What are we busy about?
By Enda Larkin, Owner/Director at HTC Consulting
- Peter F. Drucker
It deserves a moment or two of consideration, I think. On the time issue, does any of this sound familiar to you?
· Having to work longer hours than required because you don't/can't structure your day
· Facing lots of unscheduled and inappropriate interruptions as part of your working day
· Feeling stressed and overworked because of the seemingly endless mountain of work in front of you
· Constantly feeling you are fire fighting, or simply lurching from crisis to crisis
· Finding it extremely difficult to delegate
· Spending an inordinate amount of time clearing up other peoples' problems
· Drowning in emails or paperwork
Then rest assured you are not alone. Many people feel precisely the same and although our industry does pose unique challenges in terms of time management, we can always improve how we manage our time, and it is an issue we should all reflect upon every now and again.
And I will begin with an admission. By nature, I am the world's worst time manager; not lazy by any means, just inherently lousy at managing my day. It caused me terrible problems when I first set up the business many years ago. I would often find myself sitting down at 8 or 9pm to write a proposal, having more or less 'goofed off' for the entire day. Sure, if I had client meetings, or was actually working on a project, I would be great at managing the day, but without that structure I was hopeless. Clearly that was unsustainable and over the years I have had to become much better at keeping on top of my time. I'm still far from perfect, but I'm happy now with how I use my time. Mostly, I am anyway.
The moral here?
If I can get better at time management, then anyone can.
Now, before we go on, how much scope there is for you to better manage your time very much depends upon your individual circumstances of course; how good you are at it already will clearly be a factor. What's more, if you have a large degree of control over your day, then it should be possible for you to better manage your time, at least to some degree. If you have less control, which is often the case in our industry, or – worse still – maybe your boss is so lousy at managing his/her own time that they cause you to mis-manage yours, then the potential for improvement may be limited.
Whatever your daily reality, most of us don't actually examine what the likely potential for improvement is - limited or otherwise. We simply allow ourselves to be resigned to our fate. Sadly I don't have any magic answers for you here, but hopefully I have some useful food for thought on the issue. There are many things you can consider to better manage your time, but for this article, I will focus on steps I have taken in terms of 'Planning & Saving' my time.
Planning and Saving Time
Years ago, when I realised that I was in fact the 'Anti-Time Manager' I signed up for a course on the subject. One of the most useful things they covered was the Important/Urgent matrix. You have probably come across it before:
I found that quite useful in terms of thinking about where my time was spent and you should also reflect on your own situation as regards each of the four 'windows'; and, more importantly, the proportion of your time consumed by each. Anyway, I could bore you with all the theoretical advice they gave us on the programme about how to better balance the urgent-important dynamic, but a friend of mine recently told me a story over a pint which I think sums it all up very well:
He runs his own small business and must have the annual budget ready for his accountant in December each year, so they can finalize it for the bank and have it agreed and approved by January 1. Every year he ends up working through the night at some point in December to get it done; and usually he drives the accountant crazy when he submits it, as it's full of mistakes: "like your four-year old did it, or worse still, like the dog had a go at the budgeting," as his accountant once complained to him, such was his frustration.
Last year, he decided he would not repeat the same old mistakes.
So, he set two days aside in mid-November to do it. On the morning of the first day, he sat down at his desk with all the necessary paperwork at hand.
I'll just see what's happening in the world, he thought.
So he surfed online for a while. There was actually lots of very, very interesting things going on.
Okay, need a coffee, and then it's definitely down to work.
Coffee on board, he next spent time formatting the spreadsheet. "Made it look real professional too," he told me as he sipped his pint.
Then lunch beckoned.
After all, the brain can't function at peak-performance on an empty stomach, can it?
He headed down to the kitchen.
Still, he thought as he munched his sandwich, a lot of great work had been achieved in the morning. All the prep was done. He would fly through the numbers in the afternoon.
After lunch, he sat back down at the desk.
Maybe I should read up a bit on budgeting, so as not to have so many mistakes this year, he thought.
He logged back on and went searching on the topic. Apparently, there was a lot about budgeting that he didn't know. He was amazed. Lots of very, very interesting things to read on the subject.
At around 3pm, the dog started barking downstairs.
"The constant yapping was annoying my head," he explained as he finished the pint.
Dog needed a walk apparently.
Ah, why not, he thought, don't get many clear days like today at this time of year.
He packed up for the afternoon and went searching for the mutt's lead.
Still, he felt as he drove towards the beach, a lot of great work had been achieved that day. All the prep was done, his understanding of budgeting was far better. He would fly through the numbers the next day...
Unfortunately, the following day, one of his employees called in sick; it was all hands on deck. When did he do the budget? Yes, by pulling an all-nighter in December. And what did the accountant say when he submitted his work? He told my friend he felt that "whilst the dog was improving dramatically at spreadsheet design, there was a noticeable deterioration in his budgeting skills..."
We had a good laugh at the story, but knew exactly what the message was.
And we all mess up when it comes to balancing the urgent-important matrix, don't we? Still, I think that no amount of theoretical discussion around the issue will add any more impact than that story. In terms of planning and saving time, I now do a few things that work for me and maybe they might help you too:
I Set Goals
At the beginning of every year, I define the really critical goals - personal and business - and identify the key activities required to achieve each of them. Then, I put those key activities into some sort of sequence or logical order. Next, I schedule them in as appropriate across the year. And, at the start of each month, I look at which of those activities are urgent that month and I make sure I do them.
Every week and every day, I spend a couple of minutes deciding which are the priority things to be done, and I do not finish my day until I do whatever I have decided was a priority. Even, if I have to stay up late to do it, or miss something else I wanted to do, I make myself finish the priorities off daily and weekly. I have found that by imposing that self discipline, I work much harder now not to put myself in that position.
I allow time for goofing - every day
I like to goof. And I miss not doing it. So I always allow myself time each day - even if only a few minutes - to do something mindless. By actually scheduling my goofing time, when I am doing work of value, I don't have the 'inner voice' nagging at me to take a few minutes out; either I know I have put time aside to do that later, or once I have goofed off, I have got it out of my system for the day.
Goofing is good.
I chopped my long finger off
I was a terrible procrastinator. I mean terrible. Now I NEVER put something on the long finger; it kills me to do things on the spot, but I never procrastinate.
I switch my mobile off
Sounds like a minor point, but if I am working on something important, I switch off the phone for an hour or so.
I am not that important. People can wait for me to get back to them within a couple of hours or so. Amazing what you get can done when it's quiet.
I use a diary
I always had a diary. In fact, after the course I attended, they gave me a nice leather-bound one. A real fancy looking thing. I carried it around for the year. Like a loser. And it's still mostly blank.
Now, I actually use my diary - a cheap and nasty looking one. But it works for me, mainly because now I actually write things in it. And I make great use of Outlook too in terms of scheduling in tasks or appointments. That's a great tool to have, because it prompts you for things you might have, intentionally or otherwise, forgotten about. There are plenty of planning apps etc. around these days, for those of you who have left the paper-bound world far behind. Lots of different tools.
Only any good, of course, if you actually use them.
So, that's it on the planning and saving time front. Sure, others may give you many more guidelines and tips, but these things worked for me. Okay, I don't pretend that any of this will radically change your life when it comes to managing your time, but hopefully there has been some food for thought there - no magic pill - but a few things for you to think about. And I will leave you with the thoughts of Henry David Thoreau, the American author and philosopher, when he once said, "It's not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?"
Phone: +41 (0) 22 700 8675
of senior management positions in Ireland, UK and the US. In 1994 he founded HTC Consulting, a Geneva based firm, which specialises in working with enterprises in hospitality and tourism. Since that time, he has led numerous consulting projects for public and private sector clients throughout Europe and the Middle East. He is author of Ready to Lead? (Pearson/Prentice Hall 2007), How to Run a Great Hotel (How to Books 2009), 'Quick Win' Leadership (Oak Tree Press 2010) and Journeys – Short Stories and Tall Tales for Managers which is due to be published in March 2012. He may be contacted via www.htc- consult.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Blog at www.htc-consult.com/new/blog