A friend and business associate recently asked my advice on giving her new assistant deadlines because the young assistant “doesn’t know about time management yet.” Once we established that the outcomes were clear, we went on to define some basic time management tips that can be helpful.
My first reaction to asking whether to give the assistant deadlines was “not unless she needs the deadlines to get things done.” Knowing how people are motivated gives us clues about how to support them into getting tasks done. I’m sure you recognize that some people are pressure prompted and use deadlines to create the pressure while others are early starters who don’t need the pressure from external sources to get going.
It’s a funny thing, if you give a pressure prompted person longer deadlines they become “fluid” and fill the available time until the pressure hits their internal level that triggers them into action — so giving longer deadlines can actually slow down pressure prompted folks! If you give people unreasonably short deadlines, however, you run the risk of discouragement at “missing” those deadlines.
Since my friend was more interested in individual tasks rather than larger projects, we came around to these three basic, yet powerful, guides: time blocking, time estimating, and reviewing often.
The steps in the process look like this:
- Establish a clear outcome
- Estimate how long the task will take
- Block out 30-90 minutes to concentrate on the one task
- Review the block and how long you actually worked
- If the task is not complete, reestimate and reblock
- Track your estimates and the time actually spent on tasks over time
This is similar to the PDRC cycle I’ve seen elsewhere, but who really knows what “plan, do, review, check” means until they’ve done the processes.
For most people I’ve talked to, the hardest step is staying on track during the time blocks themselves. There are a bunch of internal tricks we can use, which I’ll talk about soon.
There is also a great external tool for time blocking called The Action Machine that helps us short attention span folks. By knowing the timer is running and will ding at the end of the blocked off time, we are able to “schedule distractions” for after the time block. I’ve also found, when starting out, that setting several shorter blocks back-to-back that add up to the “real” block give the chance to break state long enough to ask “was I distracted or am I staying on task — NOW!”
If you haven’t been using time blocking, estimating, and tracking, now is the time to order your copy of The Action Machine here and get started minutes from now.