by Carthage Buckley, Stress and Performance Coach
Time management and productivity are critical to the effective pursuit of your goals and objectives. If you want to stay on course, you must be able to do the right thing at the right time. I have read thousands of time management tips and many of them are very useful. However, for somebody who is seriously struggling with their time management, they tend to have one common failing – they come too late in the process. The majority of time management solutions will not work if you have not first developed the core organisational skills. Core organisational skills form the spine of your time management. And just like the human spine, if the core organisational skills are absent, there is nothing to hold it all together.
While time management is about doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right manner; before you can do this, you must first be able to make your key decisions based on accurate information. For example, how can you possibly determine your highest priority if you don’t know everything that you have agreed to do? Core organisational skills allow you to ensure that you have all the information that you need to make effective decisions. Not only that; they ensure that you have all the relevant information at the time when you actually need it. You will never be able to do everything that you would like to do but when you have the core organisational skills, you will be able to continuously complete your most important tasks.
5 Core organisational skills
The following core organisational skills should form the backbone of any effective productivity system. When you have these skills and you use them effectively, you will see dramatic improvements in your time management and productivity. I first encountered these skills when reading the work of David Allen.
Usually, you will be asked to perform a task and you may agree to do so. Alternatively, you may have a thought about something you need to do. At this point, too many people think they have captured the task. They assume that it is in their head and so they will be able to remember it.
The assumption is partially true. It will be in their head and they will remember it – at some point. However, if you want to be productive, you need to remember the task at a time when you are in a position to complete it. While the human brain is very good at storing and retrieving information, it generally does not retrieve that information at a time when it is useful to do so. In addition, your brain tries to remember these tasks in your short-term memory, as they are short-term tasks. As short-term memory is not designed to store large chunks of information, this starts to steal your energy and cause you stress.
For this reason, it is imperative that you capture each and every commitment that you make; as and when you make it. When you take the dependency away from your brain and place it in a system that you can actually trust, you will make giant strides towards a more effective you.
Note: capturing a commitment does not mean that you have to decide what to do about it there and then. It can be as simple as placing a note in your in-tray.
Once you have captured your commitments, you must regularly process them to determine what you should do with them. Many people write every commitment down on a list and call it a task list. The problem with this approach is that you end up with a lot of stuff on your task list which should never appear on a task list, e.g.:
- Stuff which does not require action
- Stuff which somebody else should be doing
- Stuff which should only be done at a later date
- Stuff which could be done in a very short period of time e.g. 2 minutes.
- Projects (only tasks should appear on task lists)
These are just a few examples but you can see how you could easily end up with a massive task list that includes a lot of stuff that should not be there. When you have such a packed task list, it can be very overwhelming and incredibly difficult to decide what to do next. This slows you down and can lead to stress.
Instead, you need to take every item that you have captured and go through them one by one. You should take the viewpoint of protecting your task list by ensuring that the only items on it are items that you must do in the short-term.
Organisation is what you get as a result of the decision you make about each item you have captured. As a result of organising, each item should end up in one of a very limited number of places e.g.
- In your calendar if it is time or date specific
- Filed appropriately if it is only for reference
- On a someday/maybe list if it will be reviewed at an unspecified time in the future
- In a tickler file or digital reminder if it needs to be reviewed on a specific date
- On a project list if it is a project. The next task to be completed would be added to the appropriate task list
- On an appropriate task list if it is a task to be completed in the near future
As you can see from the examples above, you would be quickly able to find the item at the appropriate time.
Review is the ability to review your options and determine the most important task that you can complete with the time and resources available to you. The better you have organised the items, the easier it is to review. This is why each person must organise in a manner that suits the way that they work and live.
For example, I move about a lot and find it best to keep contextualised task lists. One of my lists is simply phone calls (I call it @phone) to be made with the number of the person to call and a quick note about the topic, if necessary. If I am away from my office and have only my phone with me, I don’t need to waste time looking at the other lists. I simply go to my @phone list and select the most important call that I have the time, energy and necessary information for. I then make that call and if any time is left over, I select the next most important call.
You can’t stay organised if you never actually do anything. Core organisational skills acknowledge that it is not enough to keep adding stuff to your lists; you must also be knocking stuff of your lists by completing it. Otherwise, you would just have a depressing list of stuff you have never done.
The key to getting stuff done is to be able to trust that you are doing the right thing at that time. There are a million things that you could be doing but when you possess and implement the core organisational skills, you have greater confidence in your choices. The lack of doubt allows you to focus solely on the task at hand and complete it quicker and to a higher standard.
If you want to be more productive with better time management, you must start at the start. Like building a house, the foundations must be in place. In productivity terms, this means having the core organisational skills and implementing them consistently. The core organisational skills allow you to capture every commitment that you make, determine the best course of action, and choose the right task to perform at the right time. There are many time management tips which can help you to improve your performance but unless you have the core organisation skills in place, you are limiting how productive you can be.
About the author
Carthage Buckley is a Stress and Performance Coach who helps entrepreneurs, management and driven professionals to identify and eliminate the sources of stress while developing and implementing strategies to realise their objectives and create a happy, healthy and successful life.
The principle philosophy of Carthage’s coaching is that the individual can shape their own world, rather than waiting for their world to shape them. Working from the inside out, it is perfectly possible for each person to create their own life, allowing them to fulfil their personal desires while living in harmony with the world around them.
Carthage has lived and worked in 5 countries and continues to work with clients all around the world, both in person and via the Internet.