The Four Keys to Effective Time Management

I recently designed a workshop for a marketing team who were struggling with time management. It was quite a cathartic exercise for me personally, as time management is definitely something I could improve as well. I framed the workshop around ‘4 Keys’ to effective time management, meaning, the things you need to have in place in order to do it well.

Those Keys are (in order of importance);

  1. Clarity
  2. Expectations
  3. Power of ‘No’
  4. Prioritisation

1. Clarity

I often find in scale-ups or any fast moving business is that there are a lot of passionate folks without a lot of clarity. This leads to is people being REALLY busy but likely working on the ‘wrong tasks’. Without alignment and direction, those passionate folks will take initiative on what they believe a good outcome is, however, without context and clarity, it can sometimes lead to a big mis-match. It is the responsibility of the manager to give that direction and context as well as expressing what ‘good looks like’ in as much detail as possible. This should be followed up on regularly to ensure that they remain on the same page. Starting this dialogue is the first step to effective time management.

When it comes to your ‘performance review’ are you and your manager assessing the same output? Are you really proud of completing ‘x’ but they are actually disappointed that you didn’t complete ‘y’. This misalignment due to lack of clarity leads us to the next Key, managing expectations.

2. Managing Expectations

How often does your task list change? In fast moving organisations it can be a struggle to plan workload as there are so many moving parts. A ‘Code Red’ in week one, can become obsolete in week 2. Everyone is moving a mile a minute and it can be challenging to take the time to ‘take stock’. If you are constantly being given new priorities without taking that ‘time out’ to reflect on how that impacts your existing tasks, you’re going to fail. Something has to give. Adding priority on to priority means nothing is really a priority. I like to review my task list and identify which ONE task, if completed, would have the biggest impact on all the others. If you are struggling to manage then have a straight chat with your manager, together you should be able to align on what needs to be done first.

3. Power of ‘No’

Everyone is driven to achieve their own goals. This doesn’t necessarily mean they become your goals. For the most part, we all want to succeed, we want to feel valued, and ensure all that passion and energy is being used for the right stuff. Make sure you’re putting your work at the top of your priority list, not other people’s. I need to be clear, this does not mean you are not a team player. Manager’s should create the space within the team to ensure collective goals are transparent, this helps you be able to say ‘No’ if an ask isn’t a high priority for the team.

I see a lot of people suffer because saying ‘Yes’ is their default response. Saying ‘Yes’ to others, means you are saying ‘No’ to you.

4. Prioritisation

In order to move forward with intention you have to prioritise and manage your time effectively. Imagine the difference between doing one thing at 100% effort vs. five tasks at 20% effort. You will not complete anything with traction and focus. I was inspired by Timothy Ferris’ words on automation in his book ‘4- Hour Work Week’. He shares an ‘automation decision tree’. This was one of the most impactful tools I have implemented. I adapted it to suit my workflow and posted it above my computer. Every task would go through my decision tree and allowed me to find real focus.

If at this moment you are not clear on the ONE thing you should focus on today, this week, this month; then I’ll tell you what it should be.

  • Take an hour to look at your task list, your goals, your metrics, etc.
  • Identify the key levers that will bring you closer to those goals.
  • Highlight the activities on your task list that will push those levers.
  • Eliminate everything that doesn’t and is not an obligation (unless you really enjoy it and it gives you energy).
  • Build in flex time to manage requests that may come in that you have an obligation to complete (taxes, admin, etc)
  • Focus on those tasks until they are complete (I use a Pomodoro approach when I need to get through large projects).
  • Repeat exercise.

Now go get shit done and don't be afraid to say 'NO!"