Coaching for the day – some basic time management skills

Most folks will tell you they are woefully short on resources, with way too many requests / tasks / todos coming their way. It’s seems to be a tough thing for folks to Just Say No to all the ad hoc requests that come their way. Same thing goes for the mythical “written requirements” for programming / technical requests; it is much easier for folks to wave their hands and describe what they need, and it’s generally easier to listen than it is to insist on written specs.

This becomes an unsustainable way to manage your work time – never seem to get anything done, and the interruptions are quite costly. Some key tactics that I recommend, leveraging Outlook / your company’s calendaring system:

  1. Set up scheduled time to review requests / requirements – a meeting invitation, location, and agenda. Now, all involved can plan for a solid 30-60 minutes of thought and review, not a hurried conversation in the cube / hallway.
  2. Block out work time for other projects – uninterrupted stretches of quality concentration time can skyrocket your productivity. If you don’t take ad hoc meetings, just ask folks to set up time to chat about other issues (see 1. above), then you can get the concentration / quality time that you need.
  3. 60/40 rule – literally schedule 60% of your day for maintenance / quick hit work, and 40% for project work (or whatever mix you like). This allows you to make progress on the “investment” work while also covering your maintenance / operational bases
  4. Schedule maintenance processes (file upload / download, audits, batch processes, etc.), and don’t deal with them ad-hoc. Concentrate your grunt work, do it when you are closing up for the day or getting ready to go to lunch and need a quick 15 minute task to fill some time.

I had these conversations today with one of our techie groups, and you could see the lights go on. Even I read lists / hints like this every day in the various blogs / trade rags / newspapers out there, it’s the kind of knowledge that is obvious once it’s pointed out to you.

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.