in my to-do-list which I never miss with distractions. For example giving calls to 10 prospective clients per day.
I strongly believe that putting priority on time is the key behind personal and business productivity.
I like to thank Mark for his wonderful contribution towards productive work environment.
Thanks Mark for the great input. I spend 90% of my tasks for type “B” activities. There are so many stuff I should do to improve my job prospects. Those stuff take time. So I find it difficult to allocate my time for those tasks.
I am a freelance web developer. I have few long term clients. But I don’t like to depend on few client base as its very risky. I want to expand my client base. For that I need to spend more time to build online reputation. I need to post youtube videos and and post articles. But I rarely attend to any of those as I spend most of my time for existing clients.
Sometimes, I get free time but bit hesitate to start working on type “A” activities.
I will try a priority list and see.
I have lot of ‘D’ activities. Checking gossip websites, chatting in Facebook and checking emails again and again. I spend more than 2 hours for those ‘D’ activities. Unfortunately I still didn’t able to get rid of those ‘D’s.
Great info. Thanks for sharing.
Putting more time in priority tasks is a great investment for future. Other tasks are like ‘spending’. People like spending and less interest in investing. So high amount of motivation is needed to adjust our thoughts to spend time on type ‘A’ tasks.