In their book The Time Trap, authors Alec Mackenzie and Pat Nickerson begin with a reminder that we all have the same 1,440 minutes daily. That means all human beings, including Noah of Biblical fame. The authors ask, “Noah’s advantage? His team got a precise deadline, clear consequences, and detailed instructions from a Higher Authority on exactly when and how to proceed.”
In that short sentence, you have the essentials of what it takes to create effective time management strategies: Predicting when, knowing why, understanding how, and identifying who. Let’s start with identifying who wants the project.
We all have a tendency to respond quickly to people whom we like and to projects that pique our curiosity. The tendency toward personal preferences can hurt in time management because it’s critical to be aware of how the person making the request can affect our job situation. We don’t know whether God inspired Noah or frightened him into building the ark in record time, but we do know that whether a boss inspires or frightens, he or she should receive our immediate attention.
Wise people tell you not to assume anything, but assume this: Projects take longer than expected. With that in mind, use a combination of a military approach to time management with what you know about standard lead times.
First, the military relies on the concept of backplanning as a starting point for scheduling activities. So begin by asking the question: When does this need to be done? (If you’re Noah, “When is the Flood coming?”) Then, examine how long it usually takes to get this kind of project done. “Usually” is a flimsy term, so be sure to put it into context: Usually for you, usually for your team, usually for the company, usually for your industry.
Even if God is your boss and you know when the Flood is coming, if you don’t grasp the significance of your work, your timetable for completion will not hit on you at a cellular level. In other words, it’s important that you understand the significance of the job in order to make sure it gets done on time.
Get clarity on the reason why your project makes a difference to your team, your department, or your company. Even if the reason strikes you as lame, at least you understand why someone else in a decision-making role thinks what you are doing has meaning.
In project management, the Triple Constraints are budget, time, and performance. So don’t just focus on getting something done within an established timeframe. Also, be sure to answer the questions of “how,” that is, precise funding requirements and what constitutes a high quality outcome. They will affect your time management strategies.
Day to day, if you looked at your work life as a series of projects—and thought of your projects as important as Noah’s Ark—you would be mentally prepared to create and implement remarkable time management strategies.
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