By: Drew Streitberg, Senior Business Advisor


Recently I attended a 2-day seminar at the Australian Institute of Management for a “Time Management” course. I felt this was rather ironic at the time given the amount of work I currently had sitting in my in-tray (both virtual and physical).

Over the course of the next two days I learnt and in some cases reinforced previous teachings regarding enhanced techniques in effective time management and it had me questioning my daily routine.

I always believed it was difficult to make changes in a workplace because you are simply one cog in a machine and often in any organisation it is the key-decision makers that dictate methodology and/or overrule any new ideas and plans you may wish to instil into the office environment. What I learnt is that challenging old paradigms is not only important but vital if you wish to become more effective with your time.

Personal responsibility. Nearly all change comes from within whether it is the initial willpower to resist a cake brought into the office or get to the gym when we feel flat and unmotivated. Change is self-generated. We can picture the end results but that is somewhat vague and in the future and while we all wish we had a “silver bullet” that would provide us with the result immediately, that is rarely the case in life. We can only control the present and our actions today and this is the same when it comes to time management.

Consider your current day. If it’s anything like mine was than you have a list, probably in your head, of goals you want to achieve in a day. By 9am you’ve already gotten a coffee, chatted with various staff members and usually by 11am been interrupted so many times by emails and queries that your planned day is now in shambles. By 3pm you have finally responded to the seemingly urgent emails both internal and external and by 4pm you find yourself wondering where the day went and frustrated by your own lack of progress.

Overtime often seems like the inevitable solution which then cuts into family time and eventually causes more disharmony in your personal life. Work-life balance? What’s that?

So here are some quick tips to planning an effective day:

  1.     Use a Calendar:

Calendars, especially shared ones, are a great tool because they allow you to plan your day effectively, tailoring it specific to your personal needs.

Plan every day and plan it out in advance. This prevents people filling up your Calendar with events and meetings during times you had planned for other activities. Even if this continues, the person becomes aware of the conflict and it gives you the ability to request a different time slot that is more effective for you.

  1.     Consider how much time a task takes

Do you visit clients? If so, when you book the meeting in your schedule, do you consider only the meeting time or do you consider the travel time? Not only that but you also need to factor in pre-planning activities and post-meeting activities such as email summaries and various administrative duties.

If you sit down and think about this, a one-hour external meeting can effectively translate into a 3-hour period. You need to plan for this at the time you schedule the meeting. Note it all down in your Calendar and your timesheets (if applicable) so people are aware how much “real” time a meeting might take.

By doing this you can ensure you aren’t shuffling around other activities on-the-fly because you forgot to factor in these other time-consuming but essential activities.

  1.     Energy Levels

When are you most alert? No, I don’t mean the five minutes after you’ve consumed a coffee but when are your energy levels highest and how are you currently spending those periods?

Personally, I am most “awake” between 9am and 11am and then again between about 1pm to 3pm. It’s not a coincidence that this occurs after meals.

Previously I was spending this precious time focusing on relatively unimportant emails and non-core administrative tasks.

Find out when your energy levels are highest and block out those periods in your calendar as “core time”.

What do I mean by “core time”? It’s the time spent on your core duties and responsibilities. The big projects you are responsible for.

This is the best time to focus on such tasks as they often require the most brain-power and focus. When your energy levels are at their highest is the perfect time to do them. This time is precious so don’t waste it!

  1.     Stop checking emails

Hard, isn’t it? We all have that nagging, gnawing feeling when we don’t but that is a habit which can be and needs to be broken.

Allocate time to both check your emails and another time to respond.

In today’s “instant gratification” society we feel pressured to act on an email as soon as we receive it but consider this: In the time before the internet how did all this occur? Often by post and we had a couple of days to wait to receive a request and a couple of days to respond and a couple more days before the client received it.

It’s important to remember that virtually no email is that important that you must drop everything right this instant and respond to it. Someone might expect that but it nearly always isn’t justifiable and by responding in kind you are unconsciously telling someone that your time isn’t important and reinforcing your constant availability. This becomes a self-fulfilling stressful prophecy when every customer or client is conditioned to this response.

I’ve picked 2 times in the day to check my emails. The first is towards lunch and after my “core-time” as my energy levels start to wane. I put a 30-minute block in my Calendar each day for this activity so I can check emails, respond to quick/easy ones and note down the ones that require a response for later. The second block is at the end of the day, again after my core time and when I am winding down. I can now focus on emails that require a response within 24 hours and/or plan for responses that might take more time.

It’s also good practice at this stage to email the customer/client back and let them know you have received their email and will be attending it shortly. Depending upon the mail server you use, you can make this an automated response thereby saving you more time.

Don’t forget to turn off your message alerts! No one needs that reminder, it’s like waving a cigarette in front of someone who recently quit smoking.

  1.     Designate times for staff

Don’t want to be interrupted during a busy period? Don’t be! It is your choice but you must change the internal culture and be firm with staff.

By designating a time where staff can interact with you regarding issues they may have assists you by allowing you to focus on your own projects during core times and it also still shows you are available for staff’s needs.

Consider the University Professor? They have available times for students to come and see them. No one drops in on them unannounced. This is the strategy you need to implement and yes it may be awkward and confronting at first but by reinforcing this it achieves effectiveness in your day and illustrates that your time is valuable.

I have scheduled a time that is about 3:30pm for half an hour each day, it’s after I’ve had a mid-afternoon coffee and before anyone leaves for the day so everyone can speak to me. I can assist with queries at this point and they can continue with their work afterwards and/or schedule it for the next day.

You will also find that a lot of queries people have can be answered with a bit of personal investigation and I would implore everyone to challenge staff to think before they ask. I will actively ask staff what their opinion on an issue is before I answer it because by doing this you will challenge people to research issues for themselves and eliminate at least half the queries you often receive (because most people can work issues out for themselves, it’s just that it is easier to ask then to research).

This also empowers your staff to be autonomous and formulate research strategies. Heaven forbid they have a query when you are on holidays!

In summary, by effectively planning your day, using the tools available to you and standing firm on your new strategy, you will find yourself less rushed, finalising your projects in a timely manner and eliminating inefficiencies bred into us by a “now” society.

Most of us are familiar with the Albert Einstein quote “Insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Maybe it’s time to consider a change?