Projects are dynamic. They are constantly changing and imposing new demands upon your time. How do you manage your time so that you can stay on top of what is happening and avoid having things “slip through the cracks”? Time management is a study in its own right. Of course, you will need a daily diary or appointment book in which you will enter all the meetings that you will need to attend. But time management is more than simply posting meetings on a calendar; it is a means of dealing with two questions:
- Am I making the best use of my time, and
- Have I forgotten anything?
You ensure that both of these questions are handled by two techniques: setting daily priorities and posting future events.
- Setting Daily Priorities: – Setting daily priorities means listing in your diary, at the start of the day, all the things you need to do during the day, and then setting priorities for them. This is more than a simple “to-do list” in that the items on the list are coded in order of importance.
- Build a Priority List: – First, build the list and then set priorities. Do not attempt to assign priorities until you have developed the list and you can determine the relative importance of the items.
One effective method of establishing priorities is an “ABC” system of classification. Once you have built your list, classify each item as A (must be done today), B (should be done today, but can slip), and C (optional). Then examine the A items and set priorities (i.e. A1, A2, etc.)
This planning should take no more than fifteen minutes each day and will yield your daily plan. You can now scan your list for the item with the highest priority and go to work. When you have finished, pull out your list, check off the item you have just completed and then scan for the next highest priority.
The advantage of this system is that you are always working on the most important outstanding item. The exception is meetings to which you have previously committed. They may be lower on your list of priorities than whatever you are doing at the time, but, because others are involved and have made time in their schedules, you cannot normally cancel a meeting because it is less important. However, if your presence is not essential, send your regrets.
As you work through your list, keep track of each item with some form of code. For example, when you complete an item, check it off. If you cancel it, mark it with an X. If it is in progress, you have called someone and left a message, mark it with a circle. If you cannot complete an item-for example, the person you need to speak to is away for three days-mark the event with an arrow and transfer it to the day when the person will be available.
By tracking the items in this way, you will have a snapshot of what you have done and what is outstanding. More important, at the end of the day, especially if it is one of those days that feel unproductive, you can glance at the set of check marks to reassure yourself that you have accomplished things.
- Posting Future Events: – Posting future events means entering actions on your list in advance. It ensures that you will not forget things.
You also post events when you cannot complete an event today. For example, you have called and left a message, but you call has not been returned. Tomorrow, when you are building your list, scan today’s list for unfinished actions and enter them on the new list.
Posting future events also reminds you of larger commitments. If you have agreed to make a presentation to the management committee on the twenty-third and you estimate that you need to start work on it no later than the twenty-first, enter the action in your diary on the twenty-first. Then forget about it. Your diary will remind you of the presentation when it is time. If you need a block of time to work on the presentation, mark it off as an appointment. This will ensure that you leave the time available and will also remind you, when you are filling up the day’s appointments, that you have a major task coming due.
- Managing Issues and Action Items: – How well you manage issues and action items will determine how successful your projects are. Things that “slip through the cracks” are not usually your WBS activities. They are the endless details that arise during the project. Your daily diary is the mechanism by which you handle them.
Issues are documented in the issues log, and action items appear in minutes of meetings. Both carry with them the names of those responsible and dates for resolution. Whenever you update the issues log or prepare (or receive) a set of meeting minutes, transfer all items that have been assigned to you into your diary on the appropriate days. When you plan your list for anyone of the days, those items will automatically be included.
We hope this post helps you in the daily pursuit of making the most from your time.