Many of us will recognise this story if we struggle with time management.
We have a great idea. Excitedly, we make a start on it with a few manic hours of activity. Things are moving along and looking good. The activity feels energising and satisfying.
Then the real world intervenes. We have to move onto other tasks and then, despite our best efforts, we don’t manage to come back to it for a number of weeks or months. By the time we come back to it the excitement has gone out of us and the project doesn’t get picked up again.
We leave a trail of projects behind us which we’ve started but not made any meaningful progress on. The initial time and effort put into the project is wasted. More damagingly each time we repeat this cycle we confirm to ourselves that we’re not completer finishers thus perpetuating the issue.
How can we break this cycle and make sure that we are spending our time wisely?
A good way look at this is through the lens of developing your time management skills.
As ever, Stephen Covey’s famous The 7 Habits Of Highly Successful People has some very useful things to say on this.
“Begin with the end in mind.”
When you come up with an exciting idea you need to sit down and think about it before you do anything.
For someone who is good at time management, this will be second nature. For someone who is still mastering time management, this will be the opposite of what they would naturally do.
Putting Planning First
Why do we start with planning?
For three reasons.
1. You Need To Work Out What Return You’ll Generate
Until you have a reasonable plan for an idea and have given it some thought you can’t really be confident about the cost of pursuing it and the outcome that you might generate. If you don’t have this you’re really investing your time completely blind. You are letting your excitement get the better of you and just hoping that the outcome will justify the investment.
2. You Need To Rank Your Projects By Order Of Impact Or Return
Choosing to spend time on something means you are choosing to not spend time on lots of other potential projects. There is only have a finite amount of time in the day.
Therefore it makes sense to look at the outcome that a project will create, and the resources that it will require, relative to the other opportunities that you have available to you. Obviously, if there are other higher return projects available to you you should prioritise spending time on them.
3. Planning A Project Actually Makes You More Likely To Finish It
Project planning saves time, effort and money for all of the reasons you probably already understand well.
However, arguably more important is the fact that planning also helps you to see a project through.
By coming to a realistic estimate of what will be required to complete a project, and also what it’s expected pay-offs will be, you’re making it all much more concrete in your mind, both the good and the bad.
When you start the project you’ll probably have thought of a number of the issues before they crop up and also considered the fact that other unplanned for delays will probably arise. This means that you’ll be less likely to get disheartened when something does go wrong as it inevitably well.
On the positive side, you’ll be very clear about what the likely pay off is going to be which will increase your motivation for the project.
There is no greater waste of time than a project the isn’t completed. So finishing what you start is key to managing your time well. This is something that we look at in detail in our article on using OHIO and the Pomodoro technique.
Planning For People Who Don’t Plan
If you are someone who likes to plan that’s great. You’re already enjoying the benefits.
If you don’t like the idea of plans I’d like to take a few lines to debunk some common myths about planning.
There is nothing final about a plan. You can update and amend your plans at any time. In fact, you should expect to need to change your plans. A plan should be viewed as a working document that is integral to your time planning and management.
This is similar to the point above. Plans are flexible and should be designed so that they can be easily changed.
If you come up with a better way to complete a plan then change your plan. Now that you have a proper plan you actually have something to measure your new ideas against. You can now say that your modified plan is an improvement with confidence rather than piling new assumptions on existing assumptions.
Plans are designed to save you from the frustration of delays, wasted time and half-completed projects, not to get in your way or restrict you.
The perfect plan doesn’t exist. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying!
This is not a reason for not planning. The value in planning comes from working through the detail of a project in a structured way. Doing this is always going to get you a better result than just guessing.
In fact, assuming that a plan needs to be 100% correct is a classic procrastination strategy. This is something that was tackled in our previous blog post: Time Management: Avoiding Procrastination & Self-Sabotage
How To Plan?
Hopefully, you now understand why you should incorporate time for planning into your time management.
Lets now look at how you should plan.
This is where things get a bit tricky.
Each of you will need to find what works best for you when it comes to planning. Many people find mind maps a very useful way to plan projects but others find that they don’t work for them at all. Gantt charts, timelines and lists are also widely used.
Our recommendation would be to start with lists and Gantt charts and see how you get on.
If it doesn’t feel right to you try a different methodology and keep trying different ones until you find the one that works best for you. There will be one out there that suits you.
This post on project planning is a good place to start if you want to see a list of the different ways to plan a project.
The personal action plan section of our time management course will help you figure out what type of plans work best for you.
This post should be paired with a previous post that we wrote Time Management: The Importance Of Planning.