Balancing Time and Workload
- 1 Introduction
- 2 A Balanced Life
- 3 Determining Priorities
- 4 Organising Tasks
- 5 Scheduling and Documenting Tasks
- 6 Completing a Task
- 7 Managing Your Energy, Not Your Time
- 8 Self Reflection
- 9 Productivity Derailers
- 10 Conclusion
- 11 References
Time management is a useful skill. In today's busy lives with constant communication and multiple digital distractions, managing your time can allow you to be most productive and prevent excess stress and burnout. There are a variety of time management strategies and tools and using them in a combination is potentially the best way to achieve optimal time management success.
A Balanced Life
Ziglar (2012) describes life as a wheel with seven spokes. Each spoke makes up an essential part of life. Being successful in each spoke will allow you to live a balanced and successful life. Each spoke is connected. They can work with or against each other, depending on how the wheel is balanced.
The Seven Spokes
Before you can decide on how to spend your time, you first need to determine what is important. There are several models to assess the importance and urgency of a task.
Eisenhower and Covey Matrix
- Urgent and important- immediate and important deadlines
- Not urgent and important- long term planning and development
- Urgent but not important- immediate distraction
- Not urgent, not important- unnecessary tasks
Tasks should be scheduled according to where they fit in the quadrants and prioritised as such.
The difference between Covey and Eisenhower is that Eisenhower viewed quadrant 4 as a complete time-waster and all activities there should be eliminated. Whereas Covey believes that quadrant 4 may contain some of the "fun" aspects of life and should be retained as a way to recharge and refresh.
"The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80-20 rule) states that: for many phenomena about 80% of the consequences are produced by 20% of the causes."
More than a century ago, Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, noticed that 20% of the population owned 80% of the land. It was from this observation that the 80-20 rule was born. It has since, been applied to many aspects of life; for instance, 20% of your customers bring in 80% of your revenue.
If you had 10 tasks to complete, often just 1 or 2 of those tasks will provide 5 to 10 times more value than the other 8 or 9 tasks. Determining those critical tasks that contribute to 80% of your outcome can help you maximise your work and output potential. Interestingly those key tasks are often what people end up procrastinating on and prioritising them and possibly delegating the others may be helpful to manage your time effectively.The 80-20 rule does not apply in every situation in life and should be used with caution. One example in health comes from a recent study exploring whether or not the cost distribution of total hip arthroplasty and total knee arthroplasty follows the Pareto Principle and the authors concluded that it did not. They found that it is more effective to focus on the overall patient population, rather than targeting the most costly patients (i.e. the costliest 20 percent).
Pickle Jar Theory
The Pickle Jar Theory views life as pickle jar filled with rocks (the most important tasks), pebbles (daily tasks with average importance) and sand (unimportant tasks such as phone calls and social media notifications). Filling the jar with sand first may leave some space for the pebbles but no room for the important rocks. However, by first placing the rocks then the pebbles, this will allow the sand to slowly filter between everything, filling the pickle jar. Essentially, this theory is based on a scale of preference where all activities are arranged in order of priority.The pickle jar theory advises only to schedule tasks with high priority, and the gaps will be filled with less important activities and even leisure activities.
Once the "big rocks" or important tasks have been determined it is easy to organise these tasks.
"The essence of management is the ability to accomplish tasks through others".
Delegation is beneficial for any tasks that fall into the not important category. Time is a limited resource, and it is often best to spend your time on tasks that only you can do and delegate other tasks that someone else can do equally as well.
Delegation is a skill that is very valuable in organisations and managerial teams. It lessens the load on higher-level managers and creates a feeling of empowerment for lower-level employees. Proper delegation is extremely useful, but there may be some risks involved. If the delegated task is performed poorly, the leader is still responsible for this task, and this can reflect poorly on them. Knowing who best to delegate a task to, and when to delegate that task, is an essential attribute in a leader.
A delegation plan can help to ensure success in the delegation process. Having a clear definition of the task, identifying the appropriate individual to complete the task and providing them with specifics on how to complete it are a good way to start. As they complete the task, it is important that they feel supported and that they have a safety net. The next step as a leader is to let go and let the person continue with the task but always be available for mentorship and advice. Finally, once the task has been completed, appreciating and giving credit is a great way to foster a strong team spirit. If unfortunately the task was completed poorly or there was a negative outcome from the task, it is important to take responsibility as a leader and provide feedback and support for the person who possibly underperformed.
Defer or Incubation
Sometimes you can become overwhelmed by a project or task, and the best thing to do in that situation is taking a step back from it. This time away from the project can be beneficial as it allows your subconscious to process information that you have assimilated. For incubation to occur, it is important that the task being performed while taking a "break" is relatively undemanding and allows the mind to wander. It seems that distraction can actually facilitate creativity and taking a break can improve problem-solving.
Scheduling and Documenting Tasks
There are many tools to schedule and document tasks. Manual tools such as paper diaries and notebooks are still widely used. There are also several apps and electronic solutions to manage to-do lists, calendar management and time tracking.
Completing a Task
2 minute Rule
If a task takes less than 2 minutes to complete, than just do it immediately. The amount of time it would take to schedule it would be more than the time it takes to complete it immediately.
The Pomodoro technique consists of 5 stages
- Planning at the start of the day to decide on the day's activities
- Tracking throughout the day to gather data on the effort expended and other metrics of interest
- Recording at the end of the day to compile an archive of daily observations
- Processing at the end of the day to transform raw data into information
- Visualising at the end of the day to present the information in a format that facilitates understanding and clarifies paths to improvement
It is so named because of the use of a Pomodoro kitchen timer. A to-do list is created, and the timer is used in 25 minutes of pure work and a 5-minute break. The 25 minutes cannot have any distractions or deviations from the task at hand. It is advised to keep to the timing of 25-on 5-off very strictly, even if you feel like you need a few more minutes to complete a task. The short break from the task will help you to come back and tackle the next 25 minutes with optimal productivity. The 5-minute break is not meant to be for answering emails or talking about work to colleagues. It is intended to be a moment of disconnect that can involve things such as deep breathing, a short walk or stretching. After each pomodoro, you make a mark next to your to-do list, and this allows you to, at the end of the day, track the time spent on a specific task.
After every 4 Pomodoro's (20 minutes) you take a longer break of 15-30 minutesThe Pomodoro technique is simple and easy to use. It may not always be practical as its focus is on eliminating distractions which for example, in a busy medical reception may not be possible.
As human beings we, unlike a computer or machine, are unable to work consistently each and every hour of the day.
Josh Davis describes 5 strategies to create optimal conditions for 2 awesome hours of effectiveness. It does not necessarily have to be 2 hours but rather the principle of using your time in an optimal energy maximising way.
- Recognise decision points
- Changing what you are doing mid-task is often difficult, so try and plan what you will be doing and what is most important
- Manage your mental energy
- Some tasks require more mental energy than others. Try to do tasks that require more focus around times when you have the most energy
- Stop fighting distractions
- It is a natural survival instinct for our brains to wander. Try to remove any unnecessary distractions and learn to work with your brain as it wanders
- Leverage your mind- body connection
- Look after your body with adequate nutrition, exercise and sleep
- Make your workspace work for you
- Recognise environments that encourage thinking and working versus environments that discourage and distract
Managing Your Energy, Not Your Time
"The core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story."
Tony Schwarts and Catherine McCarthy describe that energy comes from 4 aspects within people, the body, the emotions, the mind and the spirit. Depleted energy in any of these 4 areas will result in poor performance, stress and burnout. By focusing on techniques to renew each energy source, the person can "recharge" themselves so they have the energy to perform at their maximal capabilities.
Self reflection is important at the end of any process. It is the opportunity to examine one's emotions, beliefs, experience, thoughts and actions. It provides a learning opportunity for areas of strength and weakness, where to build and what to change. Self reflection allows one to critically evaluate any process to determine whether to continue on the current path or to make crucial changes to ensure success. In the healthcare setting, it is believed that self-reflection, as well as personality assessment, can provide healthcare workers an opportunity to enhance their leadership skills.
Distractions and Interruptions
Social media, email, cellphone notifications. While the digital age has given us so much, it has also provided an immense distraction. Filtering these distractions is helpful to increase productivity. App and website blockers have been shown to be effective in increasing productivity and focus .
Multitasking occurs all the time. Multitasking can be concurrent where 2 or more tasks are performed at the same time or it can be interleaved where one switches between tasks. Multitasking can also be voluntary where the person doing the multitasking decides when to change from task to task or from an external prompt. Research has shown that all types of multi-tasking result in increased time for task completion. Sometimes up to 34% slower. There is also a decrease in accuracy and an increase in error rate.
Procrastination means "to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse-off for the delay,"
Procrastination is not considered to be a pathological psychiatric condition but it is important to determine if the individual's procrastination is resulting in distress, anxiety, interpersonal problems or depression. There are various theories for why people procrastinate. Some people procrastinate because they think they will perform a task better at the last minute or later down the line. Another school of thinking is people procrastinate because they are fearful of the outcome of a task or of the task itself or they are simply unsure if they have the capabilities to complete the task at all.
70% of students tend to procrastinate and about 20% of adults. Procrastination has been shown to have adverse effects on academic outcomes, productivity and causes a person to be hindered reaching their potential.
Time Management is a skill that can be learnt, developed and improved upon. There are a variety of different methods, models and theories and it is important for an individual to choose which method works best for them.
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