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Posts Tagged ‘time management’

on control


There is a lot of talk about loss of freedom at the moment. We are, globally, living in a time when there have to be restrictions and, for many people, we are just not used to that. There is a perception that we have lost control of our own destiny because we are being told what we can and can’t do.

I will keep my remarks here about life in the UK for no other reason than that, for obvious reasons, I have not been anywhere else since life changed back in March 2019. We have it pretty good here which is why so many people from other countries want to come here, and talking to a colleague from one of the former Soviet Bloc countries I was told how they had needed a permit to go from the side of town where they lived to the one that they worked in. Just imagine how that would have gone down here. Yet the Covid regulations (for want of a better term) have, in some ways, not been that far removed and there has been acceptance from some and howls of protest from others.

Over eighteen months we have had to have levels of control imposed and there has been a level of fear across us too. This is a silent and invisible killer, the stuff of science fiction. To all intents and purposes we are at war and it grinds you down. Mental health was an emergent problem in any case, but has become more of an issue as we face up to this modern day plague.

Something that I learned in my business life was that I needed to focus my attention on certain areas as a time management issue more than anything. To get the best out of the 60-70 hours I was putting in each week I had to focus on what I could deal with and one of the tools that I would use is the Eisenhower Matrix. I won’t go Ito that here, just run it through your search engine of choice if you are not familiar with it, but the basic principle is in prioritising tasks.

One of the benefits of this type of technique is that you get things done. I used to say that there were times when I couldn’t get my head out of the trench for long enough to see which way the bullets were coming from. Life could be like that and whilst that style of firefighting management can be good fun at times it is not a recipe for long term success: I needed to get things under control and, once I had, I found that I had time to think about preventing fires rather than having to keep putting them out. Life got easier.

Getting to that point took a lot of the stress out of work and I have tried to apply the same type of thinking too life under lockdown. There are lots of things that I cannot control right now, but if I focus on what I can control and take charge of those then it gives me some comfort, certainly more than I would get if I just sat in a heap complaining. Finding the things that I can manage myself might see me mired in trivia; often the things that a straight application of the Eisenhower Matrix would see me discard, but they are things that I can do without recourse to anyone else; I have control and it helps to keep me sane.

Control the things that you can. If nothing else you will be practising a good discipline that will help you in your career in the longer term.

on diminishing returns


I should start by saying that I have often been assessed over my management career and have rarely, if ever, been classed as a Completer Finisher. That fact may colour what follows, but stay with me.

Regular readers of these musings will know that I am a fan of the Pareto principle in the sense that you can get 80% of the results with 20% of the effort and it is something that I have employed often over the years, especially in planning where you can get to a point that you have so much information that the answer is obvious, so give up and go with what you have.

This is the principle of Diminishing Returns; you have done well, but to continue will not yield the same productivity so stop there and move on.

It is not something that you should do every time. Take, for example, installing some plant where you will still get 80% there with 20% of the effort, but you do need to spend the other 80% effort to finish the job. I think that surgeons apply the same principle. or at east I hope that you will should they ever operate on me.

The point is knowing when to give up. Planning is a problem partly because people like planning. It is comfortable and you are not actually doing anything. The desire to get everything perfect is understandable, but there comes a point where you have to say go or you risk being late in delivering that which you are planning and too many times I have been lumbered with leading a project where the planning has not only gone past the necessary start date, but has also been so far out that the end date is hopelessly wrong. No plan survives first contact, so do your best and get cracking.

Another area of procrastination is in the bid process. There will be a deadline for submission of tenders and that will almost always be too optimistic anyway. You do your due diligence and costing and get the proposal written, but there will always be an element in the team who want to keep tweaking and adding. I remember once being drafted in on the last day before a tender submission for a French company. The bid had to be in French and the commercial translator had been booked to put our English into French, but their engagement ended 48 hours before the tender was due because it was to be printed in multiple copies and sent by courier across the Chanel.

Our team decided that they wanted last minute changes and would send the documents over with one of our team on the morning of the due date. Eurostar would have them in Paris in time they said and duly wrote their revisions, but overlooked that the translator had moved on to another job for another client. That was why I was there, although people’s faith in my technical French was touching to say the least, but I finished the changes late that evening, printed off the pages and rebound the bid documents before starting the drive to Ashford where I was due to meet our man who was taking the documents over.

About ten minutes after midnight the ‘phone in my car rang; “John? I’ve got some more changes…”

Despite it all we won that bid and were very pleased to do so, but there was no need; the client was only looking at price and delivery. They had already made their minds up that it did not matter which of their short list got the job as we were all capable. All of that stress and last minute polishing was just a waste of time and effort.

These things are a judgement call, but there needs to be strong leadership to sense when the moment has come to stop and move on, then to make that call and change tack.

on gardening and leadership


Like many of us in lockdown, or seclusion as some overseas are calling it, I am spending more time in my garden than I probably would have done, although, for me, I am still working on a project that was conceived around the time that Covid-19 was taking hold in China and we were still in blissful ignorance of what was about to descend on the world.

Gardening gives you time to think and one of those random thoughts that have passed through my grey cells as I have been weeding and pruning is how much of what I have been doing in my front and back yards ties in to the leadership lessons that I have learned down the years.

It may seem odd that such solitary activities give rise to thoughts of leading, but one of the crucial talents that a leader needs is self discipline. Without that it is easy to lose focus and drift off track. In the business world you are dealing with customers, suppliers, competitors and regulators who create a dynamic environment much of which you cannot control despite any effort to influence it. The expression juggling chainsaws is a little extreme, but is not far off the mark at times and the person at the top of the team needs to be watching, evaluating, re-calculating, delegating, motivating, monitoring, planning and driving. Focus is essential.

Out in the garden things may seem more relaxed with just you and the vegetation, but that is an illusion to some degree for the equivalent of your business marketplace is nature and she never sleeps. Weeds are just plants that you don’t want and they are usually the most successful. They are resilient because they are left to evolve to their strengths; they compete to survive. Cultivated plants are much weaker as they are bred for other things and they need much more care to enable them to survive and flourish. The slugs, snails and aphids all ignore my weeds, but will destroy the stuff that I have spent my hard earned cash on in hours. Leadership 101 really; life is not fair and shit happens.

Tending to the garden requires planning, but also the ability to church the lan out of the window tom deal with the unexpected. Take weather. You check the forecasts (two or three at least) to get a feel for what is coming up. Like any business forecast the data will get less robust the further away you move, but, also like in business, the forecasts rarely agree exactly and you plan on worst case or maybe averaging the predictions depending on what you have in mind. What you get is rarely what you expect and you make do with what you get (sound familiar; sales forecasts anyone, or maybe delivery dates?).

Looking after a garden also means a lot of boring drudgery work, but you have to do it. Time management is all over this. You set aside maybe half an hour do do some pruning or weeding, but once you start you find something else and, if you are not focused you are still at it an hour later to the detriment of something else and you are on the back foot as far as getting what you planned for the day done. Pruning is a case in point for me as last week I decided to tackle the ivy growing over from next door where it has wrecked one of my fence panels. The plan was to strip the ivy, pull out what was left of the old panel and replace it with a new one that has been sat there since last year (when I was planning on doing it, but got distracted…). It should have taken me about 15 minutes to strip enough ivy to do the job, but an hour and a half later the Berkshire Belle was at the back door enquiring when I planned to cook her dinner; I had almost cleared the length of the fence.

These mindless tasks are a minefield for me. Sometimes I get bored immediately, give up and move on to something else which leaves a problem getting worse (and needing more time when I do get around to it), but at other times I get into the groove with my eyes and hands working on their own whilst my mind wanders off into, well anything really. I have to really work hard at keeping on track and it is an area where a leader’s followers need to pick up the tone because if they see you wandering off track where do you think that they will go? Do what needs doing and if that is not what you had planned then be sure you understand why you are changing tack and when you need to be turning back onto a course to recover.

I do. not mean to imply that gardening is a high stress environment, but then neither is leadership all of the time and when you have either activity under a modicum of control then both can be quite relaxing and certainly both will give pleasure. In that last sentence the key word is probably control. Whilst many of us get an element of pleasure from the gang-ho antics of firefighting and a good panic now and again can be fun in the aftermath, being in control is far better.

I will be back in the garden later weaving the essential periodic maintenance tasks into my various projects that make ups the overall strategy and doing my best to keep it all on track using the resources that I have whilst staying within my budget. Sound familiar?

on times when thinking is a bad idea


Sounds daft to propose that there are times when thinking is not too clever, but I firmly believe it to be true. I would not advocate it as a blanket strategy, but there are times when being able to block certain thoughts will pay dividends. Read more…

on making things happen


Some days are just routine, others more varied and now and again they can be frantic. We get them all, but, for me, it doesn’t matter what the day turns out like as long as I can enjoy the intellectual challenge of getting through it with the least hassle. I have been at it for a long time and have my own time management methods which I have taken from two sources; Eisenhower and Pareto. Read more…

on getting things done

December 10, 2018 1 comment

There are the things that we love to do and then there is everything else, but whatever our job is we have to get done what needs doing.

Planning helps, but as any military person knows your plans ho out of the window on first contact with the enemy. For most of us civilians the enemy will take the form of colleagues, customers and life in general all of whom will be queuing up to screw our best intentions.

What we have to do is to get our heads down and get on with it, doing our best to prioritise our time. If we work alone that is not too hard as long as we stay focussed, but when you are part of a team you need to be thinking about colleagues too. There is little point in sitting back smugly regarding your own success if everyone else is deep in the smelly stuff and your contribution to the team goals should be more important than your own.

So how do you do it? There is a lot of nonsense out there in terms of time management, but the one or two true sets of guidelines. One is the Eisenhower Method, the other is Pareto. I use both and have done for many years, but the key to both, and any other way of working, is being able to overcome procrastination.

If you dither nothing will get done, so work out what needs doing and get it done. No matter how hard it is or how much you loathe doing it, once it is done you can move on and most of the time you will better for having done it.

things come in threes


It’s an old expression and folks use it in terms of things both good and bad and sometimes, quite often even, it is true, but there is another rule of three that works every time if you use it.

As I have got older I have become aware of just how many things I have been taught that really didn’t register too well at the time, but later in life they have come back to me, usually after I have learned the lesson again, this time the hard way. That is very true of the rule of three that I’m talking about this week. Read more…