Time management is important. If your job is to manage people, projects or get things done, you probably should make sure you manage your time well. I could tell you about project management methodologies, about Agile, but I would risk confusing the matter. There is another way to look at this, very pragmatically.
You could ask yourself: “How do I make sure I get things done, while maximizing my time?”
Why is time management important?
After all, you are working everyday. Things move forward. Why do I need to do anything special?
There are many good reasons. A reminder first, time is a very limited resource. You should treat it as such. Your working time has a value, salary or business income, it is very quantifiable. Your non working time with friends or family is very valuable if not more important in many ways. Therefore, accept that you should be efficient with your time, in order to allocate it more where you want to.
There are many other reasons time management is important.
Keeping it simple, keeping you focused
Maybe you are already using a project management framework in your business. If not, you probably should, as it tends to make people and businesses more successful.
If not, I would recommend this simple method, the core of Agile Productivity Management. Do not worry though, no need to spend countless hours in seminars, courses, and with difficult tools to implement it. Managing your time and goals should be realistic and simple.
The core ideas are very easy to follow. It is about keeping it simple and keeping you focused.
No need for complex agile project management like Scrum, or WBS and Waterfall either. If you already master those, well, you are probably not reading this article since time management should already be on your radar. Still, this simple approach with Agile Productivity could be interesting.
It is all about tasks, remember?
I like to remember that achieve goals, completing and delivering projects, are in fact, about tasks. Tasks are the actual actions. These should be the focus. These are what you should care about most of the day. Projects are just containers for tasks in Agile Productivity, nothing more. Even when adjusting projects’ priorities, the goal and actual result is to influence tasks, and only tasks.
Accepting tasks (from yourself or others)
And the first thing about task is to control them. The first step in this control is to accept or refuse a task. When someone assigns a task to you, or you create a task for yourself, you should accept it before proceeding further.
What does it mean “accept the task”? It means that you should treat every task as a mini-project.
Always classify tasks, using the Eisenhower matrix
Now that we know it is all about tasks, it is possible to focus on them. Now that you accepted all your tasks, another important step is to classify them. Do it as you add tasks to your list, and later, as you evaluate progress and priorities. In Agile Productivity, you would want to simply classify tasks as Soon or Later. This is similar to using the Eisenhower matrix’s Do or Schedule. The tasks you want to delegate become the tasks “soon” or “later” of somebody else, and temporarily outside your own matrix (well, it sits in the bottom left corner as Delegate).
You do this as you write down new tasks into your projects. You may activate tasks you marked “later” at any point in time. They may need to wait for a specific date or simply require other tasks to complete first. The idea is to classify them and focus mostly on the “soon / now” tasks.
This achieves two important goals already.
Once a day, review projects and tasks priorities
I recommend to have a time set aside to review all your active projects and tasks. It could be at the beginning of your day, everyday. Some organizations like to have a brief team meeting for this purpose. Communication is an excellent idea, as long as these meetings are very short. They should be an opportunity to quickly assess what happened the day before, or the week before, and what the team is dealing with. If you are not part of a team, or your team does not want to have these daily meetings, it is perfectly fine. Agile Productivity is not about ceremony like other methods. It is about efficiency as it is rooted in Lean Project Management. You should not waste time in meetings if they bring nothing.
During a meeting or by yourself, reviewing your current state, your stack or backlog of tasks and projects, is crucial. You want to be aware of what you are working on, AND, sometimes more importantly, what you are NOT working on… because maybe you should. This is the time to assess the situation, not later during the day when you are in deep focus.
You should also prioritize.
I see two levels of prioritization.
During the day, deep focus on tasks
Now that you have the list of your tasks for the day, you can pick up anyone of them. I try to follow priorities, but not strictly. Sometimes it is more efficient to batch similar tasks, from various projects, together. Batching is a very powerful productivity hack; use it whenever you can. Another important hack is to have documented processes, instead of relying solely on your memory and routine.
I also recommend the Pomodoro method. The technique, typically uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. I do not use a timer. I typically use a time box of 30 to 60 minutes. Importantly, during this period I also cut all distractions. I do not check emails, web or anything but working on the task.
More often than not, it allows me to get into deep focus. Some call this also flow. It is a state where your entire mind is focused on achieving your goal. The lack of distraction allows creative thinking and increased efficiency.
Of course, Pomodoro is optional. What is more important in Agile Productivity is to avoid multitasking at all cost, instead work on your tasks in sequence and without distraction.
Delegate, monitor others when applicable
During the day, from time to time, after a completed time box, I like to review progress on tasks I delegated. When a task is completed, I take the time to quickly assess if I can approve it right away, or if it should wait for the next morning review.
Communicate clearly about progress to your clients or stakeholders
I typically keep one or two Pomodoro time box to communicate with my projects’ sponsors. Here, a sponsor may be a client or any person involved in ordering, defining and eventually accepting delivery for the project.
Just like I want to accept tasks, I also want to accept projects and every change or adjustment once started. We are a fully Agile shop. This means we entirely accept that things change, projects do see change of scope or requirements after we start work on them.
Communication is about managing expectations, negotiating, and making sure sponsors know what we will deliver in the end.
This back and forth, and the negotiation of change requests, are beyond this article. What matters is the idea that project management is about managing risk and managing people, more than managing tasks. Your communication is to support these goals. Again, this could be a separate article, and it will be.
Good time management will obviously improve your efficiency. This easily translates into better profitability and more freedom to allocate your efforts where it matters most.
If you only use the principles I highlighted with pen and paper, post-it notes or Excel, they will help you get to the next level. Some apps and tools can help you with this kind of Agile Productivity. Use them if you can. It will bring structure and accountability to your efforts.
In my experience, and the data backs this up, using tools designed for good time management will yield even more results.
Ready to learn more?
What is the Agile Productivity methodology (a Scrumban variant) ?
What is Kanban methodology ? APM is a variation of Scrumban and Kanban.
Want to know more about Scrum: Introduction to Scrum and Scrumban free e-book