I have often heard people talk about managing time. More often than that, I have come across people writing about that; tips, tools, ways, habits to inculcate, to manage time. With my personal experience, I feel most of the help tips I came across lacked something very essential. Very very essential. The fact that time management goes hand in hand with project management. Also, some other things.
You have a to-do list, you probably even have a fancy digital version of something like that. You may be using a lot of time management tools – pen and paper, reminders on your emailing system, on your phone, sophisticated time management tools, etc. You are quick with your work, and you know very well how to balance quantity with quality. Does that suffice? Are you still working extra hours? Are you completing tasks, ticking them off, but finding yourself pressurized by the ticking hands of the clock? May be there is a reason for that. A lot of people working in management seem to manage their time too well – working, writing papers, attending seminars, speaking in public, taking out time for family, enjoying vacations, and still managing to look fresh. How do they do that?
Well, Prioritize is the word here. The keyword. If you have a to-do list, it needs to be such that you know what HAS to be taken care of today, and things that can wait. You need to have a good idea of what is unimportant, what is important, what is urgent, what is meh, and so on. Having a to-do list in a random order is fine. But if you are looking at ticking off those things in that order, it is only going to give you a false sense of achievement, and in the end you will still have that itch, as you keep tossing your head on your pillow. You will in most probability find yourself scrambling for time, for the most important tasks, because you subconsciously put them in the backburner, and made yourself happy with small accomplishments. A big hit on quality, and a compromise on quantity too.
Why am I talking about it? Because yesterday, I was reading a blogpost on a very famous blog site, that spoke about how to manage emails. It talked about having multiple inboxes, segmented. I started shaking my head vigorously sideways. It works well for many people, I agree, especially if you have a set of duties to perform, and you know what to expect. But it fails miserably for those who have to multi-task, for those who have to attend meetings, check emails, work, take out some free time to unwind, etc. At least, it did not work for me, a couple years ago, when I used to get around 150-200 emails in a day – from managers, colleagues, team members, newsletter subscriptions, developers, customers, etc. I was not even in the customer care department. I just happened to be in a very fast-paced, obnoxiously crazy team (I can use many other adjectives, but that will lead to me scratching the old wound). It is crazy, and you WILL miss out on important stuff.
The answer to this is. Have just one inbox. If you know you are going to get urgent emails, keep your email popup on at all times, and promise yourself that you will not get distracted. If you know that urgent things are not going to happen this season, keep the popup off, and schedule time to check emails. But, when you do check them, follow a system – delete whatever is crap, immediately. Reply, if that is what it needs and if you are not going to take too long to draft the email. If it can wait, and if it has to wait, keep it in your inbox. May be flag it. May be not. But if you are not doing anything important, just reply, and archive it. Delegate it, if that is what it needs. Delegate, get it off your way, so that the work is not halting. Archive it. If it is a piece of information, read it, archive it. If it is a newsletter, keep it in inbox until you can read it, or dump it in a folder where you collect jewels. But it is again a classic mistake, where you THINK you will read it when you have time, but that hardly ever happens. Better, let it stay in your inbox until you read it, and then either archive it, or put it in the jewel box if it’s really good. If someone has set a deadline for you, reply, and set deadlines for yourself. You know what works for you, and do not let anyone rule you, not even your boss. What I mean here is, if it is impossible to meet the deadline, tell them so, and tell them when they can expect the work done. If they have a problem, they will definitely take some other load off you, so that you can work on what is more important for them. If you cannot finish a job right away, reply with when they can expect a better reply, and do not archive is. The message is – take action on every email; have a clean inbox at all times.
Well, that was my simple system, still is, armed with just one reminder tool in my laptop. I do not trust my memory to remind me things, and anyway, I want to keep it free for more important things, and not for keeping tabs of dates and days and events. Reminders are invented for a very good reason. Also, I do not have reminder in my phone, primarily because I do not have a smart phone. Even when I had one, I avoided that, because I do not want the buzzing when I do not want it. If I am going out, I will check my calendar once well in advance and make sure there is nothing important that I am going to miss. When I am out, I am relaxing, and I am not going to let alarms and reminders buzz me to annoyance.
Why all this? To kill time. Got to go to work now, because I am meeting a friend in the evening. I found out a sneaky adult toy store in my town, and told my friend about it. So excited! We just want to know what it’s like. No more explanations 😀
PS: Curious assholes cannot be cured.