Effective Time Management

Working Smarter, Not Harder

Do you recognize the feeling that you are working as hard as you possibly can, but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done? You wake up each morning physically and mentally exhausted, and drag yourself back onto the treadmill. If so, you lack balance in your life, and by re-establishing it, you can improve your effectiveness at work, while also improving the quality of your private life and general well being.

Start by taking a break and think about working smarter, instead of harder. Taking time away to recharge will allow you to think more clearly and effectively. Our brains simply aren’t designed to work constantly at maximum output for 8-10 hours a day. Take 10-15 minute breaks at least every 90 minutes – your sharper mind will pay you back with much more than 10-15 minutes productivity gains in the subsequent 90 minutes.

In addition to these short breaks also make time to get out into nature, silly though it might sound the natural landscape has far fewer stimuli than the urban environment, (test this by noticing how your mind feels in a busy street, negotiating a way through the crowds, looking at advertisements, shops and other people and then compare this to walking in the countryside or park). The calming effect the natural environment has on us helps us to refocus on what is important, rather than simply plodding on the same old treadmill doing the same things and getting nowhere fast. If it isn’t possible to get out during the working day, then consider a morning or evening walk and failing that make time at the weekend.

Manage your time better by chunking your work – reserve larger blocks of uninterrupted time for the important rather than urgent, planning tasks, (quadrant II on the clock face below), and put these blocks early in the day to avoid having your time hijacked. Smaller tasks and ‘interruptions’ (things not planned or on your agenda) can be deferred to a scheduled slot later in the day. Make sure that your staff knows when they can and cannot disturb you during the day and insist that they bring solutions, not problems.

Steven Covey pioneered this simple Time Management Matrix, which allows you to think about the tasks you are actually spending time on and whether they are the right ones. Look at what you are actually doing each day and start arranging your tasks into the boxes below – where are you spending your time? If it is in quadrants III and IV you are making yourself into a busy fool. Delegate tasks in QIII to someone whose time is less valuable/costly to the business and stop doing anything in QIV at work. If you are spending most of your time in QII, well done, you are working on your business’ future growth, while your team gets on with business as usual. You should expect QI activities to come along, so plan space in your diary.


Franklin Covey

Franklin Covey

As part of this process, make time to check emails, say once an hour, but not every time you hear one arrive, and avoid checking them first thing in the morning. In this way, you take control of your own agenda, rather than reacting to someone else’s.

Finally, as a business leader it is important that you provide leadership and direction to your team. Limit your goals – trying to spin too many plates has a tendency to result in poor results. Establish what are you Wildly Important Goals, (WIGs, as defined by Sean Covey in The Four Disciplines of Execution), and then concentrate on achieving these before setting any new ones. Ensure your whole team both understand and are focused on achieving these goals as their top priority outside business as usual. Everyone must set aside time every week to work on these goals.

Remember, it’s not a sprint, but a marathon with some intense interval training thrown in at random times – make sure you aren’t running on empty, so you can’t react when an extra effort is required.

If you need help to work smarter and prioritise your goals, then have a look at Executive Coaching under the Services tab at the top of the page and contact us to arrange a no obligation chat – your first step in getting off that treadmill and becoming more effective.

Fran McArthur