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How to put Smácht on your time

‘Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of’.

Benjamin Franklin.

Why Put Smácht on Your Time?
In 1998 I trained as a time management trainer in the headquarters of Priority Management in Vancouver.

The opinion at the the time was that technology would revolutionise the way we work and subsequently the way we manage our time.

Fuelled by rumours of the imminent arrival of mobile phone technology, computers and the Internet the popular business journals were bullishly predicting a ‘4 day working week’.

What has been the outcome? The complete antithesis. The mobile phones have arrived. So too the computer and the Internet. The reality is that we now have infinitely more activities to manage than ever before yet there are still only 24 hours in each day. Time is finite – the demands on that time are rapidly becoming infinite.

Many people are feeling overwhelmed by the relentless onslaught of pressure on their time. Many more are having to work longer hours at the expense of their families and their health. Others however, have discovered that it is possible to put Smácht on their time.

Here’s what they do.

How to Put Smácht on Your Time.

  1. Use One System:

Where do you currently keep information regarding your time? At seminars you typically hear:

  • In a diary
  • In my head
  • On my PC
  • Mobile phone
  • Folder page pad
  • Post it notes
  • The back of envelopes
  • The fridge door
  • Wall planner

You get the message. If you’re information is scattered there is every likelihood that details will slip through the cracks. Millions of euros of business are lost each year because people mislay vital pieces of information. Have you ever found someone’s phone number on a piece of paper in last years summer suit and wondered who it was! It happens and it shouldn’t.

You need the Smácht to decide on one time management system and stick with it. Like golf clubs or fishing rods, no two people will agree on the ultimate system. I’ve seen Brian Walsh TD, when he was Mayor of Galway, manage impeccably both his mayoral diary and his considerable business diary – on an old fashioned Nokia phone. I’ve never known him to miss a detail. Everything is channeled through that one system.

Personally, I still like the tactile feel of writing things down. For years I have used small moleskin notebooks to capture details and plan my day.

There are now some excellent time management apps that enable you run the most complex schedules on your mobile phone.

2. Create an ‘Outstanding Dump’:
Many people feel so snowed under with details that they simply don’t know how or where to begin to wrestle control of their time. A great place to start is to mind map all ‘outstanding things’. Get a large sheet of paper – there are also a myriad of free mind-mapping software programmes available for your computer and phone – and write down in the centre ‘Outstanding’.

Allow your subconscious mind to dump as many activities as you can generate. The secret is to use key words for the main areas such as projects; people; functions; reviews; and appointments. From each of these main branches it is possible to add further details. When you are satisfied that you have brain dumped enough activities it is then possible to prioritise each activity in order of importance. You then can allocate a person to do that activity and finally you can assign a time when it needs to be completed by.

This is a powerful project management technique which will free up your mind; get all your time commitments onto one diagram; enable you to prioritise, delegate and assign milestones.

In addition to dumping your mind, David Allen, founder of ‘Getting Things  Done’ suggests you dump all physical items like files, folders, letters and reading material. When these are in one collective dump you dump the rubbish; file away those pending details; and time activate a time to deal with important items.

Before making time related decisions it is necessary first to have all the information in one place.

3. Name, Own and Live Your ‘Big Rocks’:
I make no apology for the melodrama of this heading as I believe it’s the single most important time management concept.

Most people I meet on my courses reveal that they ‘major in minor things’ – or suffer from the ‘Busy Fool Syndrome’. This is a state where they seem to be constantly busy but frequently underachieving. This will always obtain until they get crystal clarity on their ‘Big Rocks’.

I was introduced to the ‘Big Rocks’ concept in Stephen Covey’s wonderful book ‘First Things First’ and have performed it hundreds of times since with massive effect. I have a large glass jar positioned on a table with a load of beach stones of different sizes strewn around it. I look for a volunteer from the audience – typically an architect, or a builder, or an engineer – someone who is proficient with spatial relations. I then ask them to fill the jar with as many stones as they can putting the biggest ones in first. When they’re finished I ask the group if they’re satisfied that the jar is full. When they say ‘yes’ I then slyly take a jug of gravel from behind the table, where they couldn’t see it, and pour it in. The gravel quickly fits in around all the stones. I then ask if anything else would fit in to the jar. By now, they’ve copped my prank and say ‘some sand would fit in, and some salt and some water’.

I then ask them to comment on the similarities between the exercise and life. Initially people say ‘you can always fit more in to your schedule if you really try’. As they reflect more on it however, you typically get comments such as ‘if you don’t put the big rocks in first they’d never fit or at worst, you’d make an awful mess’.

So it is with life. If you fail to schedule time for your ‘big rocks’ first they’ll be squeezed out by the almost infinite demands of activities of lesser importance. For many people sadly, they’re unaware, or have forgotten what they’re ‘big rocks’ actually are.

Pádraig Ó Céidigh is one of the busiest people I know. A former Ernst Young Entrepreneur of the Year, he has helped bring at least 20 companies from zero to millions in jig time. In addition to that he is adjunct Professor of Management in NUIG; Chairman of Ernst Young’s adjudication panel; has made dozens of TV programmes; has raised millions for charity; is manager of a rock band called ‘Atlantic Pirates’; and is always accessible to people looking for his help.

The first thing Padraig does each week is schedule time for his ‘big rocks’. Depending on the nature of his work these vary from week to week but two rocks that always go in there, irrespective of what else he has on, are time to complete three forty minute jogs and at least one day spent privately with his family. He told me once that ‘your body is the single most important piece of equipment you’ll ever use. Mind it because most people take better care of their car’.

You too need to determine your ‘big rocks’. Then you need to schedule time to complete them in.

4. Focus on High Leverage Activities:
You’ve heard it said that ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for life’. This is an example of a high leverage activity.

Leverage is a scientific principle that enables you do a lot with a little. I once saw my five year old cousin Zoey Costello lift a two ton car six inches of the ground – albeit with a jack. A jack is a classic example of a lever.

Alfredo Pareto, the renowned Italian economist, conceived the Pareto Principle, or more popularly known as the 80:20 rule. He posited that 20% of the input is responsible for 80% of the output. This is particularly true in time management.

20% of what you do is responsible for 80% of your results.

The key therefore, is to identify those activities that have a leveraging impact on your results and allocate more time to those activities. Ten examples of high leverage time activities include:

  • Planning – if you fail to plan you plan to fail.
  • Organising – get your ducks in line before executing.
  • Visioning – ‘the most pathetic person in the world is someone with sight but no vision’ Helen Keller.
  • Delegating – the two traits most unique to leaders across the spectrum are  firstly, their ability to envision and secondly, their capacity to delegate.
  • Communicating and Connecting – ‘everyone communicates, few connect’. John Maxwell.
  • Building Strong Relationships – it takes time which is the reason many people ignore it saying paradoxically that ‘I don’t have time for that soppy stuff’.
  • Training – they say that Tiger Woods was born a gifted golfer. That may well be the case but his father was training him to swing a club at 9 months old. By the time he was 3 he’d played more golf than most 18 year olds. Ability + Training works.
  • Preventing Problems – our mothers used say that ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. Great time managers devote time to identifying and preventing problems.
  • Setting up Systems – like everything else on this list, setting up systems takes time, which is once again the reason many forego doing so. Michael Gerber in the E-Myth argues that most people in business have a salary as opposed to a business. He defines a business as a vehicle that can generate a salary without your full time input. In order to do that however, you firstly need systems. A franchise is an example of a set of proven business systems. Gerber argues that every business should be set up as a ‘franchise prototype’.
  • Learning – Robert Louis Stevenson put it well when he said ‘a man may be young in hours but old in years if he’s plied his time diligently’. Learning is what distinguishes and sets us apart from all other species. We have the opportunity to achieve success unlimited if we only had the Smácht to commit to a lifelong course in learning. As Brian Tracy said ‘continuous learning is the minimum requirement for success in any field.’

The quality of your results in life are likely to be a direct correlation of your ability to make time for high leverage activities and to minimise your time on ‘busy fool’ activities.

5. The Only 4 Plans You Need for High Effectiveness:
Incidentally, the word ‘effective’ is one of the most revered in time management circles. Peter Drucker in the iconic book ‘The Effective Executive’ distinguished between the words ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’. ‘Efficiency’ he maintained was ‘doing things we’ll. ‘Effectiveness’, on the other hand was doing ‘the right things well’. There’s a world of difference. The following planning strategies will ensure the most effective use of your time.

(A) Daily Planning:
Imagine for a moment that I said I’d deposit €86,400 in your account today on condition that you spent all the money by tomorrow. You have to actually spend the money – you can’t invest it in a bank or a pension scheme and if you only spend €60,000, I get the remaining balance of €26,400 back.

Would you ensure that all the money was spent? I bet you would. You’d have no difficulty thinking of any myriad of things you’d spend it on.

Imagine if this happened however every day for a month. You’d now have had to spend almost €2.5 million euros. I’m sure you’d agree that it would require a bit more time to think and plan and decide what to spend it on. But, on the basis that you’re not going to let any of that windfall back to me, you’d regard this as time well spent.

The bad news is that I haven’t €86,400 to give you. I didn’t just pluck the figure out of mid-air either however. It does represent something very specific.

It represents the number of minutes in a day.

And when you think about it, you too are given an investment windfall each and every day of 86,400 minutes. A few moments ago, you conceded that if it was money, you’d make certain that you’d take time to

  • Think
  • Plan and
  • Make Decisions

on how the money was spent. Wouldn’t it make sense to do the same with your time? That’s the ‘why’. Here’s the ‘how’.

The best time to plan your day is before you leave your place of work the evening before. There are numerous reasons for this. Events of the day are still fresh in your mind. It’s good to hit the ground running the next day with at least an outline plan for the day. You’re subconscious mind will work on your plan even as you sleep. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you can mentally leave work at work.

The place to plan your day is the system we mentioned in section1. If, as in my case, you are using a manual system, I suggest dividing your page in two – one side for appointments and the other side for activities. Appointments are time specific and should be slated in first. A good tip is to put start and end times on all your appointments. The second insertion on this side of the page should be from your ‘big rocks’ section. Then, and only then, examine your list of activities. Prioritise each activity under importance; estimate the time required to complete it; and time activate it on the appointments side of the page. The bottom line is that you start and finish each priority item and then move on to the next priority item.

(B) Weekly Planning:
Daily planning is important, but it’s reactive. A more proactive addition to your time management philosophy is to plan also on a weekly basis. This can be done by identifying your ‘big rocks’ and scheduling time to attend to these.

Stephen Covey recommends the use of roles and goals. Identify your top half dozen roles such as leader, manager, financial controller, marketing manager, salesperson or  administrator. Under each, identify goals for that week and schedule them in your calendar. It’s also possible to this for your personal life and include roles such as mother, father, partner, friend, carer, motivator or facilitator.

Rituals and routines are important in time management. It’s useful to settle on the same time each week to don this activity.

(C) Monthly Planning:
A month is a great strategic time period to plan from. It’s sufficiently long to be of strategic value and yet adequately short to respond to sudden and unexpected changes.

A simple planning system is to write down in action oriented language what would make it a great month for you – at work and personally. The words you use have a powerful impact on your results. Examples of action oriented language would be ‘hire’, ‘fire’, ‘marry’, ‘divorce’. Similar to the daily planning technique estimate the time it’s going to take you to complete the task and then commit it to your diary.

The army have a great working motto called PDR – Plan, Do, Review. You should apply the same to your month. Take time to review what went well and what didn’t.

This is a simple assignment that rarely takes longer than 15 minutes. It doesn’t even come near to being 1% of your monthly time. In terms of focused high leverage activity however, few are more valuable. This planning process can also be used to coach others, either on an individual basis or in a group.

(D) Yearly Planning:
Each year during the Christmas break I scope out my goals for the year on a large mind map. It provides focus, direction and inspiration. That becomes the template from which all other plans derive from. There’s an excellent free mind mapping app on the iPad called Simple Minds. I file my yearly plan on this and refer to it at least weekly.

6. The Only 4 Meetings You Need For High Effectiveness:
Effective time management requires effective communication and the most effective way to do this is through regular and effective meetings.

Some people resist further meetings on the basis that they waste time. Patrick Lencioni addresses argues on the other hand in his book ‘Death by Meeting’. ‘Meetings are what leaders do and the solution to bad meetings is not the elimination of them, but rather the transformation of them into meaningful, engaging and relevant meetings’.

Corresponding therefore to the four planning strategies we propose:

(A) Annual Strategic Thinking Session:
This ideally should be done off site and facilitated by a professional facilitator. It needs to address the entire ambit of:

  • Vision
  • Mission
  • Values
  • Reality
  • Gaps
  • Objectives
  • Actions
  • Emotions

This becomes the blueprint for the business and all planning and decision making should emanate from it.

(B) Monthly Meetings:
Use the exact process outlined in the above section, but on a group basis. Working directly from the annual plan, ask what would be a great month for the business. Document the actions in action oriented language. Estimate the time required for their completion. Allocate a person responsible for their execution. Review the progress achieved at the end of the month.

This meeting may well take up to a half day. It will combine aspects of information giving; information receiving; problem solving; and decision making. Problem solving requires time and cannot simply be ticked off as an item on an agenda. Ideally, a trained facilitator should also facilitate this meeting.

(C) Weekly Meetings:
The purpose of these meetings is to check in with the annual and monthly plans and to sustain focus and commitment to their achievement. They are designed to be part problem solving, part operational and part motivational.

(D) Daily ‘Huddle’ Meetings:
These should take no longer than 5 to 10 minutes and are designed to maintain focus and direction. If it is not possible to meet in person, these meetings can practically be done via Skype or phone.

7. Eat That Frog:
Mark Twain once wrote that if ‘you eat a live frog first thing in the morning nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day’. Brian Tracy took this analogy and wrote a great book called ‘Eat That Frog’. In it he espouses tackling your most daunting and difficult task first – your ugliest frog. Then, you proceed to eat your ‘next ugliest frog’ and so on.

Although time management theorists will argue that you should technically do your most important task first I agree with Tracy because frequently you’re most important task will be  your frog. Moreover, this theory tackles one of the great challenges to effective time management – procrastination.

Procrastination derives from the Latin word ‘cras’ which is ‘tomorrow’ and procrastination can truly become a thief of time. We simply must develop the Smácht as Thomas Huxley said to ‘Do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not’.

When you develop the habit of ‘eating your frogs’ you’ll feel more productive, more in control and more fulfilled.

8. Buy 20 Drinks for One Girl.
I enjoy greatly listening to a radio show broadcast each morning on Today FM by Ian Dempsey. Each year in February Ian takes a group of listeners off skiing to Westendorf in Austria and broadcasts the show live from there. He begins interviewing for the candidates in January and selects one each morning based on why they think they should get on the trip.

Some years ago here’s what happened. The first caller – a girl – wanted to ski off a black slope. She got the ticket. The next day – a guy – wanted to ski off a red slope. He got accepted. The third day – a guy said he didn’t want to ski at all, he wanted to party for the week. He got going. Finally, on the last day, a guy called Jack called in and said he would love to meet a continental girl. He also got going.

As the week progressed Ian broadcast the show live from Westendorf each morning and updated us on the progress of the participants. On the first day, the girl skiing off the black slope dislocated her shoulder and was now partying with the party guy. Sadly Jack had no luck with meeting a continental girl.

On the very last day, Ian was trying his best to coach Jack to success and asked him the reasonable question ‘Jack, what is your strategy for attracting a continental girl?’

Jack replied ‘Last night Ian, I bought 20 drinks for 20 different girls and I had no joy’.

After some reflection Ian replied ‘Uno Jack, had you bought 20 drinks for the one girl you might have been a lot more successful’.

I believe Ian’s response holds the secret to time management. If you attempt to do too many activities you’ll end up completing none. However, if you were to direct all your focus into one activity and persist with it until completed, you’d be infinitely more productive.

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