“I just can’t find the time!”
Spend some time with almost anyone—an administrator, teachers, mothers and fathers, people in general—and that is the number one woe. There isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. Without a doubt, time is our most precious commodity. How we use our time, therefore, should be a thoughtful process.
When people share that concern, I ask them a simple question.
“If I told you that if you completed this task on time or if you incorporated this practice into your daily routine, you would get a $10,000 bonus, would you get it done? Most people answer, “Yes.” If that is the case, we then agree it is a matter of motivation, not time! So the question is if you are motivated, what are some strategies you can use to make best use of your time?
Be clear on what has to be done
Years ago, there was a company that was switching over from one software platform to a newer, more expansive software platform. The company executives and the software engineers spent hours going over what the software had to do—what the information needs of the company were. After months of development, the day finally arrived for installation of the new software. The engineers arrived. As they began to upload the new program they discovered the company’s operating system couldn’t “talk” to the new software. They were incompatible. It wasn’t the number of hours spent in sharing information and planning that was ultimately important. It was in identifying WHAT should be shared—providing clear, concise and essential information.
Whether you are setting up a project for yourself or assigning a project to a team, sharing clear and concise expectations is essential. Take the time to identify the end goal and then reverse engineer to help outline how to arrive at the goal and how best to share that information.
Avoid wordiness. Have you ever written a grant? There is often a limit on the number of words you can use. My first drafts always surpass that number and my first reaction is, “There is nothing to cut.” Faced with editing or not submitting, it is amazing how much fat you find in your writing.
Try that strategy when you are assigning a task. Write a first draft and then see where the fat is, where the unnecessary information is. Here is a good rule. If you remove something and the description still makes sense, then maybe it is not needed. Invite people to review your instructions. See if they understand what is supposed to be done. Quiz them and see if they can answer your questions. The more concise and clear you can be, the less the chance you will confuse the team.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Often when we are approaching a task, our knee-jerk reaction is to assess the problem and then begin addressing the solution. What if we placed a step in-between assessing and responding? What if we had access to a log of issues and problems we had addressed in the past, as well as solutions that worked or didn’t work? If we didn’t have to start from scratch or better yet, already has field-proven strategy or solution, wouldn’t that be a time saver?
Keeping a journal is a great way of documenting issues, challenges, solutions, etc. It is data. Journals are not just about writing entries. It is also about reflecting on your actions, evaluating those actions, identifying patterns of errors and success.
Often, the same problems or challenges present themselves in some form or other more than once. Before, you begin creating a solution, check your journal. Either you will find a solution that worked or one that didn’t. In the first case, you can replicate the success without re-creating something. In the other case, you won’t repeat something that wasn’t success. Either way, you save time.
Organizations of any kind can be complex to run. Today’s technology can create a glut of information that can confuse rather than clarify. We get lost in the plethora of details. The result is we find it hard to relay information to others (or to absorb the information ourselves) in a consistent and understandable manner.
In “The Checklist Manifesto” author and surgeon, Atul Gawande, explains how checklists “have made possible some of the most difficult things people do-from flying airplanes to building skyscrapers of mind-boggling sophistication.” Creating checklist not only ensures that essential information and action items are identified and documented, but in doing so helps people avoid pitfalls and mistakes that cost us time.
It may take a few renditions to get your checklists right, but the time spent upfront pays off down the road. Once established, processes become institutionalized. They spell out exactly what needs to be done and in what order. Like the journal they are data and the use of them generates data. At the end of a year (or whatever period of time is appropriate) you and your team can assess how the checklist functioned—did it deliver the outcomes you expected? Can it be tweaked? Should it be tweaked? Like most good tools, checklists are not stagnant. They are works in progress that will help you be more efficient and effective when they are used and monitored.
Time is an issue, of course. Identifying that we don’t have enough time is not a solution. The challenge is how we can maximize the time we do have. Try these three strategies and see the difference they make.