One of the key principles for success, in just about anything, is measuring. Simply tracking achievements against estimates. Knowing what you’ve done helps you to make better decisions going forward. And the same is true for how and when you get things done. Adding your tasks to a list or system and ticking them off when their done is great for the “doing”, but won’t help you do more and work smarter.
Becoming more productive is to become more efficient. Efficiencies can be gained in a whole host of ways. Technology and productivity applications are just this. They are ways to help us become more efficient and managing what we need to do. Out of office auto reply emails are another way to help us become more efficient – we don’t need to actually respond to every email saying we can’t respond right now, the process is automated, freeing us up to do other things.
Howeve, often we attempt to increase efficiency and without knowing, whatever has been put in place has actually created less efficiency. This could be in the form of more time taken to manage a task list, more time responding to emails, or more time overdoing a task.
The only way to really know what is efficient for you – and it will be different for everyone – is to track, record, and measure. Start with the basics, a spreadsheet. And yes, this does require a little bit of setup to get started (decreasing efficiency), but the outcome is very valuable. Open a new spreadsheet and enter the following column headers:
- Estimated Time
- Start Time
- End Time
- Actual Time
Whenever you pick something off your list to do, quickly add it into a new row in the Task column, enter how long you think the task will take, in hours, in the Estimated Time column and the current time in the Start Time column. Now work through the task. As soon as you finish the task, note the time and enter it in the End Time column. While doing the task be sure to note, in a tally format on a piece of paper, the number of times you are interrupted. This includes checking emails, getting distracted by Facebook or twitter, and whenever someone approaches you with a question.
Add into the Actual Time the following formula
Add into the Delta column, the following formula
If you estimated more time than the task actually too, then the value in the Delta field will be positive, otherwise it will be negative. The goal here is to end up estimating time for a task that is as close to the actual time without being less than the actual time.
But why do all this? After a while you will begin to see trends. You may work faster on some days. You may encounter more interruptions on others. Ultimately, you want to be able track the number of interruptions you encounter so you can work on minimising them. And you also want to be able to better plan ahead. If you can more accurately allocate time in your calendar each week for your upcoming priorities, then you will be able to fit more into your calendar, you’ll be more focused and as a result you will feel more satisfied than if you end your week with a number of actions still outstanding.
Also, many tasks can be collected into a type of task. You could add a Type column to the spreadsheet and after some time you will easily be able to predict how long activities of each type will take to complete. Writing a proposal (type = proposal) will generally take the same amount of time, regardless of who it’s for. As will creating a PowerPoint presentation (type = slides). Of course, there will occasionally be an outlier, some activity which doesn’t fit the rules. But that’s ok. Outliers tend to be fairly predictable. You can tell when something is going to take a significantly longer amount of time. Perhaps creating additional Type values for these.
By knowing and measuring how you work, how accurately you are allocating time to get things done and how many distractions you encounter, you will be in a much better position to manage your calendar, set the expectations of others and minimise interruptions, so you can do more, faster.
Download a copy of the spreadsheet above with the formulas already filled.