Four steps to better time management

Manufacture your success: Four steps to taking control of your day

Running a manufacturing business can be a juggling act with competing priorities for your time. It’s challenging to find enough time to ‘work on the business’ while also keeping on top of the daily demands of the business.

Too often, long-term projects and planning activities are the first to get pushed on to the backburner while you put out fires and handle unexpected interruptions. The result of this, is that the leadership of the business gets fragmented and, it ultimately impacts everyone’s productivity.

The key to taking control of your day is time management

There are several simple approaches to solving the time management problem that work if you commit to them. This approach is based on prioritisation of tasks and involves four steps to implement.

Step 1. Create a plan

Make it as complete as possible by including both long-term and short-term tasks – everything that you have to do in a business day regardless of its importance or urgency.

Include time for making and receiving telephone calls, as well as time for conversations and meetings. Assign everything that’s there into one of these four categories:

  • Category 1: Urgent and important – things that are critical to the business and have a deadline involved.
  • Category 2: Important things but they don’t have an immediate deadline.
  • Category 3: Activities that just arise such as telephone calls or meetings not related to your Category 1 or 2 projects. They are urgent only because they need to be handled immediately but are not really important.
  • Category 4: Activities that are unimportant and don’t have to be done by any particular time.

Now put this list aside for a day. 

Step 2. Track your real workday

Throughout the next day, without referring to your ‘to do’ list, make a note of everything you do and how much time you spend on it.  You’re recording how you actually allocate your time during the day.

When the work day is complete go back to your ‘to do’ list and compare what you’ve actually done during your day with what you rated as really the most urgent and important tasks before you.  If you are like most people you will have spent far too much time on activities, you had judged to be Category 3 and 4 types and far too little time on those activities and projects that really matter.

Chances are you’ve wasted a fair amount of time. Estimates vary on how much time we waste each day but it’s safe to say that an extra 10 per cent of effective time is not out of reach. That would create up to an hour a day (5 hours per week, 2.5 days per month or an extra 6 weeks per year).

Step 3. Restructure your time usage

One of the major factors in productivity is not necessarily the work itself, but the interruptions that disturb the flow of work. In the past, most time management approaches focused on only prioritisation. In a fast-paced world, interruptions now must be recognised and managed.

To get your productivity up, there is a mix of the old and the new required. Start by taking the prioritised plan and estimating how much time is required for your Category 1 and 2 items. Determine what is required for completion and when it needs to be completed to support your yearly plan. Select the five priorities in your plan for completion each week.

On a daily basis identify what are the three actions required to be completed that will assist in completing one of the week’s priorities and have these three tasks ‘in front of you’ throughout the day.

Step 4. Develop your schedule and your discipline

The simple planning approach outlined in step 3 is dependent on the discipline of implementation. Most people use a scheduling tool that is associated with their email system (outlook, google etc). Actively planning your day by blocking out the necessary time you need to complete everything according to your real priorities (category one and category two) is the easy part. Staying away from distractions like emails and other forms of notifications is where the discipline comes in.

The most productive people develop a simple method for managing correspondence (or emails) and notifications. Firstly, turn off the notifications: if people urgently need to communicate, they will call you. Second; establish a process that allows you to check emails only once or at most twice per day.

Finally; develop the simple ‘one-touch’ process by which you open emails and act on them immediately either by responding, delegating, scheduling for action later as part of your planned day or deleting.

By now you should have recognised that all Category 4 priorities can be ‘ditched’. Don’t delegate these as you will impact others’ productivity. Priorities that are Category 3 can be handled when time permits, but only when you are sure that everything in your weekly plan has received sufficient attention.

A final ‘hack’ for the discipline is to follow the de-brief model used in the military. At the end of each day, take 5 to15 minutes to review your effectiveness in achieving the daily tasks and priorities. Follow the simple ‘3Rs Result, Reason, Response’ model.

  1. Results – realistically review your results compared to what the objective was for the day.
  2. Reasons – identify the reasons for those results, including both good and bad; try to remain without blame if not achieved.
  3. Response – identify the one to two actions that can be taken tomorrow that will improve the delivery of the objectives.

Once you begin working in this new way, you’ll find that every day is more productive. You’ll be tempted to find excuses to make exceptions for one reason or another. Taking control of your day is not easy at first, but stick with it and you’ll be hours ahead every week.

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As a supporting partner and confidant to SMEs, directors and managers, I work with you to guide you towards a healthier work-life balance and improved mental well-being by ensuring that your business is giving you the results your time and effort deserves.

Start your journey from low returns to increased growth today. Get in touch to find out more or book in for a 60 Minute Growth Session.

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