‘Anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organisation, preparation and action’
– David Kekich
This will take you about five minutes, ten seconds to read. You can’t manage time – you can only manage yourself. This simple axiom is as true today as when I first heard it years ago. It speaks to truth. Like most of you, I have sometimes felt in the groove; focused and organised. At my best, I am productive and happy. At my worst, I have been as effective as a chocolate teapot; not useful, ineffective – yet strangely, more stressed. So, what was the difference?
It all comes down to our habit and routines. The researcher Charles Duhigg, in his classic book ‘Habit’ describes habits as simple learnt responses and if we want to get better at anything, we need challenge ourselves to change them. If we are bad at managing ourselves, it is often because we have learnt that it is easier to suffer being disorganised (which is why we stress though we are not productive) – rather than take some discomfort now and become more organised.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with two quite distinct and very interesting communities over the past few years. The first group is a mix of ambitious 18-21-year old undergraduates, studying for their Business Degrees, where I have been teaching principles of marketing, innovation and planning. The other, has been a variety of management teams, agencies and marketing professionals – many well into their careers, helping them to plan and re-organise.
Whilst at first appearing so very different I have seen a common thread. Whilst ineffectiveness poor performance can come in many forms, the happiest and most successful people – from young students to experienced executives, share something.
Regardless of skills and smarts, is that ability to self-manage, self-organise; to focus and just get things done that makes people productive and happy. Strangely, in a world of management guru abundance and business model proliferation, the ability to manage oneself is often the last thing on the curriculum or the to-do list and yet this is so often the real key to being productive. So, what methods really work? And how can you encourage a culture of self-management in your business or team but avoid too much psychology profiling, endless project meetings and clock watching angst? There are ways for managing yourself better.
Three Steps To Managing Yourself Better
1 – Audit Yourself:
The hard bit comes first. You need to audit yourself. Everything; your routines, environment, platforms, how you use your laptop, phone and notes. Yes, it is tough. It is about getting a grip, before you’re Getting Things Done – the title of David Allen’s masterpiece on improving productivity and removing stress. One of the key elements of his approach is the start, the ‘capturing and corralling’ of all that ‘stuff’.
This isn’t fun and it isn’t pretty. This requires a commitment to really auditing and clarifying your environment, your tools, methods and communications. It means thinking about your home routines, your commute, your system and work-flow. Realistically, it’s a 2-3-day job but be warned: Allen’s dictum has been followed by executives and professionals worldwide but it is not for the faint-hearted. It means reviewing your laptop, your desk, email management, calendar, social media accounts, bills, banking, reading, note books. Yes, it means everything. What is the work you need to do? What is all this ‘stuff’ for? Is the stuff really helping you to get things done? The heart of Allen’s approach is treating everything as a project, or sub-project and a commitment to lists, folders, action. De-clutter the mind. Cut out the unnecessary. It’s tough. But if you’re up for it this, Allen’s approach is a very good place to start.
2 – Book Your Golden Hour.
Whilst an Allen type auditing and ‘corral’ is a good foundation it is not something to do every day. It sets something to build upon. The next method that I have seen work consistently, for successful teams and individuals – is the Golden Hour, a term originally coined by sales guru Brian Tracey but since adapted and used by many more.
The Golden Hour is a daily habit before the day’s work begins; a quiet space, for a set 20-60 minutes (the ‘hour’ is conceptual not a chronograph) – for you (and you alone) to manage yourself; your purpose, your schedule, objectives, calls to make, emails, contracts, briefs and deadlines. It is a simple coffee appointment with you.
Your Golden Hour leads you to construct your daily plan, broken down into a morning and afternoon. You can group tasks, park things that are unimportant and make things ‘other people’s problems’ by focusing on what you can task to others. As a positive habit, the sheer simplicity and power of Golden Hour is unbeatable.
3 – Set A Pomodoro:
A final step in managing ourselves better is to narrow down to specific activity in the moment. Really, really – in the moment. What are you doing in the next 15-20 minutes?
To do this better I recommend Pomodoro. The Pomodoro philosophy (originally created by Francesco Cirrello but modified and used by many fans of agile project management) suggests that we are all at our most productive working in short cycles (‘Pomodiri’) and thus the connection to the tomato-shaped-kitchen timer after which it is named. Rather than aiming for maximum output for hours on end, Pomodoro sets 15-20-minute of focused bursts, followed by timed breaks, followed by re-assessment of tasks, leading to the next 2-3 cycles. It is simple but very powerful and one of the techniques that students and executives comment upon most. Pomodoro is a natural accompaniment to Golden Hour; the former setting up your focus for the morning and afternoon, the latter for managing the work cycles.
So, there you have it. We cannot manage time, only ourselves and so much of that comes down to our habits.
Could you commit to that audit, corralling and capturing of ‘stuff?’ Or perhaps you can book that quiet Golden Hour coffee meeting with yourself, starting tomorrow morning? Or maybe your team could adopt a Pomodoro routine?
We become what we do.
And most of what we do, is habit.