Top Tips for Improving Return on Time

We have all head the response ‘sorry I ran out of time’ when being let down by someone who had indicates they would do something and then failed to deliver. This can be really annoying as we all know what is actually being said is that ‘sorry I had more important things to do’. In this short article I explore some top tips for improving your ROT – return on time invested in order to help you get the best from yourself and those that you work with.

Understand Time – You are given 168 hours each week, there will come a week when you are not, but until that time….…..Here’s a suggestion, make a time’ balance sheet’ at the start of the week. Before the week starts estimate how long you willrelaxing in a rowing boat spend on each activity you plan to do and then, for a few weeks at least, track how long you spend actually doing each activity and compare this to your estimate. This will sharpen your perspective on time and will teach you how long things actually take. The other insight this will probably teach you is that you have personal control over less time than you think you have as others grab your time for their own needs. The first step in better time management is to gain control over a bigger percentage of your time, then use it wisely.

Filter Tasks – Research consistently shows that people who make lists are more productive than people who do not.I tend to think a list creates an illusion of control and a great build by Stephen Covey, on a simple list of things to do is to filter the list into 4 quadrants using ‘urgency’ and ‘importance’ as the vertical and horizontal axis. Quadrant 1 the urgent and important tasks are usually front of mind and should be prioritised in order of pleasure; doing the least pleasurable task first to get it out of the way saving the most pleasurable (relative to the other tasks) as something to look forward to. This also has the advantage of making you time efficient as you know you cannot spend too long doing this task as you have others to tackle. If you leave the least pleasurable task to last then it is amazing how long the other tasks can take to put-off having to do the least pleasurable task. Quadrant 2 the less urgent but important tasks should be tackled in the same way as Quadrant 3 the less important but urgent. They can be used to fill in when the Quadrant 1 tasks are becoming a bit too dull to do!

Remove Clutter – We spend a huge amount of time looking for things and for information. It is really worthwhile establishing habits for filing or labelling information so you can retrieve it easily. Now that we are all digitally enabled and have access to vast quantities of information it is imperative that you invest time in understanding how to use the search facilities in the software tools you use. Getting familiar with this functionality can save huge amounts of time. For physical things, like your car keys, establishing a habit of always putting them in the same place can deliver big benefits. Having a place for everything and everything in its place will reduce frustration and save lots of otherwise wasted time. A clean and tidy work space can boost productivity so think about how your work space is laid out and make it easy and pleasurable to work in.

Meetings – The single biggest ‘time thief’ in most people’s working week are the meetings we all have to attend. Having clarity of purpose and a well-designed process for each agenda item can dramatically improve meeting efficiency. Interpersonal skills such as listening, asking good questions and summarising well can all make a big impact on the time efficiency in meetings. For established, routine and regular meetings this is more about breaking habits than it is about knowledge. Most people ‘know’ how to run a great meeting but often do not ‘do’ what is required to make a meeting work well.

Pest Control – We all experience interruptions and unplanned disturbances in our day. Be aware of how frequently you get disturbed and develop polite but firm methods of dealing with these distractions. This is about control and you need to control as much of your own time as you can. Tactics such as standing up when people ask you for a minute of your time, standing up when a phone call interrupts your focus time, switching mobiles to silent and removing the incoming email alert from your phone and computer can all help you gain some control over interruptions.

Pre-play and Re-play. The process of running through the day ahead in your mind before it starts is pre-play. When you do this make sure you run a positive ‘tape’ one that makes you look forward to the day and envisages it going well as this sensitises the brain to look for pleasure in the day. If you run a negative tape of the day then the brain will find all the things that confirm to you that today is not going to be a great day. Re-play is when you revisit the day before you go to sleep at night – again run a positive ‘tape’ in your mind it will help you sleep as opposed to a negative tape that will cause you to worry, disturb your subconscious and make for a poor night’s sleep.

Time clockTime Duelling. This is the ability to do 2 things at the same time. This can be planned – such as knowing you have a 2 hour train journey in the week so you can work on a report or read some papers in this slot or unplanned such as running into a traffic jam and having a 30’ unscheduled interruption to your day. In the unplanned interruption have something to fall back on that is useful to do or award yourself a treat to stave off frustration – for example switch on a podcast, pick up a favourite book, read the newspaper, listen to music etc. Avoid getting frustrated about things you can do nothing about. Doing your emails in a meeting is not time duelling, it is rude! If you are not needed in the meeting then leave, if you are then be present in both mind and body!

Implementing these insights will give you the best chance of getting a great return on the time you invest and make your efforts and enthusiasm feel worthwhile.  If you have enjoyed this article you can get more for tips on how to maximise Return on Investment (ROI) and Return on Energy  (ROE) by emailing: