Tag Archives: discretionary time

How Do I Get My Priorities Accomplished? Integrating the Ivy Lee Method and Real Life


2a83xpt89bWe are one-quarter through 2017. Have you accomplished 25% of your goals for the year? Are you on track to complete your goals? If not, you may be working on the wrong things. So how do we make ourselves more productive? How do we stay focused on our highest priorities?

There are many consultants and coaches who purport to have systems. One such system is the Ivy Lee Method (for more, see here and here), which says to spend a few minutes at the end of each day determining the six most important things to accomplish the next day. This methodology requires discipline to limit yourself to six items. Then prioritize those six items in order of importance.

At the start of the next day, begin with the most important task, and do not do anything else until it is finished. Then move on to the second task. And so forth, to see how far on the six items you can get, always completing each item before moving on to a lower priority item.

Put your unfinished items on the list of six for the next day, unless they are of lower priority than six other items to be accomplished the next day.

Do this every day.

No more than six items. Work the list in order of priority. Every day.

In theory, this system is good. But most of us have interruptions we cannot avoid. Or meetings we have to attend. We do not control our time sufficiently to work through one item on the list to completion before we must move on to something else.

The solution, I think, is to wrest back control of our time to the maximum extent we can. If you’ve tried the Ivy Lee method or some other process, and it isn’t working for you, here are some specific solutions:

1. Reduce your list of daily priorities to four or five items. There is no magic to the number six. Maybe on days when you know you have only a little time available, accomplishing one or two tasks is all that is reasonable. But make those tasks count—still choose your most important priorities.

2. Cut the items on your list into smaller chunks, and prioritize the chunks. Instead of an item like “contact all my stakeholders,” you list each phone call you need to make in order of priority. Most significant projects take a long time to accomplish. What is the one step that will move the project forward most significantly? Put that step on your priority list for the next day.

3. Make sure you have some time on your calendar each day for solitary work. Eliminate meetings where possible. Reserve time on your calendar. If you have an assistant who schedules your time, make sure your assistant knows your solitary time is inviolable. (Except, perhaps, for your spouse or the CEO.)

4. Delegate projects to others, or eliminate them. If certain projects are never making it to your list of six priorities, then perhaps they should not be among your goals for the year. Discuss them with your manager and make sure the two of you are in agreement on how you are prioritizing them.

5. Reserve time for interruptions. There will be times when your managers or external authorities impose new priorities on you. In my own situation, I often found that my inviolate work time was violated by my managers or high-maintenance clients. Then it became a matter of reserving even more time, so that I had time for the interruptions as well as the high-priority tasks for the day.

Planning is critical to getting things done. So make your plan work for you. And remember, when planning your discretionary time, you are accountable for what you do and what you don’t do.

When have you had difficulty planning and prioritizing?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Management, Workplace

Planning and Leadership: You Get What You Plan For


leadership-1714497_1280The title of a recent TLNT article caught my attention—“Leadership Takes a Plan”—so I read it. The article was good (most of the TLNT articles posted on eremedia.com are good), but I was surprised at the direction author Randy Hall took in “Leadership Takes a Plan.” I had expected recommendations for how leaders should communicate with their staffs and organizations.

The leaders I worked for focused on communications, and that has been my focus also. I think of leadership as a hierarchical thing, while Mr. Hall focused on leaders as mentors and developers of people—a very important aspect of leadership. I was somewhat embarrassed to realize how narrow my first reaction to the article’s title had been.

In the article, Mr. Hall says that leaders need a plan for how they will mentor people. Leaders should schedule their mentoring, have a strategy or process for developing people, and measure the results of how protegés develop. All valid points.

I’ve written before about the importance of discretionary time, and I come back to the concept over and over again as I plan my weeks and months and as I make daily choices in how to spend my time. Like Mr. Hall, I believe that if you don’t put things on your calendar, then they must not be important. Scheduling planning time is important to me. I schedule daily (or at least weekly) time to work for long-range projects. And, as Mr. Hall says, it’s important to schedule time to meet with people you are mentoring. Do you have regular meetings set with your protegés?

The strategy for developing people may be more difficult. You probably need individual plans for each person you are actively mentoring. Some might need work on their communications skills, so getting together before and after presentations or other major communications opportunities might be important. Other protegés might be working on their project management skills, so periodic check-ins to discuss their project plans might be needed. And sometimes protegés might not even know you are actively focused on their development (though transparency will probably have a bigger impact), so regular meetings with no set agenda might work.

Lastly, Mr. Hall recommends measuring results. With people development, that can be a difficult task. Still, there are ways to set measurable goals—a certain number of opportunities to present, readiness for the next promotion, favorable reactions from certain managers and executives on a presentation, etc. The point is to think about what success looks like on the person’s development, and then plan your plan to reach that result.

As I’ve reflected on his article, I’ve realized that the point Mr. Hall makes—that you need to plan how you will develop people—is crucial in everything we do. Yes, it is important for developing people. But it is equally important for corporate communications—where I thought initially he was taking his article. And planning is important for accomplishing long-range projects. And for everything else.

With everything you want to get done, you need to articulate what you want to accomplish. Then put it on your calendar, have a strategy, and measure your results.

What do you need to spend some time planning? Do you need to focus on scheduling it, developing a strategy, or measuring results?

1 Comment

Filed under Leadership, Management

Managing Myself: Productivity v. Learning


Design Mascot Computer SalesI’ve always been an advocate of measuring productivity. When I worked in the corporate world, I ordered my days to meet the objectives my boss set for me. I influenced the setting of my objectives, but once we had agreement, I worked toward achieving them.

Now that I am self-employed, I still keep track of my activities each week and set goals for the year and for the week ahead. I break large projects up into phases and manageable pieces. I try to balance work on immediate tasks and the next steps in long-term projects.

I chafe when other people interfere with my plans to work productively. It’s easy to let family and friends and co-workers order my days for me. Their goals are not my goals, and when our goals conflict (as they inevitably will), one or both of us must compromise. If I don’t keep a laser eye on my own plans, if I don’t build in flexibility to address the necessary give-and-take of life, then I will not accomplish what I want. So I try to be flexible, yet focused.

Given my desire for productivity, I was intrigued to see an article in Inc.com a couple weeks ago by Michael Simmons of Empact titled “Average People Are Productive, Successful People Are Learners.” Because, of course, I consider myself successful, not average.

According to the article, learning is the ultimate productivity.

“The paradigm we should all consider for productivity is learning. As opposed to productivity hacks—as I said, there’s only so much in your day you can optimize—learning is an exponential process with no cap. What do I mean by this? The results of learning are twofold: better decisions and breakthrough ideas. This can give results that are 1,000x better, not just 2x better.”

What does it take to be a learner? Mr. Simmons’s article stresses the importance of reading. He suggests spending seven hours a week (one hour a day) reading—which translates, he says, to about a book every week.

That’s a good goal. I can measure that. I can build it into my personal objectives.

I do read. Mostly, I read for enjoyment, but I also read a lot of professional books and periodicals and online newsletters on human resources, dispute resolution, legal topics, business strategy, and the craft of writing. I probably spend close to an hour a day on these professional development activities every day, though I haven’t measured it daily.

Based on Mr. Simmons’s recommendation, I will try to be more mindful of how I read to learn. I will think about what I want to learn and focus more of my reading on these topics.

And I will seek out and measure other opportunities to learn—people with whom I can discuss topics I want to know more about, places I can go to see and hear and touch new experiences. In short, I will invest in myself and plan that investment into my productivity goals.

What do you do to be a learner?

3 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Management, Philosophy

Time Management is YOUR Problem


Its about Time Series III’ve written before about discretionary time—the concept of having time that you control and using it for your own priorities.

That concept has hit home for me again recently. I have a new project that I am trying to squeeze in on top of all my other projects. This new endeavor takes five to ten hours a week for about eight weeks. That’s a lot of time to find. What can give? I’m cutting some activities, streamlining others, hoping a few matters have deadlines with some flexibility.

This week I also read an article on LinkedIn by Shane Atchison entitled, “Schedule for the Unexpected,” Oct. 21, 2015. Mr. Atchison recommends scheduling one hour of flex time for yourself every day. That’s time you deliberately leave free to deal with the daily crises that always seem to arise. I’ve had a few of those recently, while trying to cram in my new project.

When I worked in corporate roles, I used to ask my administrative assistants to save me two hours of “work time” every day. They could move the time around without consulting me to accommodate meetings I needed to attend. But they couldn’t cut into those two hours of unscheduled time without asking me first, unless it was my boss or the CEO who wanted my time.

This system worked pretty well. There were obviously times that I had to give up my work time, but most days if I had two hours in my office, I could keep up with phone calls, email, make dents in major projects, and still leave the office by 6:00pm feeling like the next day was manageable.

So I’m thinking now that, once I get over the hump of this current project, I need to do a better job of scheduling flexible hours each day for myself. Now that I work for myself, it is harder to make time for long-term priorities when there are so many short-term issues that arise each day. The problem is the same as when I worked in a corporate role—but I no longer have an assistant to guard my time.

I have to guard my time myself. If I don’t manage it, no one else will.

What tricks do you use to manage your time?

3 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Management, Work/Life, Workplace

Have You Accomplished Fifty Percent of Your Objectives For the Year?


Daily OrganizerI know it’s only the beginning of June, and 2014 is not half over yet. But most workplaces slow down in the summer months, when colleagues are out of the office. Then it’s Labor Day, then you have only a couple of months until the holiday season starts. Nothing much gets done in December.

So, are you half-way to completing your objectives? There isn’t much productive time left in the year.

Do you even remember what your objectives are?

Pull them out, and assess your performance. Then you’ll be ready for your mid-year review. If your boss doesn’t give you a mid-year review, give yourself one.

Come December, you’ll be glad you did. You’ll probably set yourself now on a path to get more done than if you ignore your objectives until autumn.

I recently read an article on Inc.com, “This 15-Minute Activity Will Make You More Successful At Work,” by Drake Baer, for Business Insider. Mr. Baer argues that people can be more successful if they set aside fifteen minutes at the end of the day to reflect and to recap that day’s accomplishments and failures.

People who take time for reflection each day come to understand their own performance better. Then they can better adapt their performance to achieve future successes.

But according to Mr. Baer, it requires more than simple reflection to improve performance. It requires writing down what went well each day and what didn’t. The extra step of documenting your learnings helps you to retain them and act on them in the future.

I keep a daily journal, although I don’t reflect on my performance every day. But twice a month I formally recap what I have accomplished in the last two weeks and what I need to accomplish in the next half month?

And on a quarterly basis, I pull out my original objectives and assess my performance against those detailed objectives.

I have a lot more than 50% of my objectives yet to get done this year. How about you?

6 Comments

Filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management, Workplace, Writing

Assess Your Work/Life Balance During the Holidays


In this holiday season, many of us are away from work and with family. We may be assessing our lives, both at work and at home.  As you reflect on the blessings and gaps in your life, click here for a list of all the work/life posts on this blog.

In particular, you might want to review

What Do You Want Out of Life (and Work)?

Make Your Work/Life Balance a Conscious Choice

No One Has It All—We All Make Choices

Systematic Neglect: Choose Your Priorities and Accept the Consequences

How to Repurpose Your Life Beyond Your Working Years

Happy holidays to each of you, and best wishes for the year ahead.

Leave a comment

Filed under Employee Engagement, Human Resources, Leadership, Management, Work/Life, Workplace

Systematic Neglect: Choose Your Priorities and Accept the Consequences


Like Every Function, To Be Strategic, HR Must Bring Expertise to the TableDuring the years I spent in leadership roles, two concepts became critical to my attempts to manage my time: discretionary time and systematic neglect.

I’ve written before about discretionary time—the time we can all carve out in our day to do what we think we should do. It may be fifteen minutes to check on a subordinate, or lunch with a peer to build a relationship, but we can all exercise some discretion in how we spend our time. Some organizations institutionalize the concept, as Google famously did when it encouraged employees to spend 20 percent of their time experimenting on their own projects.

Today I want to focus on the other time-management concept: “systematic neglect.” I learned about this concept in The Servant as Leader, by Robert K. Greenleaf. Mr. Greenleaf says part of a leader’s responsibility is to decide what not to do, what tasks to ignore. He says systematic neglect enables us to focus on the most important work. Specifically, he states:

The ability to withdraw and reorient oneself, if only for a moment, presumes that one has learned the art of systematic neglect, to sort out the more important from the less important — and the important from the urgent — and attend to the more important, even though there may be penalties and censure for the neglect of something else.

All of us understand the concept at some level—there is only so much time in the day. We cannot do everything, and we certainly cannot do everything at the level of quality we would like.

Although that type of triage is intuitive, a light bulb dawned for me when I read Mr. Greenleaf’s statement. Because not only does he say we need to consciously choose to do the more important work rather than the less important, he also makes clear that we must be prepared to accept the consequences of our choices.

My light bulb realization was that other people wouldn’t always agree with me on what to neglect, no matter how reasonable my choice seemed to me. I might choose to neglect a project they think is critical. When other people disagree with you about what is most important—and they will—you must accept their “censure.” You may not change their mind, but you have to accept that they will not be happy with you.

The organization I was a part of at the time embraced the philosophy of “systematic neglect.” Thereafter, there were several times when I was dismayed at the choices some of my colleagues made. They had different priorities than I did. I probably upset them, too, with my choices of what to do and what to neglect. There were heated discussions—censures and penalties—as a result.

Still, when you are prepared to accept the consequences of choosing what to do (using the concept of discretionary time) and what not to do (using the concept of systematic neglect), then you have much greater control of your time. And that lets you set and shape your priorities to a far greater extent than you might think possible.

What have you done when your priorities have differed from those of your co-workers?

5 Comments

Filed under Leadership, Management, Work/Life, Workplace