One of the things I see people struggling with the most is time management. We all have the same 24 hours each day and the same 168 hours per week, but why do some get so much more done in that time than others? It comes down to where you are spending the minutes each day. This is going to be the first article in a 3-part series about becoming more efficient with our time and energy. The first will be about controlling the calendar; the second will be about flow; and lastly prioritizing tasks and responsibilities.

Let’s start at the finish line. The whole time I am running, I fantasize about the finish line. Sometimes this makes me run faster and sometimes it makes me slow down so my pace is more controlled. What never happens when I am running is a deviation from my course. There is no way I am going to make this more difficult on myself. I love the benefits of running; however, I stick to the course I planned beforehand. It is probably a very safe bet that most of us feel the same way about running. However, very few of us look at other tasks in the same way.

We start working on something and veer off path several times before we complete it. Although, it is almost impossible to not have our time taken each day by meetings, emails and the demands of the boss; however, much of our wasted time is all on us.

Let’s talk about three things we can do to utilize our time more efficiently:

What does the finish line look like? What is needed to be done? Are you working through the next set of EPRs before the SCOD or do you have some decorations in the hopper? Quarterly awards, etc.? These are examples of things we know are coming due and we have a general idea of when. However, so many people are stressed up until the last minute trying to finish because they are not staying the course. Instead, determine the due date for each event. Then determine the earliest you can start this task. For example, you can’t work on the third quarter awards package in the first quarter, but you could add some fodder to the annual package.

Once you have an idea of when the earliest you can start, map out your plan. For example: I am always swamped with NCO EPRs when the annual awards are due and the unit award is just tossed together haphazardly. This is something I know will happen. I also know that other things are going to creep into my life and new demands will be stealing my time. If I put things off until the last minute, I will be stressed out more because everything is on fire. Instead, I like to work two weeks ahead.

A bulk of what we are responsible for are things with deadlines. We know when they are due. News Flash: That monthly briefing is due every month. Why wait until the day before to start it? By looking ahead and finishing tasks two weeks out gives me flexibility in my schedule when things come up or if I want to take leave. Most importantly, it gives me more time each day to invest in my team. You know how long things take you, do them in advance and it will increase your quality of work and quality of life.

Place things on your schedule. All of those events we just spoke about need to be on your schedule and not just inside your head. Place the finish line date on your schedule. This is the day and time you have to get the product to your boss or whomever. Then schedule time to work on this. I know I am a much better writer in the morning. Also, Mondays and Fridays are always swamped trying to get things going for the week or putting out the fires from others. So, I schedule some time (1 or 2 hours) to work on EPRs, decs, and awards in the mornings on Tuesday through Thursday. I write on my calendar: Third quarter awards package from 0730-0830 on Tuesday.

Now, I don’t get crazy and schedule time to check email or shutdown to my team on the third Wednesday of the month, etc. This purpose is to map out a course you can follow to be more present for your team. Most of us say we will get to things when we have the time, but there are always other things that come about when we are not focused on the end goals. If we see something written down on our schedule, we are hard-wired to make it happen if we can. Map out your course and write it down.

Lastly, have one calendar that you go off of primarily. It amazes me when people miss appointments because they didn’t have something on their calendar. They wrote it on a sticky note or on their desk calendar, but nowhere else. Then we have personal stuff on our phone calendars, work meetings in our outlook and random things on a pocket or desk calendar…why? We are just begging to miss an event and it wastes time each day trying to juggle three or more sources of events. Have one calendar as your primary source. For me it is my phone.

I have all of the kids events on there that I may need to leave early for, all of my work meetings on there and any other appointments. When someone asks me to commit to a certain date, I pull out my phone and know right away. When I get a work event, I type it into my calendar. It really is that simple.

We set ourselves up for failure when we fail to plan our time. We have to make time for the things that matter and plan them out. We all know by now things are not just going to work out and a few extra hours will magically appear before us. However, when we map out our course and block out the time in one place, we are going to churn out a better quality product and be a better leader for our teams.

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