One of your most precious resources is time. Yet it is one of the most mis-managed resources in business. This briefing guide focuses upon some key issues associated with managing yourself. Topics include goal-setting, controlling workflow, developing mind and body, managing stress and ethical dilemmas. This guide will help you to review a variety of common day to day challenges and give you appropriate ways of tackling them so that your goals are more easily achieved both at work and at home. Whilst some of these points will not be new to you, as you remind yourself of them you should ask how effectively you are actually applying good practice.
The starting point is to clarify what you want to achieve. Successful people invariable talk about how setting objectives give them a focus. Many of them also articulate a clear sense of purpose, a mission in life, encapsulating why they exist. One of the best known mission statements comes from the fictional Captain Kirk of StarTrek: ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’. Such a statement can not only act as a launch-pad for self-direction, it can also help others around you know your driving force and understand what makes you tick. Beware however creating a statement which is long-winded or complex. Keeping it short and simple, even unwritten, will avoid confusion. Obama’s mantra “Yes we can” will be remembered by millions. Nike Corporation’s “Go for it” was shortened to “I can”. A much smaller consultancy firm’s published aim is “to make a difference”. Articulating your overall purpose is a fundamental step before setting objectives.
Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. The next step is set out clear goals and objectives against which you can measure achievement and success. Without these it is impossible to say if you are travelling in the right direction or when you expect to arrive at your destination. Goals should relate to a timescale around which you wish to exercise control. Whilst in business the pace of change makes it difficult to plan more than three or five years ahead, the wider context of matters outside and beyond work should also be considered. Where do you want to be in ten years? Retirement planning is essential to start early, yet far too many, especially in smaller businesses, fail to make effective provision for themselves and their dependents. Visualise the future, and what you want it to look like. Set yourself a LIFETIME goal. Then, working backwards in time you can identify key markers which will keep you on track to achieve what you want from life. By including goals which are non-work related you will avoid the trap of work becoming an end in itself rather than just a means towards a better life. On an anecdotal point the writer comes from a family of self-employed parents and grandparents. With the same aim in mind, the writer purposefully undertook a variety of jobs at different levels in different departments and industries to eventually become a self-employed business manager. Without an eye on the long-term it would have been easy to become side-tracked into a short-term opportunity.
The components of an effective objective are described in the acronym SMART: Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Timetabled. A Specific target could be to redeem the mortgage or open a branch office, and Measurable means putting a figure on it e.g. Earn £75,000 p.a. Agreed means obtaining the commitment of other stakeholders who may be involved in supporting your objectives. The number of objectives should be Realistically manageable and should complement and not compete with other objectives, e.g. The costs of opening a branch office may prevent earning £75,000 the same year. Change is constant and there should be an appropriate regular review of objectives so that you can respond quickly to any new circumstances which may deflect you from your aims. Your amended aims should again be shared with those stakeholders who are party to success, so that they feel shared ownership and commitment (including suppliers, customers and the local community). Business people are increasingly entering into partnerships and managing supply chains where the sharing and aligning of people’s different objectives can result in more realistic expectations of yourself.
After devising personal objectives it is necessary to analyse another fundamental resource for achieving them – yourself. By looking at what you want to achieve and the tasks required you will be able to identify the skills and knowledge needed. If you work in a primarily technical environment, then knowledge of particular products or processes may be important. If your environment is mainly people-oriented, then the skills to develop and manage others may be vital. Review yourself objectively by examining the key components of your job, the ideal underpinning skills and knowledge of the jobholder and then compare yourself with this ideal. Any gaps between the ideal person specification and your own abilities will be training needs. Prioritise these needs and decide how these training needs should be addressed.
An effective training plan should also be “smart” and should include both short-term training needs, and longer-term development needs. Development needs may also relate to professional education requirements, particularly if your job status requires mandatory continuous professional education. In this instance a written plan for the year and a review process are essential evidence for maintaining status within your professional body. The concept of Lifetime Learning is now accepted commercial practice, with the emphasis on your active self-development, rather than passive acknowledgement that training is merely something to do when time permits.
There are four elements to a training plan: the objectives (what you intend to learn or do as a result); how you will implement training (through projects at work, formal class-room tuition, reading or audio-visual media); a schedule showing the implementation; and a review measuring what was done and it’s effectiveness for you.
You should also consider your preferred learning style as selecting inappropriate methods will hinder development. Peter Honey’s four styles are commonly referred to. Activists who are often lively outgoing types who like to “learn by doing”; these people prefer games, exercises and activities, such as role-play. Reflectors are more cautious and quieter often observing others before getting involved; they benefit from time to analyse and review. Pragmatists like to develop new ideas and quickly link them to the job in hand. Theorists want to see the rationale for change and understand the model or system before applying it on a step by step basis. Decide which of these four types is your preferred style and ensure the training method fits accordingly.
Most learning occurs naturally and informally at work, and it is worth reflecting upon the opportunities that present themselves and how you can take better advantage of them. Mixing with and sharing work with others allows for learning through information exchange; involvement in research activities; even personal activities outside work (voluntary work, club secretary, school governor) provide a rich source of experience which can supplement work-based activities. If you do not take your personal development seriously you will be sending a clear message to all those who work with you or for you.
An effective way of demonstrating your intent to learn is to ask those who work with you to rate your effectiveness in your job. You will usually find this overcomes the deficiencies of your own subjective self-appraisal, particularly if you ask for their anonymous feedback and assure them of no recriminations.
Any long term or short-term plans should consider the Pareto Principle whereby eighty percent of results are created by twenty percent of activities. The same principle applies to managing daily workflow. There are always a few key activities, which contribute to the majority of output. The most effective tactical tool for personal time management is the To Do List which when applied effectively will significantly improve the planning of your own time, and help others to respect your own. This does not mean simply listing things to do in the day, and there are a number of rules to follow for the To Do List (whether on PC or paper) to be a workable tool.
To Do List
The list should comprise a realistic number of items (maximum 20) each of which is prioritised either “must” “should” or “could”. Important and urgent items take priority and must be done first, avoiding the trap of doing “easy” tasks, which invariable divert time from difficult yet important ones. Write a start time and estimated completion time for deadlined items and bundle similar tasks together (eg telephone calls). Try to put tasks which require high quality output into the timezone when you are most alert, recognising the natural peaks and troughs of your bodyclock. Decide firstly if you are an “owl” (more alert in the evening) or a “lark” (more alert in the morning), then consider if your activity sequences will fit your natural body clock (e.g. a difficult meeting). Always build in contingency time to respond to external unpredicted events, and build in “rest” or “thinking” time before changing tasks; most people tend to generate high activity time which can usually be reduced by better planning. Reward yourself or say “well done” when completing tasks to maintain a desire to achieve more.
If you are part of a team work-flow chain then sharing To Do Lists will identify overlaps, gaps or other issues in advance. Develop your list at the same time every day so it becomes habit-forming, and try to schedule difficult tasks early on as they will otherwise hover over you like a dark cloud. Sometimes smaller chunks of larger tasks should be added and your creation of a separate “long term” To Do List will ensure these items are addressed before they become critical (and are rushed). It is particularly important to include personal development activities to ensure they are not continually deferred. Keep the list handy for easy reference and communication to others who may have a habit of passing tasks to you without understanding what you already have in hand.
If you find you are still unable to manage time then you should perform an audit of where your time goes to diagnose and resolve the problem. The steps involved are as follows:
List the activities performed in a typical week, including making and receiving phone calls, attending meetings, travelling, lunch and rest breaks. Allow space to add unexpected activities such as interruptions from colleagues. Using this simple format, mark the number of minutes actually spent in each activity as you go through a typical week, totalling up at the end of a week. Check how these totals relate to what SHOULD be happening, i.e. under ideal circumstance where should your time have gone? You may have found that you have a persistent interrupter, in which case your interruption log may be used to help you persuade the interrupter to batch their interruptions at a time agreeable to both. Alternatively this may show you that you are “feeding the monkey”.
“Feeding the monkey” is an expression for doing things unnecessarily for other people. There are many time thieves, and “monkeys” are those activities thrown to you by people who are often passing the buck. They may be suppliers, customers, people inside or outside your own business, and are often your own staff. You may even enjoy feeding the monkey because you are flattered to be asked, or it may be an interesting diversion. Unfortunately monkeys eat into your discretionary time (i.e. time available after fulfilling the demands of your real job) and every time you feed it, it becomes more dependent upon yourself.
Recommendations for handling monkeys are:
* Feed them face to face or by phone, not by memo, at an assigned feeding time;
* Keep the monkey population low;
* If you don’t feed them, shoot them, and avoid saying “leave it with me”.
Monkeys are more likely to leave you alone once you have mastered the art of delegation. Decisions over routine matters can often be made elsewhere, and most people get a sense of achievement from completing entire jobs rather than doing piece-work. Delegation however is often unsuccessful when a few key steps are omitted. Common errors include failing to explain why the job is necessary, why you selected them to do it, what the result should look like and what other resources exist to support them.
After delegating it is useful to ask how they feel about doing it (if it is new to them) and always thank and give credit for good work. Where appropriate you can delegate message-taking to voicemail, so you can choose how and when to respond at your own convenience. The best way of getting monkeys off your back, however, is to teach them how to feed themselves. There is no other way of doing this than by asking them to reflect how they could do it themselves, offering advice and encouragement, to coach them into independence. Give them a fish and you feed them for a day; give them a rod and you feed them for a lifetime.
Communications with others is time-consuming, none more so than meetings. More than half of a manager’s time is invested in conferences, either by phone or face to face, and there are some simple ways of substantially reducing time wasted. A few time-savers are as follows: Stick to start and end times; allocate time per agenda item; appoint an assertive timekeeper (separate to the chair); write minutes as you go; meet whilst standing up so people feel more urgency; attend for only the relevant discussion points, bring others back on track quickly; ensure you start prepared. Wasted telephone calls can be equally frustrating, and for outbound calling it is useful to record the best time to reach people or let them know your own availability. A saving of only 5% of your day equates to 14 days a year.
Travel time is also an area where significant savings can be made. Is the trip a necessity? Can you start early or leave late to avoid rush-hour? Are there alternative routes? Do you have a recorder to capture important ideas en route while stationary in traffic? Could you play learning CD’s in the car? There are increasing numbers of personal development books now in audio media for travel time.
Most busy people have difficulty finding time to read the increasing volumes of information now available and information overload is an issue we often made worse through overuse of technology’s ability to copy data world-wide. Speed-reading can increase your capacity from 200 up to 1000 words per minute, a five-fold increase. More efficient reading can also improve concentration and comprehension. For a general improvement to reading ability it is important to clear the workspace, set time limits and hold an upright posture with the reading material at about forty five degrees in front. Your eyes should be guided with a pointed (a pencil or finger will do) which sweeps the page with eyes following at a constant speed. Scan the first and last paragraphs for key ideas, and then focus only on nouns and verbs in the body of the text. Avoid stopping and going back, as creating a flow and momentum is important. Gently increasing speed over a period of time will ensure you develop the skill at your own pace.
Technology perversely can multiply the amount of paperwork we handle, and cluttered desks hinder clear or creative thinking, so the temptation to leave a number of different tasks on the desk should be resisted. Adopting the GUTS system can help: Give it away, Use it, Throw it away, or Send it. Grouping papers and putting them away quickly is essential; a waste-bin should be used frequently instead of a pending tray. When in doubt, throw it out. Try to remove your name from circulation lists, and have a daily routine of filing. At least once a year in a less busy period, review files and clear out unnecessary information. Documents should be retained only on the basis of importance and regularity of referral as about 90% of files are never referred to.
The increasing volumes of information can be better managed by people with good memories, a skill, which is mainly acquired rather than inherited. Your head contains three brains, not one: the Reptilian brain, which stems from the spinal column and controls basic instincts and functions (breathing and sense of territory); the Mammalian brain (or “limbic system”) which controls emotion, sleep and long-term memory; and Neocortex, the two-sided cerebrum that controls intellectual processes (reasoning and talking). The latter comprises the left-hand “logical” brain, controlling language, and the right-hand “creative” brain for artistry, music and innovation. The two sides combine to assist the memory function in three stages: registration of information, retention, and retrieval. Your brain has the capacity to register and retain every single piece of information you encounter. Your challenge lies in recalling and retrieving, and “memory-masters” often use a few simple techniques to do this.
Linking new information to existing knowledge can be facilitated by exaggeration, humour and emotive images. The brain is stimulated by the unusual and if you have difficulty remembering people’s names this technique works well. The name Clive Bonny can be transformed into Bonnie and Clyde alongside the image of a gun-toting gangster into which you can insert the person’s face. Music can be anchored to particular memories, so that when you learn or experience something whilst hearing a particular musical piece, the playback will recall the original context.
One of the most common memory techniques is “mind-mapping” pioneered by Tony Buzan. Mind-maps mirror how the brain works by stimulating both left and right brain hemispheres.
The principle of brain mapping is to record information on paper (or screen) in a format which fits how your brain likes to register and retain information. The principle steps are as follows: Start with a blank sheet and a central image or word representing the theme of your subject. Draw curved lines outward from the centre with each line containing one word. Use up to four colours and vary the size of word to reflect it’s importance. Use the same colour for each branch of lines and images rather than words appeals to the right-hand brain; drawing arrows and patterns to connect themes appeals to the left-brain. The style of the finished item may appear like a confused octopus, but your memory will prefer it to conventional alpha-numeric information and you will find yourself recalling more information by scanning your brain-map than by recording in traditional methods. Applications include speech-making, project planning, problem-solving, creating ideas and taking minutes. Other techniques include rhyming principles e.g. “Thirty days has September, April, June and November….”, acronyms e.g. “SMART” objectives, and “peg” systems which hook your information to images which are more memorable: The number 7 can be represented by a boomerang, the letter B by a bumble-bee, the word Monday by money, or August by a gust of wind. As with developing any new skill, such techniques will feel uncomfortable at first, but with patience and practice you will find that enhancing your memory can both astound your colleagues and improve your abilities in a wide range of activities.
Mental fitness is paramount to personal effectiveness, as it is increasingly more difficult to cope with the pressures and demands of work and home. At home there are more and more expectations related to consumer comforts and relationships. At work the pace of change in the job, new targets, technology, deadlines and flatter hierarchies combine to create an environment of pressure.
Everyone experiences pressure which in itself can stretch you to better performance, but too much pressure for too long leads to stress if you are unable to manage it. Stress can also occur in very short periods: making a presentation; doing a task for the first time; handling an irate person; making a mistake; being late for a meeting; or just high noise levels. Your body responds by automatically increasing heart rate and blood pressure, tensing muscles and the digestive system, and increasing breathing rate. This is your body’s fight or flight response programmed by evolution for emergencies. The problem at work is you are unable to release these physical symptoms with a physical response thereby creating a bottleneck, which further increases pressure. This can create a downward spiral.
The first step in managing stress is to recognise the symptoms. You can identify signs by feeling impatient, depressed, frustrated or isolated. You may hear yourself slam phones or doors, drum fingers or talking quickly. Visually you may catch yourself nail-biting, blinking excessively or changing your eating and sleeping patterns. These tell-tale signals should be taken seriously and quickly on board. Most people suffering stress are usually diagnosed by all but themselves, and the “loose cannon” effect only serves to further isolate the sufferer. A stressed manager is often unapproachable yet is often the first to complain that people around them are failing to communicate. The ripple effect then creates bigger problems. Sometimes it is simply a person’s perspective which generates stress – the old adage of the glass being half full or half empty. The personality “type A” is a restless high achiever and more likely than “type B”, who is more relaxed and accepting, to put pressure on themselves. You can create new perspectives by putting yourself in the shoes of others, by sharing your views, or by writing up the issues and assessing them factually. A few simple ways to put things in perspective are to think how the issue could be even more difficult to manage (making reality relatively easy) or consider how much more important other matters are (making this issue relatively unimportant). Focus on those activities which you control especially your thought pattern, which should be positive. The American habit of writing or saying out loud positive mental affirmations (“PMA”) is recommended.
Mental health is governed also by physical health. Your environment must be comfortable: avoid fluorescent bulbs, have a fresh air flow, control room temperature. Your workspace should not be cramped, and your chair should assist lumbar support and give you a straight spine. Your keyboard should allow elbows to be directly under shoulders with forearms parallel to the floor, without resting on the desktop. A two minute break from the VDU every twenty minutes will prevent headaches, particularly standing up to stretch and change eye focus. Closing the eyes for a minute can also help.
Using a telephone headset has been proven to reduce neck and shoulder tension or swap a normal headset between your listening ears. Organisations are increasingly offering lunchtime massage and short courses in self-massage are now available for office workers. The choice of colour scheme affects the thinking climate: yellow stimulates creativity, blue facilitates deeper thinking, green promotes calm, and red stimulates challenge. Some companies now have colour-coded rooms for different activities. More than 250 different harmful chemicals have now been identified in office air, known as VOC (volatile organic compounds). These come from photocopiers, wall insulation and floor materials and from dry cleaned clothing. Studies by NASA have shown that plant leaves absorb many of these pollutants, purifying the air naturally, especially spider plants, chrysanthemums, azaleas, tulips and lilies.
Food and Drink
Besides managing your environment you should also plan your food and drink intake. Six to eight glasses of water per day is optimum, and installing a water tank in the office, instead of a coffee or cola dispenser, will also reduce the build up of stomach acid. Vitamin supplements will overcome some of the deficiencies of fast food at lunchtime.
Vitamin A in fish oils improves vision and joint flexibility. B vitamins in meat, milk and eggs help memory especially B5 and B6, Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant, which protects other vitamins from destruction, and Vitamin E in grain and wheat improves cell oxygenisation. Rather than eating sweets, try glucose tablets as they can generate 25 watts of electricity for brain functions (the brain needs 70% of the body’s glucose). The wrong diet equates to putting diesel into a sports car.
Your speed of thought and mental agility should be supported by a physical agility programme. Exercise is not just for the sporty types but must be seen as an essential building block to your quality of life. Fitness is an effective stress-buster and your physical fitness plan should aim for a gradual improvement in your exercise frequency and type. You should build up slowly to a half-hour workout every other day. If you have had little exercise previously this may take several months. Select an environment in which you enjoy exercise, which could be either in a club or at home, and try to set goals which give you sense of accomplishment. These could be stretching from ten to fifteen lengths of a swimming pool, or be a walk to the local station rather than a drive. There are many excuses for not exercising regularly, but if you ask colleagues who do it if they would go back to inactivity they will often say NO. Exercise will clear your mind of worries, release physical tension, help you sleep and give you more energy to enjoy life. As one major leisure company says “Just Do It”, but remember over-exercising is as dangerous as under-exercising.
One of the greatest causes of personal stress is to take on more than you can do. People prefer not to say NO being more competitive (Type “A”) and want to win against all odds. Others prefer not to appear to be weak and their desire to support others results in overloading themselves. About 95% of the population fall into one of these two styles – either aggressive or passive, and although most would prefer to think of themselves as assertive, only about 5% of people are naturally so. The key differences between these three styles can be defined as follows:
Assertive types express themselves at no-one else’s expense. Passive types fail to express themselves at their own expense. Aggressive types express themselves at someone else’s expense. The problem of aggressive types in the workplace is widely recognised and the law now protects against bullying at work. Forms of harassment, which can now lead to perpetrators becoming personally liable in the courts, include offensive jokes or gestures, purposefully excluding others from social activities and coercion and intrusion by pestering. The legal interpretation of a healthy and safe working environment now includes mental not just physical health and there are numerous cases of large financial compensations being awarded against complacent employers and managers. The message to aggressive types is to recognise the risks of inappropriate behaviour before it is too late, and for passive types to realise they have a final mechanism for support if all else fails. Prevention though is preferred by asking for what you want, directly and openly in a way which respects others rights.
Ethical Decision Making
Your involvement in conflict situations will not be a threat if you make decisions and behave in a way which supports all parties. Ethical awareness like physical fitness can keep you in mental and moral shape if you can recognise and address ethical dilemmas. Ethical practice has been defined as “obedience to the unenforceable”, and “right versus right”. Effective ethical analysis is helped when dilemmas are reviewed using a structured decision-making framework
D Define issues and consequences
I Identify stakeholders affected
L Link consequences to stakeholders
E Evaluate options for action
M Major impacts?
M Minor impacts?
A Act upon or Advise best options
S Survey outcomes
A difficult decision can become easier when a structured process is applied to identify and balance the pros and cons of particular options, recognising that “lesser rights” are not necessarily “wrongs” and that “higher rights” are not always the only valid ethical outcomes. An example might be the decision to create redundancies when there is a small risk of business closure. The short-term gains need to be balanced by longer term needs; loyalty for individuals may be offset by loyalty to the team; personal desires for survival need to consider community requirements. Resolving such dilemmas will be easier if you apply a structured method based on commonly agreed principles for resolving dilemmas.
Three principles commonly applied include doing what is best for the greatest number of people, doing what you would like others to do to you, and following the rule of law. Your choices become easier if you understand and agree with the decision-making principles of the people with whom you work. Teams discover this when they begin to discuss and agree a set of values. Consequently, finding out the values of others around you and communicating your own values can help you identify and address potentially deep-rooted conflicts before they happen.
Responding to conflict in a positive way is extremely difficult. Conflict tends to harden your attitude and stimulate the “flight or fight” response, creating further pressure. The least stressful approach is to take a structured approach without rushing for solutions: acknowledge a problem exists and actively listen to people’s positions; identify concerns openly and search for joint solutions; finally check that everyone will commit to the agreed outcome, and ensure it is implemented to the satisfaction of all. Handling pressure in a planned way will usually result in positive outcomes.
This guide has reviewed a number of key issues related to managing yourself: Planning direction, controlling time, developing mind and body, and managing difficult situations. Much of the advice may be considered as common sense, and “old adage”. Your greatest challenge is to review the extent you actually apply good practice. By doing so you will not only define and achieve your goals, you will also by acting as a role model enable others to achieve theirs.
As reviewing your own effectiveness is a fundamental principle to managing yourself, you are invited to self-score the statements below. Score either 0 = not at all, 1 = sometimes, 2 = usually, 3 = always.
AT HOME I have enough
a) time with family
d) financial stability
e) relaxation time
f) social intercourse
g) fresh food
i) emotional fulfilment
j) time to plan LIFE goals
AT WORK I have enough
k) management support
L) teamwork with colleagues
m) time to think and plan
n) knowledge and skills to do a good job
o) time to complete tasks
p) recognition when I do a good job
q) time for breaks
r) trust and respect from others
s) involvement in decisions affecting me.
t) Reward and compensation
Your scores will show you where strengths and areas for improvement exist. Your final step is to develop an action plan to address the gaps:
* What are your priorities and objectives?
* When could you start and complete
* How will you implement change?
* Who will support your plan?
* How will you measure success?
And go for it!
About Clive Bonny
Clive has run an independent training consultancy Strategic Management Partners since 1990, tailoring personal development for individuals and teams. He has supported transformation programmes in public and private organisations with government funding. Clive is an Institute assessor and trainer of Certified Management Consultants, assesses organisations for Business Excellence Awards, is a Charter signatory to the national Wellbeing standard of Mindful Employer, and delivers business partnership coaching to enable busy people achieve their goals.