Get the Christmas Gift of Time

15th December 2015

Let me guess…

This year’s been pretty busy for you. You haven’t always had much free time at work. In fact, there are some days when you’ve had back-to back meetings, where you’ve had no time at all to do your job.

Sometimes, things have felt (at best) rushed and stressed. And, at worst, impossible.

Am I right?

Well, if that was 2015, what do you expect for 2016?

More of the same?

That doesn’t sound too good.

So, try these three steps. They’ll give you the Christmas Gift of Time…

In fact, every single person I’ve shared this technique with has saved time as a result. The most is two days per week. Two days! Keep that going and that’s twenty weeks every year – under five months!

Step 1: Colour in

  1. Get four different coloured highlighter pens
  2. Print off 1-2 weeks of your calendar
  3. Pick up Pen #1 and highlight every calendar entry that ticks all these three boxes:
  • You needed to be there, so couldn’t delegate it/not go; and
  • It had to take exactly that long, and couldn’t have been shorter; and
  • It had to be that channel. For example, the conference call where you listened to one person talk non-stop for an hour would have made a much better email
  1. Now pick up Pen #2 and highlight every entry that you didn’t need to do. In other words, you could have delegated it to someone else. Or it was so pointless that nobody needed to go
  2. Get Pen #3 and highlight everything that didn’t need to be that long – meetings that could have taken 20 minutes instead of four hours, and so on
  3. Finally, use Pen #4 to highlight everything that could have been a different channel
  4. Every calendar entry should now be coloured

Step 2: Self-discovery

  • Look at your coloured in pages. What’s the most prominent colour?
  • If it’s colour #1, you’re great at managing your time
  • If it’s #2, you’re in the habit of saying "yes" to too many things. This could be because you don’t feel you could say "no". Or you don’t delegate enough. Or you haven’t stopped colleagues putting stuff in your calendar. Or something else
  • If #3’s the main colour, you’re in the habit of accepting the duration of things too easily. For example, many people think meetings should last an hour because that’s the default time setting in Outlook (when you think about it, isn’t that a ridiculous reason to decide the length of a discussion?!)
  • And if there’s lots of #4, you’re in the habit of not thinking enough about the comms channel. For example, maybe you had a conference call because… well, because you always do

Step 3: Take action

  • Think… now you see things in black and white (ok, in multi-colour), you’ll quickly see where you need to focus, to give yourself more time
  • If you’re mainly colour #1, look at the non-#1 diary entries, and take appropriate action to reduce them/free-up time – delegate better, arrange shorter meetings, and so on
  • If you’re mainly #2, the solution will depend on the main cause of it. For example, if it’s because you don’t delegate enough, start delegating! Look at the meetings you could have delegated, choose the best person to send in your place, and brief them/the meeting’s owner about the change
  • If you’re mainly #3, speed things up. For your own meetings, never say "duration will be an hour". Instead, say "maximum duration will be 45 minutes, though I expect it to be less". For other people’s meetings, where appropriate (this depends on the owner), contact them and ask if she can shorten the meeting, or if she’s ok with you only attending for the first 15 minutes – whatever it takes, to free-up some of your time
  • And finally, if the main colour is #4, spend more time thinking about the best channel to use. For example, a presentation that would work better as a quick phone call

As with every tip about communication (or, indeed, anything), remember the Doctors’ Rule of ‘First, Do No Harm’. If a big waste of your time is a weekly conference call with your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, suck it up! But, as long as a change won’t cause you a problem, you’re minutes away from giving yourself the Christmas Gift of Time.

I’m pretty good with my time. I don’t work Fridays. Or weekends. I rarely work in the evenings. Meetings/calls tend to last 10-20 minutes max. But I still do this exercise at least once every quarter – it ensures I’m still respecting my time as much as I could.

You might not save as much as two days a week (it’d be nice though, wouldn’t it?). But you’ll definitely save more than nothing.

Which means you’ll have more time in 2016 than 2015.

Action Point

It’s pretty obvious this week, I guess.

Get four highlighter pens and do the exercise.

Also, ask your team to do it. A team of ten, each saving four hours/week, in effect gives you a new 40-hour/week full time employee. Not bad for a bit of colouring in…

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