Hi there, and welcome to Work Smarter, Not Harder: FixMy Lifestyle. This is time management training for your personal and your professional productivity. After you complete our time together, you are going to be able to describe the difference between productive versus unproductive work.
By the end of the Blog Series
- You will know three ways a plan helps to make you more productive. You’re going to learn how to break your work into manageable chunks.
- You’re going to be able to determine your high priority tasks.
- You’re going to learn the definition of work/life balance, and you’ll know and follow how you actually really truly do spend your time. And also
- you’re gonna learn how to estimate your work so you know how long it’s going to take you to do things.
- You’re gonna identify your most and least productive times of day.
This is really about you and you getting the most from your time. I hope that sounds good because it’s time for us to get going, so let’s go. We are not gonna promise you that after you finish this blog you’ll never work overtime again. But if you do the work in this blog series, you’re gonna find approaches that can support your personal and professional productivity. And when you do find yourself working overtime, you’re gonna be able to do so in a much more efficient manner. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Table of Content:
Have you ever had a day when you’re absolutely busy busy busy from the minute you woke up until the minute you fell into bed and fell asleep? And at the end of this super busy day do you know what you did? Or was it one of those days where you know you worked, you know you worked hard all day, you know you’re tired, but you’re not exactly sure where your time went? Well if you worked and worked all day long, and you’re not 100% certain at where your time went, you might have been engaged in unproductive work. Sorry to tell you. How can there even be such a thing as unproductive work? Isn’t all work good?
Another phrase or term for unproductive work could also be busy work. You were doing something. You weren’t lounging, but you weren’t completing the work that was really gonna further your goals right at that time. You weren’t completing the work that really needed to be completed right at that time. Sometimes this means you get distracted by something that is work related but not related to the task at hand. Maybe you start looking for some information that you do not need until later.
Scenario for Unproductive work
Let’s take a look. Consider the following scenario.It’s noon on a Friday afternoon, and Sam plans to leave the office at 5 P.M. Before Sam leaves he needs to complete a report for his boss. The report’s gonna take two hours. It’s due at 3 P.M. He needs to write a status report. That’s due at 5 P.M. and will take 30 minutes. He also wants to go through some emails he’s been saving and make sure that he has addressed them appropriately.
He’s not sure how long that is going to take. So Sam goes to lunch and returns at 1 P.M. He begins to go through his emails. And he reads an email from a coworker asking him to research some sales numbers. The email says, Sam, when you have time, would you look these numbers for me? They don’t balance, and I need to discuss them with our vice president next Thursday. Sam begins to look at the sales numbers.
The numbers don’t make sense, and he doesn’t know where the numbers came from. So he begins to look through sales reports from the past six months in hopes of deciphering how these numbers were created, and he works very hard tracing each month into the next, looking to see if he can find any errors or miscalculations. The phone rings, and Sam picks it up. And as he does, he notices that it’s 4 P.M., and his boss is calling him about the report that was due at 3 P.M.
Sam had become so engrossed in researching the sales numbers that he had not even started the report yet nor had he started his status report. Oops. Sam had engaged in some unproductive work Sam didn’t need to look up the numbers yet. That is work that he could’ve completed next week. Remember the email said next Thursday. He became distracted, and he didn’t work on his two priorities for the day. Now Sam’s probably staying late.How would you have prioritized Sam’s Friday afternoon?Perhaps Sam could’ve arranged his Friday afternoon like this.
Okay, number one, create the report for his boss. Number two, create a status report for his boss. Number three, go through emails and respond or prioritize actions from those emails. Something that would’ve made Sam’s life easier is if he had a plan. So if Sam had created a plan to get through his Friday afternoon, and if he had stuck to his plan, he probably wouldn’t be working overtime on a Friday evening. Let’s think of some ways the plan would have been helpful for Sam. Well, the plan would have shown what to do and in what order to do it. It would have shown when something was due, and it would help him to assess any new requests as they came in.
And then this last thing we are gonna tell you sounds weird, but the plan would help Sam change his plans. That sounds kind of crazy. How is it that a plan helps you change your plans? Change is gonna come, and when it does it’s good to be able to look at your original plan and see what was going to happen. And that way you can understand what will happen to the rest of the work now that you’ve been asked to make a change.
Scenario for Productive Work
Let’s go back to Sam, and now take a look at how this might work out for him. Sam’s plan for Friday afternoon. From 1:00 to 3:00, he was gonna complete the report. 3:15 through 3:45, finish the status report. From 4:00 to 4:45, go through emails and respond or prioritize actions from those emails. With this plan, Sam would have completed his work in the right order and at the right time. He would have handed things in on time, and he would’ve been able to go home on time which would be nice on a Friday. And when he encountered the request from his coworker about the sales reports, Sam would already have taken care of his most important work for the afternoon.
At that point he could have decided whether he wanted to get into that research of those sales numbers or finish going through emails and carve out some time to go through the sales reports on Monday. Let’s say that Sam’s boss calls him at 1:30 on Friday and says, Sam, I need your status report early. I need to go give the status to our vice president at 3:30. Now what should Sam do? Well Sam knows, because he has a plan, that it will take him an hour and a half to finish the report and that it’s due at 3:00. And if he does this he might complete his status report exactly at 3:30, if he transitions right to the status report without taking a break. So, what do you think he should do?
One approach would be for Sam to put the report on hold and transition to his status. He could complete the status at approximately 2 P.M. Maybe he should say 2:15 just to be safe, and then he could resume the report. And if he does this, it would not be unreasonable for him to ask his manager if the 3 P.M. report could be turned in at say 3:45 or 4:00, and then this way he’s able to make these suggestions because he has a plan.
Have a Plan
Each day, each week, have a plan. Know what you want to accomplish and what you need to accomplish. We’ve been discussing work, but you know it never hurts to have some plans for your personal time. Now some people don’t like the idea of planning their personal time. It’s an individual call. It’s your preference. And We are not saying plan every minute of every day. I am suggesting that if you have something specific you want to accomplish, a plan is what’s gonna help get you there. There are all kinds of time management systems, and you can use them.
We are not standing here with a preference for one or the other. And the purpose of this blog series is not to sell you a time management system. Sometimes your employer will provide a time management system or send you to time management training, and if they do, go and pay attention and consider what is presented to you. It’s possible that your employer has this preference for this specific system, and when this is true, it’s really in your best interest to try to learn their system of choice.
Otherwise, don’t feel compelled to use a system just because everyone says it’s the best system. The best system is the one that helps you to be productive and effective. That’s really the bottom line. What really goes into your plan that’s part of this system? Well in many ways, your plan is your task list. Rather than just write down things to do, you want to organize them. You wanna organize them by priority, due date, steps that need to be taken, start date, who is it for, how long is it gonna take, what information, what do you need? And that’s what’s gonna help you stay on plan.
In your sample work plan you might have something like priority, the item, a description of what it is you’re doing, a due date, the name of who it’s for, the steps that have to be taken, an estimate of how long, and when you’re going to get it started. And that right there could be your work plan.And you could create a table and a quick template and use it. And test it! And see what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.