06 Jan The Tick Tock Factor. Three Ways to Win Back Your Life
Less than a week into the new year and there will likely be one consistent lament from a great many employees in these critical first hours of 2018 – too much work and too little time to get it done.
A number of years back – in a feedback session with an employee (and I can’t come close to remembering the actual topic) there came a point in the dialogue when – in a moment of sheer exasperation – the individual put their hands in the air and said, “I know what I need to do…can you help me invent more hours in the day so that I can?”
I never forgot that comment.
That sense of living inside a washing machine is real for everyone – but a limited few manage to make their way thru – to include the rinse cycle – and come out freshly pressed and ready for action.
It’s not just because they are lucky.
I invested a lot of years in the corporate world – and learned quickly how people absorbed – and retained information. At some point I was introduced to the Rule of Three and its power in adult learning.
Stated simply – The Rule of Three suggests we humans respond best when presented with a pattern of information – specifically, an arrangement that ensures symmetry but does not overly complicate.
The optimal number – three.
One number can be nothing but chance, a second number – coincidence, but with the third we have a pattern – and we are preconditioned to respond to patterns – especially when those patterns are presented in a group of three bytes. Much of our culture reflects this amazingly simple learning premise.
Want to test that supposition?
- Three branches of government – executive, legislative, and judicial
- The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost
- Mind, body, and spirit
- Reading, writing, and arithmetic
- Stop, look, and listen
- Stop, drop, and roll
- Ready, aim, fire
- Blood, sweat, and tears
- Me, myself, and I
- The three little pigs
- The good, the bad, and the ugly
- The third time’s the charm
You get the picture – we are hardwired to respond to the Rule of Three. It helps us make sense of the world. I learned its application early in my career when I began to examine one of my greatest challenges in navigating the day-to-day flurry of things to do – and that washing machine I mentioned earlier.
I came to appreciate the notion of time management is a bit of a misnomer – we aren’t creating more hours – no matter how hard we work. Our real challenge is in finding a way to strategically invest those hours for optimal return – energy management.
And surviving the storm of things to do is quite a battle for most – one that the evidence suggests a great many are losing. Salary.com estimated the costs in wages wasted from poor time management is over $749 billion in this county – and that’s data that’s ten years old. The real costs – both to individuals and to companies from ineffective time/energy management is staggering.
Which carries us back to the patterns that resonate – and the challenge of effectively using our time. Chaos abounds in our lives – and in our careers. We are hurried to complete the latest assignment, the new report, the meeting deadline….and to survive the storm.
Most aren’t surviving though– they’re engulfed by the winds.
You don’t have to be one of the victims.
First things first – here’s a simple test to assess how well you are navigating the gales right now. Pull out your work calendar – arbitrarily pick out one workday four days from the current one – and then answer the following 10 questions:
- What are the priorities you have planned for that day?
- Are those priorities reflected in your day schedule – in other words, have you budgeted a specific time frame for them?
- Have you separated your priorities from everything else that can be done that day?
- Have you budgeted for the unforeseen – how?
- How many meetings are you slated to attend?
- Do you know the objectives for those meetings?
- How many hours of your day are actually planned for – how much time is not accounted for?
- How are your priorities separated from everything else that can be done?
- What have you NOT planned for that routinely demands your time and attention – email, drop-in business colleagues, phone calls, etc. and how much should that be factored?
- How does your day reflect your overall priorities for the week – and is it aligned with your business objectives?
Now – reality check.
A great many will freely admit they were stumped when the request was made to “pull out your calendar.” More than 3/4th of workers use a calendar for meetings only – and often times depend on an I Phone or laptop to keep schedule of them.
Translation – they really don’t use a calendar for anything more than a placeholder for physical commitments.
Translation 2.0 – this is why so many are stumbling – and failing – when it comes to effective time management. Using a calendar for only physical meetings is like using your car only to go to the grocery store. The utility of a calendar is much, much broader – if one uses it to better schedule his or her life.
If you struggled to accurately answer the ten questions you’re not alone. Few can completely answer all of them – because most have never given that much thought to how they approach – and manage – their time and energies.
Which carries us to The Planning Golden Three – a simple system that can greatly accelerate your time management – and yes, the component parts were built to offer a “patterned” cure for the stress of the storm – and as a realistic antidote for worker overload.
Here they are – and a greatly simplified version of some of my workshops and training programs for the purpose of this article. Over time I was to learn three things distinguish great time managers – but few understand what those things are. In attempting to codify them I arrived at the following:
- Step 1 – Effective workers first understand the importance of organization – which means the capacity to:
- Group similar tasks into an ordered format
- Align and separate projects
- Build some degree of structure into their work assignments
- Budget their time
- Effectively work with some form of a planner – manual or technological
- Negotiate technology and put it in its proper place (example email, text messages, meetings, and phone calls)
- Net net – the foundation for The Planning Golden Three is organization – no employee who doesn’t have at least the basics stands a chance of ever optimizing their time. But there are a great many highly organized people who desperately struggle to survive in their jobs – because organization is only the ante for the time management game – it gets you to baseline
- Step #2 – effective time management employees understand the power of prioritization – a second level skill that goes beyond organization. With apologies for the brief executive summary version I offer here – employees who can prioritize are able to quickly separate work into one of four core boxes:
- Not Urgent and Not Important
- Urgent and Not Important
- Not Urgent and Important
- Urgent and Important
- Those who can prioritize can easily assign a number to each of the above – from 1 star to 4 stars. Points C and D are 3 and 4 star respectively. The take-away – it’s the important points that warrant our time and attention – but usually don’t. Want to guess where that time is often wasted? See Urgent and Not Important (and the greatest single black hole here for many – email.)
- Truly effective employees move quickly to separate higher star ranked items from lower ones – while the vast majority of employees never consider stratifying their work at all. The key – not important items – whether urgent or not, seldom should dominate our time or attention.
- Step #3 – Effective time management employees calendarize – and this is where the magic happens. Truly intuitive employees schedule their priorities – physically input them into their calendar – and work their day according to the 4 and 3 star categories FIRST. They also:
- Apply discipline to how they work those priorities
- Push away the lower starred items and/or delegate them to others
- Don’t allow the potential time wasters to compromise what they have already delegated as a priority
- Remain mindful of the endless deluge of low starred work issues that can steal from their focal points – namely:
- The “got a minute?” drop-ins
- Phone calls
- Unnecessary meetings
- Requests for time that compromise
- In other words – if I have two “4 star” priorities I literally build time for both of them into my calendar for that day – to include writing in the time required for completion. Only when I have fully budgeted for those two priorities do I begin to schedule 3 star work assignments – or ancillary 2 or 1 star issues. Some may argue that this implies a rigidity that simply isn’t “real world.” I would respectively submit this is anything but – and it requires a level of critical thinking to how we approach our time that most aren’t prepared to consider.
Strategy, it’s been said, is nothing more than the intelligent investment of a limited number of resources in a unique set of activities to ultimately gain competitive advantage.
There is no more precious resource than our time. The Tick Tock Factor is very real.
Organize – Prioritize – Calendarize —- a stunningly powerful formula to address it.
The clock is ticking on your work and professional life. I’ve used this simple strategy to create six extra hours of incremental productivity per week (and I practiced and taught time management for three plus decades before finalizing The Planning Golden Three.)
The Rule of Three – and The Planning Golden Three – can give you a chance to recapture precious moments…and that is (1) the truth, (2) the whole truth, and (3) nothing but the truth (and yes, please note the patterns here!)
The above includes excerpts from my book The Compass Solution: A Guide to Winning Your Career – where we go into far greater depth in explaining how to win back your time.
Remember, you’ll have the same 1,440 minutes allocated to you today that everyone else has – how will you make certain you optimize them?