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Take the 7-Week Time-Management Challenge

Take the 7-Week Time-Management Challenge

I have taught time management for over 14 years. I could argue my training is great. In earnest, it is probably just equal to other good trainers, the main difference being that I teach people to build their own system and to not use mine or the time-management gurus’, because we are all individuals. This led to a breakthrough for me on time management.

Making a Breakthrough in Time Management After Time-Management Training for 14 Years

Recently, I have stumbled on something that is a game changer in time management. It’s not mine. It’s not anyone’s. It feels a bit like how the internet grew: one piece at a time until it all came together.

This information just needed to be brought together. Most time-management tips, lessons and tricks, are about discipline, focus, or small pieces, like writing a daily to-do list, but at the heart of an effective time-management system are seven fundamental game-changing pieces. Get these right and the whole system just works, like the story of the internet.

If you can master these seven pieces, you will significantly upgrade your time-management system. Let’s be positive and call them hurdles, because when you start to jump them, the race to be a better time manager has begun. Find out more about each hurdle below.

Time Management Hurdles

    To Jump Each Hurdle Is Only One Exercise per Week for 30 Minutes

    Jumping these seven hurdles will significantly upgrade your time-management system.

    You can’t do part of it. You can’t do one hurdle. You can’t do a bit and come back to it. It’s take the challenge, do the race, or don’t.

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    My advice? Decide why you are going to spend 30 minutes per week doing these exercises. This is because when you need to “choose left or right” (deciding to do this or do something else), you need a compelling reason why. The answer cannot be “to be a better time manager.” To achieve that goal, find one easy and simple time-management tip on the web, e.g. start each task on your to do list with a verb. Job done. We know from Edwin Locke’s work on goal setting that challenging and specific goals work best.

    This goal setting requires some reflection. Decide why. What problem will it solve? Will it help you get home one night on time? Is the goal to be more calm, more in control?

    Then the goal is to hear people in the office unprompted saying, “He’s more calm/She seems much more in control.” Write your reason, your goal, on a sheet of paper and keep this close to you. Remember goals need to pack the three Ps, as Muhammad Ali did — “I am the Greatest” — Present, Positive, and Personal. For example, “I am much more in control. People have said so unprompted,” or “I am working on my big projects and my boss has noticed and commented positively to me.”

    Now it’s time to take the 7-Week Time-Management Challenge.

    Week 1 — Jumping the Capturing Hurdle

    How much do you capture of what comes into your world, and into your head?

    Jumping the “Capturing” hurdle is about being able to grab any time demand that comes into your world. The more obvious is your email inbox. The less obvious is capturing stuff that you think of when you are driving.

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    • Using a clean sheet of paper, write ALL the capture points (entry points) of your time-management system that you currently have. For example, email inbox, phone calls, and meetings.
    • If you have too many, delete one. For example, you have multiple notepads doing a similar job.
    • If you don’t have enough, for example, you are still relying on your memory in the car, in meetings, in corridor conversations, add one.

    Week 2 — Jumping the Listing Hurdle

    How well do you get things out of your head and onto a list?

    Jumping the “Listing” hurdle is about getting stuff out of your head and onto a list. “The most successful people are the ones with the emptiest heads.” Leaving room for thinking, decision making, and problem solving, not for remembering (storage).

    • Using a clean sheet of paper, write down ALL the lists that you currently have. For example a daily to-do list.
    • If you have too many lists remove one. Particularly the lists that you do not trust. For example, the Outlook reminders list.
    • If you don’t have all of the following lists, add one; particularly the daily to do list (not a stream of actions), or the call list, project list, waiting for list, weekly list, monthly list, or a some day maybe list.

    Week 3 — Jumping the Emptying Hurdle

    How good you are at emptying those capture points?

    Jumping the “Emptying” hurdle is a little like emptying the dishwasher. If you don’t, then it just builds up until you cannot see the dishes for the kitchen sink and then you have to load the dishwasher and wash-up what’s left. Emptying frequently and appropriately is key.

    • Using your list of “Capture Points” that you created in Week 1 decide when you will empty each one of your capture points. Add a column two. For example your email inbox will be assessed once an hour for 15 minutes, or after each major piece of work. Not continuously.
    • Add a column three and identify a trigger for each capture points that will help you to create the habit. The best way to form a habit is to “piggy back” another habit. For example, when I broke my foot, I had to do exercises everyday for 5 minutes. I piggybacked brushing my teeth. Your example might be emptying your in-tray once a day as you log off from work or with each cup of coffee.
    • Read this short post to help you, “Say Yes Wisely” because most people struggle to say ‘No’, which drains their time hugely. Use this learning to say, “No” to at least one task this week and each week from here on in.

    Week 4 — Jumping the Deleting Hurdle

    How much you ask yourself the right question: “What is the impact if I don’t do this?”

    Jumping the “Deleting” hurdle is about getting rid of more of the time demands that enter our world. Plus, it is about not accepting every time demand. Being clear on what we are here to achieve and eliminating more of what does not achieve that.

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    • Understanding how to use advanced search is the key to finding emails quickly. Learn how to use advanced search.
    • Unsubscribe from a minimum of four external email lists that you are on and that you do not use. And unsubscribe from a minimum of three internal distribution lists that you are on.
    • Commit from this week to dealing with copied-in emails more quickly. Do this with the ABC tool: A. A CC email?, B. Briefly read it, and C. Clear it. Delete, unless you reply, but this must be by exception.

    Week 5 — Jumping the Storing Hurdle

    How effective you at storing the right information in the right places for later?

    Jumping the “Storing” hurdle is about having the right information where you need it, when you need it, and keeping it easily accessible, a little like the documents at home. For example, the house insurance: is it in a big pile of important stuff? Or the next business trip tickets — where are they kept?

    • Using a clean sheet of paper, write down ALL the storage points that you currently have. For example, the wall by your desk is a storage point and your “day notebook” and your desk.
    • If you have too many storage points remove one. Maybe you don’t use or rely on the reading pile storage point. Decide how you will manage now that this storage point has been removed (Combine with another storage point?). If you don’t have all of the following storage points, add one; especially for physical documents (e.g tickets), and then consider books to read, websites to refer back to, or papers to read, book shelf, reference folder, tickets, or tickler file.
    • Identify for each storage point the frequency and the trigger and add these in as columns to your list of storage points above.

    Week 6 — Jumping the Scheduling Hurdle

    How great do you schedule, beyond using your diary just for meetings?

    Jumping the “Scheduling” hurdle is about having one diary and using it for more than just booking meetings. Scheduling important work on big tasks that we shy away from because they are big frogs.

    This is the toughest hurdle. Maybe the highest. Some fail here.

    • Identify why you are on the payroll. This is your “Key Result Area (KRA).” Here’s some help — it is not the long list of stuff, from managing clients, to meetings, to presenting, dealing with queries, managing your team, etc. It is one to three things. In a commercial company, your reason for being on the payroll will be to increase sales and profit. For sales people, it is easier; they have a budget. This is their KRA. For others, it will take a little thought to identify a few measurable things that you do that proves that you are worth your salary. For example, for a waiter it might be the TripAdvisor scores.
    • Identify the three projects/large chunks of work that will have the biggest impact on the reason you are on the payroll/KRA’s.
    • Get “stealth mode.” Find a way to get away. Book a meeting room, work from home, or close the door. Whatever you can do to be in stealth. Schedule into your diary 90 minutes next week, and a recurring appointment where you will do only those projects in that time.

    Week 7 — Jumping the Acting Hurdle

    How awesome you are at choosing left or right?

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    Jumping the “Acting” hurdle is the key one. It is why you are paid to do what you do. This is where decisions are made: choosing left or right a thousand times a day, knowing what you are worth. Divide your salary by 2,000. This is your hourly worth. Don’t do stuff that is worth less than this value per hour.

    • Decide on the length of your “short amount of time.” The “Do It Now!” piece of time. It might be 5 minutes, 4 minutes, or 3 minutes. The difference might not be much, but you decide what it is. For every time demand/task that comes into your system, do it now if it can be done in less than your short amount of time. Commit to this. Do not kid yourself that you can do a task in the short amount of time and still be doing it 20 minutes later. This is because your brain will soon know what you are doing and stop you doing it.
    • For longer amounts of “doing” time, learn the Pomodoro technique (2.2 minute video) to help you focus and use it once per week. Maybe during your scheduled project work.
    • Place the reason you decided that you are on the payroll (KRA/’s) in Week 6 in a place that will disrupt your behavior. For example, a post-it note on your laptop/screensaver/desktop image. Not on the wall because we go blind to what is on the wall — “Corporate wallpaper.”

    Pulling It All Together

    This is how the seven pieces of an effective time management system fit together:

    Time Management Hurdles Overview
      Finished the Race? Congratulations!

      Excellent news. You did it. You jumped all seven hurdles and nailed the 7-Week Time-Management Challenge.

      You now have a significantly upgraded time-management system. To download the whitepaper, “Take the 7 Week Time-Management Challenge,” with tables to complete and more advanced exercises, check out my bio.

      Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com

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      Darren A. Smith

      Founder of Making Business Matter - Training Provider to the UK Grocery Industry

      The Reason Why You File Emails is Not What You Think 3 Tips to Organise Your Dropbox Folders The Ultimate Guide to HBDI – Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument Infographic 14 Time Management Templates to Help You Get Organised Man about to run Take the 7-Week Time-Management Challenge

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      Last Updated on April 22, 2021

      How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

      How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

      Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

      Developing Great Habits Is Hard Work

      In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

      One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

      “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

      Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

      Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

      Motivation Is Not the Answer

      How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

      If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.

      We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

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      Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

      Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the byproducts of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.

      How to Work Hard by Working Smarter

      Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals.

      1. Define What a Win Looks Like

      In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

      Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

      Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

      When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

      4 Steps to Define a Win
      • Know the outcome you desire.
      • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
      • Write the outcome down.
      • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

      Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

      As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.

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      Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

      2. Evaluate Your Activity

      Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

      Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.

      Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

      Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

      • Do now
      • Plan to do it later
      • Delegate to someone else
      • Delete it

      Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

      • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
      • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
      • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
      • Does this activity have to be done at all?

      Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

      3. Prioritize Your Calendar

      If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

      First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

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      It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.

      “You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

      Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

      “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

      Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

      It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

      4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

      We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

      Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

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      Best Morning Routine to Prepare to Work Hard

        But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.

        “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

        Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

        Use these questions to reflect on your day:

        • What went well?
        • What didn’t go well?
        • What can I change?
        • What do I need to start doing?
        • What do I need to stop doing?

        The Bottom Line

        Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

        Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

        “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

        Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

        That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

        More on Creating Healthy Routines

        Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”

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