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June 21, 2012

Keeping track of time – Review of day 1

Follow-up to Keeping track of time from Mervyn George @ Warwick MBA

So, after one day of applying my hour-long unit approach to time management... what did I learn? For starters, I paid more attention to my watch or the clock on my PC. I used my 30 minutes of extra time before 9:00 (got to the office early today) to close and publish my blog, check twitter, LinkedIn and facebook accounts and then kicked off productivity on time. I was stricter at lunchtime - I split my lunch hour into a 45 minute shop (needed a new pair of jeans), a quick 10 minute chomp and a 5 minute stroll back to the office. I'm working in the heart of Wimbledon so I'm surrounded by stores. Demo sessions were planned and executed to precision. Preparation for those demos were handled as smoothly and I appreciated my 15 minute coffee breaks so much more. I can definitely see how this approach of minding each minute can make me more appreciative of the time I have to spend and how it could increase productivity.  A handful of interruptions crossed my path during the day but, with my time allocation schedule in mind, I was more aware of the need to prioritise and carefully chose which ones were critical and needed immediate attention. The balance was queued and attended to at a more convenient time.  I had one brief moment (during a 45 minute stint) where I began to wonder from the straight and narrow. It's amazing how easily you could get lost in the online world, so my next task is to review my wish list of to-do items (the list containing the nice-to-haves). Any free time can be allocated to one of these wish list items, which are usually internal process improvement tasks and should take a slightly more creative angle to the normal routine.  Let's see how day two goes tomorrow. 

Keeping track of time

I recently read an online excerpt from Laura Vanderkam's book on developing habits (What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast) and it got me thinking. My approach to the consumption of time, time awareness and time management has changed over the years and I haven't really taken stock of it. This has spurred me on to take what I do as second nature and formalise it, to be more aware of what I consume and how I consume it. In the modern world of doing everything in a lean way, why not apply the same idea to the activities that consume most of my day in an attempt to optimise productivity and reduce waste.

Think of this as draft one of my time allocation and tracking policy. Here's a rough list of rules or guidelines:

  • My day will consist of units, each unit being 1 hour long. Hugh Grant's character in the movie About a Boy spoke of 30 minute units, which he consumed by buying CDs, getting his hair cut, or going on dates. The concept can be applied in all walks of like and although it is not new, it is new to me.
  • Within each unit, 45 minutes are allocated for productive consumption and 15 minutes are for contingency. The aim is to work smarter and faster, with a backup for when critical tasks need closure.
  • Contingency time is for task completion, review and lessons learnt, or for coffee and fresh air breaks.
  • Units can be doubled up. Many of the software demos we do take 1,5 hours as a sales rep will include some commercial discussions or we'll add on some deployment or infrastructure topics. We try to debrief after each call to review what was covered and to confirm an action plan. This is an effective use of contingency time.
  • Lunch breaks take the same approach as regular units.
  • The working day is 8 units. Any requirement beyond that eats into personal time allocation and needs a formal review to identify why the situation occurred and how it can be avoided in future. International business with multiple times zones may cause hours to shift but the unit concept should still apply.
  • Unexpected and emergency tasks will appear. Prioritise and reshuffle the original plan to accommodate. Try to make up lost units where possible without affecting the total unit count for the day.
  • Keep track of actual consumption.
  • Try to have a consistent start and end time. That way it's easier to measure units available before the working day starts and after it ends, to allocate to other activities.
  • Time at home is currently out of scope. There are too many variables with a toddler and an infant in the house. Let me master the working day first (building the habit) before I tackle personal time. As they say, "Land and expand".
  • Study time is likely to consume 1 or 2 units a day, ideally in the morning. The habit is not yet formed so this will be refined.

Am I becoming a robot with these rules? Maybe, but if I approach it like one of the many sporting disciplines I have taken up in my life then the idea of having rules and sticking to them is not unfamiliar.

I guess one step further would be to develop a time optimisation policy, which includes reviewing planned time allocation versus actual spend. Once I have that comparison I can begin to refine the allocation and tracking policy to remain up to date with different and current aspects of my life and lifestyle.

Lastly, bear in mind that I don't claim to be an expert in time management. I am, however, slowly becoming an expert in managing my own time and this approach is simply a way to figure out how I spend the majority of every day. Two good units I spend in the morning and evening are while commuting to and from work. I spend this time reflecting on my day and my life and this article is an example of how I consume those units.

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