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Time management : yet another todo-list alternative

I explained the limitations of the todo-list system in the previous article about time management introduction and todo-list limitations . You are not about to discover a brand new way of managing your time but maybe another way of dealing with all your tasks.

Using your calendar as your todo-list

The calendar is usually used by people to write appointments with other people like meetings, business lunches, workshops and so on. A common representation of the calendar is based on columns, one for each day of the week :

 

There are many softwares which provide a calendar tool : Microsoft Outlook, KOrganizer, Evolution, Google Agenda, … As long as they are easy to use for you, with drag’n’drop to move tasks, it’s ok.

Making an appointment with yourself

Making appointments with colleagues, customers is quite normal but what if you make an appointment with yourself to work on a particular task ? Let’s say you have a meeting report to write, you estimate at 2 hours this task. According to the quality system in your company, you need to distribute the document within 48 hours so you have to commit on a deadline. During these 2 hours, you are not going to do something else, so make an appointment with yourself to work on that task.

Fine ! You know then that Tuesday at 2pm you’ll have to work on your report.

From todo-list to calendar : how to free your time

It’s quite simple, each task is an appointment with yourself. Take each item on your todo-list and create an appointment in your new calendar. Let’s say you have this (simple) todolist :

- Mon. 7 nov. 10:00 Meeting #1
- Mon 7 nov 12:00 Lunch with Romain
- Project indicators update
- Reread of proposal
- Project #1 : development review
- Call vendor for deficient hardware
- See HR department for reporting
- Report Meeting #1
- Tue 8 nov 16:00 Recruitment : applicant David
- New project studying
- Wed 9 nov 15:00 Meeting #2
- Fri 11 nov. 10:00 Meeting #3

can be quickly stressful, if your boss comes and asks you if you have time to deal with another project, you’ll certainly say no according to what you see in that list. Let’s put that list in the calendar :

Done ! Take a moment to look at your week calendar : from a todolist announcing busy days, you have now almost half a week clear ! You’re now available for that new project or to leave early friday and go for a trip this weekend.

This is also the end of the evenings and nights thinking about what you are going to do the following day, in which order, wondering if you will have time to do everything to be on time. You can now leave work relax at the end of the day, with your mind free of tasks to do, you know exactly what you have to do the following day.

Day-to-day usage of the calendar

Now that you have set up your calendar, you know exactly what you have to do and when. Let’s put this method into concrete situations :

Juggling with boxes – move tasks and be flexible

Each task is a box you can move where you want in your calendar. Your boss wants to see you Tuesday at 13:00, no problem, see if you can do « See HR department » later in the week, on Wednesday for example and move the box to its new place. You are available for your boss without stressing for what you have to do.

Defending your time against time stealers

Everybody has had a colleague that stole time every now and then, asking questions, giving tricky tasks he or she doesn’t want to deal with (inconsciously or consciously).

Let’s say you have a busy week but well organized with your calendar. You do task after task and all is going well. A colleague comes and asks you if you can deal with an urgent file (like many) that maybe he forgot in a drawer and just remembered this morning. You take a look at your calendar and say :

« I have 2 hours free tomorrow afternoon and 1 hour on Friday that’s all. »

He may look sceptical and will tell you that it is not enough, so show him your calendar ! He will see how organized you are after a while, since you always fullfill your engagements. I do not at all tell you to refuse to help colleagues, that’s not my point – and in the example, you offer 3 hours of work –  it is just that you have your own work to do and your own commitments to fulfill too. If you cannot agree with your colleagues, your manager will decide for you, he’s the boss after all.

You’ll never say « No » any longer !

Your boss trusts you so much from now on that he asks you to deal with a file that will take you 2 days of work and that has to be delivered on Friday. But you have another long task he asked you to finish on Friday too. How to choose ?

But who better than your boss can choose ? ask him !

– You : Boss I have already this file to give you on Friday, and it takes me 2 days of work as well. Which one do you want me to do first ?

– Boss : this one of course, it is urgent !

– You : ok, so the other one, I would be able to deliver it to you on … (check your calendar ..) next Wednesday, is it ok for you ?

– Uhh … yeah .. ok

What happened ? you did not say « No », your boss did decide which file was more urgent. Besides, you negotiated another deadline for the other file. Otherwise, he could have considered that you would have delivered both files on Friday which was not possible for you.

Future .. and past !

As your day is going, you do your tasks but you update them too according to their real duration. You also add unplanned tasks. This way, you track your time and you can :

– see how much time you spent on a task last month to estimate the same task for this week

– find out when was the last time you met a prospect

– tell what you did last week and how much time you spent on each project

Isn’t that useful ?

The more you use it, the more efficient you are !

Based on continuous improvement, each time you make a mistake, you learn something. You had a recurrent task to do, say checking figures, which can be long and fastidious. You planned 2 hours.

But you spent 3 hours on that task. You commited so you finished later that day but you now know that next time you would have to plan 3 hours.

You spent one hour and a half on that task ? great ! take a break or deal with next task and you’ll be able to leave earlier ! and next time you would plan 1 hour and a half.

Take your calendar to the next level

Here are a few practices and tips to improve your calendar usage.

Priorities : moving red means dead !

Some tasks cannot be moved and you cannot missed them : meetings, trainings, dentist appointment, … It is important to see them quickly in your calendar. Put them in red color for example to see them at first look.

 

Time space : transport

If you have to take your car or the public transport to go to a meeting, you have to consider the time spent for transportation in your calendar, to know when you have to leave and when you come back. It does not mean you won’t be able to work (read documents in the public transport for example) but you won’t be available. So put a task « Transportation » in your calendar. Be careful to take a margin for traffic jams or late public transport. You still can work if you arrive in advance.

You may set another color on these particular tasks too.

 

Follow up your requests !

You often requests documents, information from colleagues, customers, suppliers, contractors or even your boss and you generally need these requests to be fulfilled on time. So you have to follow your requests to ensure that you’ll have your answers.

With your calendar, it is quite easy, you just need to set up at the right moment a quick task « Document A from Customer #1 ? ». You do not have to keep in mind your requests any longer, the calendar will do it for you. And if you have already received what you want, the task is then already done.

Meetings and agendas in your calendar

Maybe you have meetings every week or every month, for which you’re asked to find ideas, subjects, specific points to deal with. These meetings are of course planned in your calendar, so each time you have something in mind for that meeting, just write it down on the calendar appointment. And when the meeting comes, you have all the points ready.

Anticipate the task and save you time

You’ve just called a person but she’s on vacation till next week. No problem, you set a task for next week. And to avoid losing time, looking for a telephone number, you can already write in this task the number you have to dial because you’ve just used it. In one week, you would have looked in your contacts, in a email, in a file ..

Another example, you’ve just received a email with a few points to answer in 15 days. You create a task for next week to deal with them and to avoid spending 10 minutes to find the mail again, you can copy and paste the points in your task description or indicate the subject of the email to facilitate the search.

Always ask yourself what would you need to realize this task and how you can save time for the moment you will have to do it.

Plan the unexpected !

Till now, we have dealt with tasks that were expected and relatively clear. But how to deal with the unexpected ? incidents on technical environments ? crisis on a project ? last minute meeting with a prospect ? You are aware that each day has a lot of surprises for you but you can not anticipate what kind of issues you are going to deal with.

The answer is quite simple : create a task « Unplanned ». For a while, I had each day such a task with a duration of 2 hours. I used to adjust the duration week after week, I knew for example that the end of the month was generally full of surprises with the billing, the indicators update, etc.

This task is then « consumed » as time goes by during the day to deal with last minute issues. Your experience and time tracking will lead you to be more and more accurate.

Continuous improvement

You have to adjust this method to your needs, your work environment and the way you work. Take a look at yourself and the way you work today and answer the following questions :

– Which actions do I have to realize several times ?

– What is clear or not clear in your calendar ?

– In what kind of situations do I feel stressed ?

By time-tracking your work, you will become aware of how you use your time and you’ll be able to anticipate better the next time. It will help you improve your estimations of the duration of the tasks too.

Conclusion

Do not try to use this method and a todo-list simultaneously, it would be waste of time and counterproductive. Try it at 100% for one week. Maybe you won’t like it, maybe you will but at least you’ll have tried something else.

Improving means changing habits to reach a more comfortable situation. You have to accept to test new ways of doing things, even if you come back to your old habits because the new ones do not suit you. For example, I tried to use many colors in my calendar but I came back to using only 3 or 4 colors because it had become unreadable for me .. Try something new one after another, maybe for a week to see if it useful or not. After only three months, you would have made more than 10 improvements on your time management. Imagine after a year !

Example of usage

Next step is about how to deal with emails, we’ll see that later.

Cet article a été posté dans English, Time management.

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