Preparation is critical before any activity, whether it is a pilot about to fly an airplane or a surgeon about to operate on a patient. In his book “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Done Right,” Atul Gawande tells how pilots flew a particular type of airplane 1.8 million miles without an accident, and how a hospital’s 10-day line infection rate dropped from 11% to zero by introducing checklists. Checklists represent one type of preparation, and it is useful in thousands or more situations, from preparing to go on vacation to planning a successful training program.
You would not simply jump into the driver’s seat of a car and start driving or put up a “For sale” sign on your house, without some preparation. So why do people read a book on time management, or attend a workshop on getting organized, and immediately attempt to apply the ideas?
Most common-sense time management strategies fail because of a lack of preparation. If you are disorganized, for instance, and you buy a laptop and start to dictate articles using the built-in voice-activated software, you will only succeed in speeding up your disorganization. You must first prepare your laptop, set up the titled folders and levels you will need for the information you will be generating or receiving – and so on.
And when you read a time management book or attend a seminar or training program, the experts will throw all kinds of great strategies at you. “Delegate, plan your day, focus, work on priorities, avoid interruptions, say no more often, don’t procrastinate, manage your energy, take regular breaks, don’t be a perfectionist, assign deadlines to all tasks,” ad infinitum. You will be completely overwhelmed with well-meaning suggestions that will cause you to lose time rather than gain it. That is if you are not prepared.
There is an old Chinese proverb that says, if you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither one. One thing at a time. and that’s what we must keep in mind when applying ideas. One at a time. But where do you start?
It’s essential to start with the right ideas, or your time management system will never get off the ground. You don’t necessarily start with those ideas that will save the most time. You start with those ideas that will quickly free up time that you can use to implement those powerful ideas such as planning, and delegation. It always takes time to manage time. And most people do not have any time to spare. That’s why they are interested in time management in the first place.
For example, experts may tell you to delegate some of your tasks to others. (That’s assuming there are others to whom you can delegate.) But you cannot just hand a job to someone and tell them to do it. In most cases, they must be trained or at least told exactly what it is they are expected to do, why they are doing it, some suggestions on how to go about it, limits of authority, and so on. That all takes time. And you may not yet have the time needed.
You must first free up enough time to delegate properly. That’s another example of preparation. You must quickly implement ideas that require little or no preparation time and use the time saved to delegate to others. Or if you have no person to delegate to, you can use the extra time to do the job yourself, thereby freeing yourself from the stress and hectic pace that threatens both your health and the quality of your work.
Although adding technology is the place people might start to quickly save time, even before that you should see what you can delete. Subtraction is easier than addition, and there is no learning curve necessary.
For example, are there weekly reports being issued that you can issue monthly with a negligible negative impact on productivity? Similarly, can you reduce daily or weekly meetings to weekly and monthly meetings instead? Are there meetings, reports, or other activities that can be eliminated? Also, can you reduce time lost from interruptions by checking e-mail less frequently, engaging voicemail, putting your iPhone on airplane mode, and closing your door when you work on priority tasks?
Use the time saved by organizing your desk and office, which in turn will reduce the time spent searching for materials and enables you to work more efficiently. At this point, you might install any software, apps, etc. which can save you even more time.
Finally, you will have the time available to implement some of those important time-saving activities such as planning, delegating, training, proactivity, and so on. These are what I call “time investments,” which require considerable time to implement but free up the most time for the future.