Last time we discussed Live to work or work to live. Part 3. Objectives: how to bring dreams to reality. Today, we keep exploring the topic with a review of tips of time planning.

We talked about setting long-term goals in life. But between goals and results is a large amount of routine work. How to organize it, how to pave the right path to achieving results?

The first thing you need to do is to get rid of self-abasement like “I can’t plan anything, I arrange everything at last moment, I always live in hectic activity”. Enough! When we want to – we are quite capable of planning.

Look around: you will find organized, motivated, competent people, who reasonably plan their work while still staying open to spontaneity and emotions. Let’s focus on the best examples, not on the worst. It is easy to meet deadlines, just start planning wisely and thoughtfully. Right now, today, not tomorrow. Get down!

Daily planning

The law of the time management says that daily planning should always be.

Bad news: “ten e-mails in the “Inbox”, five stickers on the monitor, fifteen “reminders” – it’s not daily planning at all. The daily plan should be in one place and certainly in writing. Furthermore, the plan may be in Outlook or Excel, on a paper or in a diary – it does not matter.

A frequent objection to the daily planning is that everything is changing rapidly. But the plan is the way to navigate in the changing circumstances.

How to make a flexible, convenient and not very strict plan? You must take into account that the plan must be material (in paper or electronic form). Our head is not able to keep too much information at once. Be sure to write down all the tasks for the day and regularly browse through this list. This will require only a few minutes, but it gives you the manageability and controllability of your tasks, the ability to remember everything and to prioritize.

When is the best time to plan? Both plannings in the evening and in the morning have its pros and cons:

  • Plan a day in the evening – a new day starts with a sufficiently clear and definite picture of upcoming cases. It suits to the more stable and predictable activities.
  • Plan a day in the morning – it is suitable for the solution of “clarifying tasks”, i.e. keeping time of meetings, distributing orders to subordinates, etc. It suits the less predictable activities with higher importance of “clarifying tasks”.

But in any case, the plan shouldn’t be treated as a law. The plan must be constantly adjusted to the changing circumstances. It takes a maximum of 5-7 minutes of the day and saves hours and sometimes weeks free from unnecessary work.

What diary to chose

Determine which of the common types of diaries suits you:

  • An overview of the week – is convenient to coordinate appointments and tasks between different days, gives a good overview of the overall picture of the week. It is inconvenient with a large number of daily appointments and tasks.
  • An overview of the day – is useful with a large number of daily tasks, allows more detailed planning of a particular business day.

If your day in the diary is filled with lots of tasks and appointments, it is better to have a separate printed blank form and plan your day on them.

You can plan the tasks that are not tied to a specific day on a special tab or on stickers, clings to the pages. It will allow you not to overwrite these tasks several times from one day to another. It’s also useful to put the key tasks on some stickers or “Strategic cardboard”.

The diary should be beautiful, aesthetic in time management is important as anywhere else. The diary contains the most expensive thing – your time. Don’t spare money on a good leather cover, expensive pen, use different colors, interesting bookmarks, etc.

“Strategic cardboard”

Such a simple thing as a bookmark gives rich opportunities to improve planning in the diary. Take a sheet of heavy paper or cardboard, use it as a bookmark in the diary. On this sheet you can:

  • Prescribe tasks that are not tied tightly to a specific day, so that they are always in sight;
  • Keep a list of the most relevant contacts at the moment;
  • Write “themes for reflection”, i.e. not the tasks for execution, but the thoughts for thinking over.

But the most useful application of this bookmark – use it as a “strategic cardboard”.

The scheduling of the day

When planning the day we have to deal with three types of tasks:

  • “Rigid” meetings – are tied to a specific point in time (“presentation at 12.00”).
  • “Flexible” tasks – are not tied to a rigid time (“to learn the presentation”). “Flexible” does not mean “non-binding” and does not mean that they “do not have a period of performance”. Such a task may have a period of performance, but there is no particular deadline.
  • “Budgeted” tasks – the major priorities which do not have a rigid time of performance, but require a sufficiently large resource of time (“prepare for the presentation – 2 hours”).

This classification helps to optimally combine rigid and flexible scheduling. Meetings are planned rigidly and “flexible” problems – more gently. The following algorithm of scheduling the next day is recommended:

  • Make a complete list of “flexible” tasks (not tied to the exact time) in the free space (usually located to the right of the time grid in the diary).
  • Highlight with red 2-3 priority tasks. Performing “flexible” problems start with them.
  • Plan the “rigid” meetings (tied to the exact time) at the time grid.
  • Reserve this time for priority tasks requiring sufficiently large resource of time.
  • Fill the spaces between the “rigid” meetings during the day with flexible tasks beginning with the “red” ones.

Note that this plan has a lot of free space for maneuvering. Through this plan is resistant to any external interference. If a new task appears, you simply add it to the “flexible” list, evaluate its priority and start execution.

Results-oriented task list

When planning “flexible” tasks that are not tied to a particular time, it’s recommended to use a simple technique – Results-oriented list.

Use strong verbs, effective and clear formulation of the result. You may remember what is the task about. But imagine the task in your thoughts and fix it in writing with energetic formulations – it’s two completely different things.

Prioritization list

When you’ve compiled a result-oriented task list, you need to mark it by priority.

Priority tasks are the ones that we do first. On this basis, the highest priority has the following types of tasks:

  • Immediate – highly important for the main business processes, vital.
  • Clarifying tasks – their implementation requires little time but further defines the order of the day. “To learn the presentation”, “to specify whether you need a personal meeting or phone call is enough” etc. These tasks need to be done first. This is also the task that “triggers” the work of subordinates or colleagues over the delegated tasks. In fact, these “clarifying” tasks are for your employees, they allow you to change the order their subordinates’ work and increase their efficiency using a small amount of efforts.

A prioritized list of tasks is actually a flexible plan, because it does not adhere to the rigid execution of the tasks, but dictates the sequence of tasks. First – specifying, then – vital, and finally, if there is time, – all the rest.

Naturally, when budgeting you can not always accurately predict the duration of the work. It’s okay, the accuracy of your predictions will eventually rise. It’s better to estimate the duration of work inaccurate than not to do any assessment at all. Once you start planning time, you will have a much more tough and realistic look at your task list – but then the percentage of its actual execution will grow.

Planning the “rigid” meetings

It remains to analyze the last element of the plan of the day: the “rigid” meetings tied to a specific time.

No matter how chaotic and unpredictable our life is, people will judge how responsible you will perform your business obligations in the future based on how punctual you are. So, not to be late, when scheduling appointments it’s necessary to reserve time for:

  • Road, which is especially important in large cities (you need an additional reserve for traffic jams);
  • Preparation – the time to come, to put the clothes off, to prepare;
  • Organizational inconsistencies – the confusion of the address of the meeting.

Many people, unfortunately, are not accustomed to think realistically about time. And they are even less realistic in assessing the duration of meetings, time on the road and time for preparation. In project management specialists have a saying: “Multiply the budget of a project by two, the duration by three – and you’ll get the real numbers”. Act similarly when planning the meetings – add at least 20% to your initial evaluation.

Reasonable punctuality

When planning meetings, the question of punctuality necessarily arises. You should be accurate. But how much accurate?

  • “In time” – You come for 5-10 minutes before the meeting. You have time to undress, drink a cup of tea at the reception and prepare for the meeting. If due to some inconsistencies you’ll be a little late – it will be no more than 5 minutes, it is acceptable.
  • “Academic delay” – up to 15 minutes. It is quite normal when meeting with colleagues. But only if there are 2-3 people, the time of a large group of people is too expensive.
  • “Flexible beginning” – If it is a collective creative process, the regulation is extremely flexible.

It is desirable to specify the required accuracy with a partner in advance. And during the teamwork such preferences should be developed and be part of the corporate culture.

The principle of “information redundancy”

To organize your day more effectively it’s recommended to less rely on your plans and expectations as things can change and it will change all your plans.

In such situations helps the principle of “information redundancy”: collect not only the necessary information for the implementation of plans but also the additional information that can help you if something goes wrong.

When preparing meetings you should not only collect the redundant information, but be sure to:

  • Make a call a few hours before the meeting to confirm it;
  • In case of force majeure make a call and warn that you can be late.

You spend 2-3 minutes on such reinsurance and your counterpart in case of force majeure can save a lot of time and effort. In addition, with the help of such simple steps, you reinforce your image of a responsible, punctual person, who respects all the undertaken agreements and obligations.

It’s recommended to use the following checklist when scheduling the appointments:

  • Directions – print it from your contractor’s website or, if there is no, take the electronic map of the city or take a picture of a paper map.
  • Calculation of time on the road, taking into account traffic jams, etc. It is desirable to keep this information in writing for possible later usage by you or your colleagues.
  • Questions to the counterpart: all available phone numbers (mobile and office, secretary, deputy etc.); whether there is a check mode; how to find the office (if the address is complex).

The fourth step in creating a personal TM system

Adjust the personal planning system of the day using the “rigid” and “flexible” tasks to plan realistically and always have time to perform the important ones.

Summary of recommendations:

  • Set aside 10 minutes in the evening or in the morning to present a fully comprehensive picture of tasks for the day.
  • When planning using different colors, bookmarks, and stickers.
  • Get a “strategic cardboard” – a bookmark with the key long-term goals.
  • Distinguish between “rigid”, “flexible” and “budgeted” tasks.
  • Make a result-oriented list of “flexible” tasks.
  • Allocate 2-3 priority tasks on the list and start working with them.
  • When planning the “rigid” meetings reserve some time.
  • Coordinate the punctuality standards with your partners.
  • Collect the redundant information because things do not always happen according to your plan.

Stay tuned for the second part of the article Live to work or work to live. Part 5. Planning: how to meet deadlines.