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Top time management tips to boost personal productivity

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Hamilton 37500 Chronograph (Photo credit: Robi70)
Being able to manage time efficiently (time hacking) is one of the key skills of successful managers and high performing employees. In this post, I will give you real life tips (I use them every day), which will boost your personal productivity.

0- Do not try to do what you cannot do

I found out that the main reason why I procrastinate sometimes and defer some tasks I want to execute... The reason is that I cannot do these tasks: I lack information and I feel somehow that I am blocked and therefore wait for a solution to come from the sky. Guess what, psychologists say that this thinking scheme is very common and everyone falls in this trap from time to time. So, there is the first and most important tip for productivity: 
  • learn to detect quickly when you cannot do something (because it is not in your power or responsibility, or because you lack information), and 
  • immediately contact the person that is the most appropriate to execute the task (because it is its responsibility, or because it has the information).
This single tip will help you save a lot of time and gain recognition from your boss and colleagues: it is a sign of professionalism to know what one can or cannot do.

1- Use your agenda the right way (contrary to most people)

What do you put in your agenda? If you answer, "meetings", you are making a terrible mistake: your agenda does not show 80% or or 60% of your work! In fact, meetings should not take more than 20% of your time if you are an employee, and 40% if you are a manager. This absence prevents you from correctly estimating your workload, prioritizing tasks, refusing meetings when you have other first-priority tasks that you must accomplish out of meetings, etc. Put in your agenda the tasks that you do out of meetings.

So, if I ask you again: "what do you put in your agenda" ? What will you answer? If you answer, "meetings and tasks I accomplish out of meetings", you are still making a mistake. Do not forget to put personal tasks in your agenda! They can take a lot of your time at some periods and you should have visibility on them when you are scheduling work related appointments. In addition, managing several calendars in parallel is a hassle. So, put your personal tasks in your agenda. You can use cryptic tasks description if you do not want your boss to know about them, and use the privacy settings of your calendar. But put them in!

That's the first golden rule for efficient time management:
  • Use an agenda (and only one)
  • Put in the agenda the tasks that you do out of meetings, not just meetings
  • Put personal tasks in the agenda (with cryptic descriptions, for privacy), not just business tasks

2- Plan for the unplanned

Never fill your agenda beyond 80%. If you fill it in advance, you will not have room to schedule urgent tasks. Bosses do not look for busy people, they look for efficient peoples. If every time your boss comes with an urgent request, and you can achieve it successfully without harming business as usual task, they will have a good opinion of you!

If you fill your agenda too much you will also be in trouble if a task takes longer than expected. All your beautiful planning will collapse. So, take it as a golden rule: never ever fill your agenda completely.

2- Learn the 4D's rule to empty the work pipe

Work arrives through two main channels:
  1. E-mail,
  2. Discussions with boss and colleagues, meetings.
Whenever, you receive a new task, you should apply the following 4D's algorithm (Eisenhower matrix):
  1. Delete: is the execution of this task necessary? Maybe there is a smarter way that permits to avoid this task?
  2. Delegate: are you the best placed to do this task? Do you have all required information? Maybe it would be more efficient to delegate.
  3. Defer: Do you need to do it now? How long can you defer it? Schedule it immediately in your agenda.
  1. Do!
Please understand this algorithm correctly: it is not about laziness, it is about optimal efficiency. Some tasks must be done by you! This algorithm helps you focus on the tasks that really matter and on priorities. Do not do what you do not really need to do. It gives you room in your agenda to deal with urgent tasks successfully.

3- Learn the 5' rule to decide what to do now and what to defer

Beware: it takes more than 20 minutes to focus on a task. And only seconds to get out of focus... To never lose focus, you should follow the following time management methodology:

  • If a task takes less than 5' => do it immediately
  • If it takes more than 5', apply the 4D's (Delete, Delegate, Defer, else Do!) rule. 
In addition, you should allocate long time-slots in your agenda for the tasks that require concentration. Half a day or a full day is the recommended duration for such tasks. Reschedule other tasks to guarantee that you can focus efficiently

4- Reschedule tasks regularly

As the week goes on, your priorities can shift because you receive new tasks or new information becomes available. This means you must adapt your agenda: take time every evening to review your agenda and reschedule tasks based on new priorities. In particular, on Friday evening take time to think about the next week.

5- Use email efficiently (contrary to most people)

Email is both time-management hell and heaven for personal productivity: it can help you save tremendous amounts of time, or just the contrary. Here are a few golden rules to use email efficiently and save time:
  • Never send any email immediately: use your inbox settings to delay email emission. When you click on the send button, your email should be stored in the "send" folder but not be actually sent. This way, if you think about something you should have added, you do not have to send a new email: just edit your email and send.
  • Mark email as read as soon as you have applied the 4D's rule on them. This will help you tidy your mailbox. If the email brings you to schedule a task in your agenda, systematically copy-paste the original email in the details of the event that you put in your agenda. This way you won't have to look for it when you do the task. 
  • Never use the search function of your desktop email client. It takes too long to find what you are looking for. Rather use a faster search tool that relies on a pre-indexation: 
    • In MS Windows, such search box opens when you click on windows button on the desktop bar (bottom left)
    • In Linux, it depends on your distribution
    • On gmail, there is already a great search function
I hope you have liked these few tips. They may seem basic, but their impact on your persoanl productivity will be tremendous! If you like this post, please share its URL on facebook, google+ or any other website. It will help this article rank good in search engines, and thus, other reader will find it more easily. A million thanks for that!


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