Time Allocation

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Takeaways

  • Time is the most precious resources
  • Split big activities into small activities
  • Set 10 minutes time slot of each activities
  • Prepare a special calendar for time slotting

The Problem

Everybody has one resources in common, which is time. Time is something that you will never regain. That makes it the most precious resources. Once it wasted, it wasted forever.

I used to create my to-do-list in when the day is started. After it, usually I have a problem on deciding which one to start. This leads into indecisiveness and often brings me into doing small things that doesn’t matter much, like replying emails on issues that is not urgent. Later on, I find the day finished without completing all important things that I should do.

There are two problems that caused this. First is the task definition sometimes too big in scope, like “work on project X”, which looks like a big monster when you are starting it. Second is I didn’t commit myself to finish it in a certain time block. The undefined scope of activities makes me fail to identify how much resources needed to complete it.

Splitting the Big Chunk

When activities becomes too big and unclear. It is advisable to split the big tasks into small activities that doable. When you know what to do, then it will become a lot easier to complete things. You can use mind map or simply just listing down the tasks in Outlook to do this. Mine was the last one, and it helps.

Practical example for this is, to split activity of “work on project X”. I look at my emails, decide what I need to work on and what are the other things I should do. Emails will be marked as to-do, and other activities will be defined as tasks. Usually I have about 4-6 projects that is in-progress, and I have its colour coded categories to group these tasks. Categories represents the projects, and marked emails + tasks represent small activities.

How detail should we go? For me, I limit the definition of small activities into something achievable in 10-20 minutes. If it is unclear, there is an activity itself to make things clear, like by checking with line manager or colleagues.

Allocating the Activities

Coming back to the part of not wasting our most precious resources, I mapped these small activities into my calendar. This is one of the best thing that I learned that makes myself work.

Our digital calendar (Outlook, Google Calendar) usually have time slots in hours. By default, when you enter a new appointment, it will be an one hour activity. Previously I slotted time for each project, like two hours for project A, one hour for project B, and so on. Often this leads myself into confusion on what should I do in that hour, if I have everything completes, or unclear.

The better way of doing it is to map all tasks that I have defined earlier to the calendar. So we exactly know what needs to be done on that period. But putting it in hours will leads us to have no time to complete all. That is why I make the slot bigger, by changing it to 10 minutes. As I mentioned before, my tasks are a ten minutes activities. So in one hour I can achieve six activities.

This allocation is done in the morning, and usually I spend about half an hour to do. At first there will be some difficulties, but once you have sustain it, it will become a lot easier. This half hour activities should be done only for quick read and categorise activities, not for replying emails and start doing things. The real action should be done on the time slot that defined on it.

Special Calendar for Allocation

There is one additional things that If you put all tasks within your shared calendar, people will see it when they are going to schedule a meeting with you. I realised this on the first day implementing this, when my colleague see my calendar full of small things. To avoid it, I created a local calendar that is created specially for allocation or scheduling. I display it in overlay so that I can see both. So other people will not see it, but I keep my activities manageable.

Will it Work?

Yes for me, but not sure for you. I think it depends on your work style. I like everything to be organised. On the other hand, I learned it in hard way, after years of frustration of getting overwhelmed with a lot of things and always leave office feeling guilty. I also have some personal projects (like writing this blog, for example) which I never achieve because I could not manage my time well. Above had changed me a little, to end the day with more things done.

For me, it is always interesting to learn something new. If you are interested to discuss on this, feel free to put your view in comments or even contact myself through email.

* icon is created by Scott Lewis.

Improving Productivity

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Everyday I overwhelmed with hundreds of email coming to my inbox, twenty unrecorded tasks to be done, a dozen of personal activities that needs to be done (like bills!), and a lot of articles in my digital reader. I don’t feel like I have time to do all of it. Every task seems to be urgent, hence I can’t have a peace on my mind.

It is not that I am not trying to find solution. I have been a very regular reader of all productivity porn. Again, there are thousands of articles, hundreds of books that provide you promise to improve productivity. But I never found one that I can sustain for even one week.

Since I couldn’t take it anymore, I am bringing this into action. Reorganise my life, to become what I feel as productive. Looking at my bookshelves, I have three books related with productivity, that I can takeaway and apply as one small project within next week. I will focus on daily productivity which brings peace on my mind. Let’s look at the plan.

Define – Putting All Actions Together

As we live in information era, the most difficult task of knowledge worker is defining what should be done. First you need to pick the right things. I believe only 20% of my emails will need execution. Choosing among them is the first step, next is to define executable steps on it. Next is to translate it into executable action. What do I need to do? When it should be finished? Those questions will need to be answered.

An interesting approach that I see for organising this is David Allen’s Mastering Workflow in Getting Things Done: Collect, Process, Organise, Review, Do.

In Collect, we need to capture everything into the list. No matter how important it is, and no matter how big or small the scope is. It is releasing it from your mind to another place that you can trust. I need an inbox of tasks – physically & digitally, to store whatever coming.

In Process, I will define the tasks as four category. Do, Defer, Delegate, and Discard. Things under Do will go to schedule after following next process. Defer will be reviewed in the next review, Delegate will be send to the respective person, and Discard will be either deleted or archived.

In Organise, I am taking Pozen’s approach. First to put time dimension on each tasks whether it is career aims, objectives, or targets. Targets is the things that actionable. If it is aims or objective, put it into category for the targets – to define priority. Then I will quickly estimate how long does it take to put into schedule. I need to see mismatches. If one Low activity is taking most of my time, then I should adjust it to be later in my schedule.

In Do, I will assign attributes for each tasks in terms of context, time, energy, and priorities. Priorities is something that you can get base on objectives and aims. This will be transported to schedule, which I will cover in next part.

In Review, I will have a defined time for reviewing all my workflow & tasks. I am planning to do small review on daily basis and extensive review on weekly basis.

One thing that is good to be highlighted is elimination. Although I am not a full fan of his quick solve approach, I like the idea that we need to eliminate things. Sometimes we are in the illusion of working hard, which actually doing the non important things. I also need to ensure I have a low information diet. I will remove all newsfeed that has no benefit on me, less browsing or watching television, to give time for myself to finish things.

Schedule – Putting Actions into Calendar

What that all people have in common, in terms of fairness, is time. Everybody is given the exact same allocation of time in one day. It is a matter of expose its potential or waste it. I like the idea in Extreme Productivity to focus on final products, by putting desired result for each schedule on your calendar as result driven. The sample of how it should be applied is like below. For this, I will define it in my Outlook calendar.

One thing that I know would be difficult to be scheduled is small stuffs : queries from colleagues and urgent requests from your boss can really annoying sometimes. Especially if it comes with one line. I am planning to allocate 1.5 hours for this everyday.

The next thing to be highlighted as important is review. At the end of the day, I will spend one hour to review all actions, reviewing schedule for next day, sending follow-up emails and reminders. This is the small review that I have talked about.

Last but not least. I need to ensure that I have proper rest & practice in daily basis. I have to schedule for 8 hours of sleep and 30 minutes of running everyday.

System – Single Source & Processes for All Actions

This is the thing that sometimes will become my barrier of sustaining my intention to work better. One day I put flag in my Outlook, the next day I forgot to follow up on that. It is like I am not be able to find the right machine to operate.

Speaking of this, there is one very interesting TED talk on racing with machines by Erik Brynjolfsson. It hit my mind because it reminds me again that I sometimes too obsessed with technology, but never got into working together with it to achieve the best things.

Racing with the machine beats racing against the machine. Technology is not destiny. We shape our destiny.

Especially on my objective here, I need to race with the machine, especially since I have a very complex steps defined above. I need to have a robust:

  • Checklist for all my tasks and priorities
  • Proper calendar that is accessible everywhere for achieving my objectives

That I can get from digital systems. But on top of that system is not only about technology. System is all that surround us, including

  • Set of defined steps that I need to execute to ensure all tasks and priorities are defined, including reminders and review
  • Environment to ensure there are less distractions
  • Support from family & co-workers

What Will Happen Next?

Whatever I have learned above, will be applied on next week – 29 July 2013 – 3 August 2013. After that I will write at the end of the post as review. What I have learned? What went wrong? What went good?

One thing that I believe lacks of all articles or books of productivity is the actual experience after executing all methodologies. Feedback is important. To give a prove that it is working or not.

Results (Updated at 4 August 2013)

Last week has become a good productive one for me. I responded fast, able to finish more things at work, and outside work. I feel happier, cause there are some accomplishment. It is a small one, but good to take a baby steps.

What Went Right:

  • Task Definition – I found a very good tool called Trello last week. For me the tool is very suitable. There are groups, boards, card list and for each boards I can define my own flow. I have 3 groups of works: Personal, Family, and Work. Each group has multiple boards. For example, in work I defined one group for each function I am performing business partnering (people-based). For the flow, I defined two type of flows. If it requires a long time to finish & involves me only, I put it as “To Do | In Progress | Done”, while if it is requires short time I put it as “To Do | Pending | Done”. It is a simplified version of what has been taught by David Allen, but it is more effective. Below is the example of my board for Family.

Home___Family___Trello

  • Scheduled Activities – Previously I overwhelmed with work and feels like I don’t have time for other activities. I always feel tired every time I go home. Actually it is not that bad. Since I have a system that I trust above, I am able to spent my first two hours in early morning for my personal projects, and spend my time in the night with my family and houseworks.
  • Quick Action – Since I have system that I trust. I can focus on my work. I discarded my email management last week. Now I don’t sort my emails anymore. I just flag anything that needs to be done / pending and work based on that – by referencing with my task list in Trello

What Can be Improved

  • Small Things – I don’t know it is because last week is busier than before, or because I responding faster, there are more queries coming to me. In one way it is good because it shows people are trusting you. But on the other side, the amount of work increased dramatically. In an environment that speed is very valuable, in many cases I end up responding on these small things. Which if all combined will ate up all my time for more important activities. Saying no or assigned specific time will help. Last week I have a plan on this, but not able to really done it.

In overall. More things were done. It is a good sign. Will keep improving this and start another project next week.

References

Bringing Learning to Action

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I am a kind of person who enjoy learning. Bookstore or library is a place that I always comfortable with. Internet is the same place. It offers me a massive resource to find anything that I want. I have a lot of books, together with subscription of online courses like Udemy or Coursera – my favorite learning platforms.

But there is one problem. I always feel that my interest of learning does not always reward me an advanced capabilities in the domain that I have studied . For example, I have read dosens of business and self-improvement books, but I never reach myself a satisfying level of effectivity while doing my job.

So then I did a small research on this topic, and found a bunch of topic of learning process. Again, when I capture all the information, many of it I have heard through training, articles, and other means, but how many of it has been applied in my life? probably very little.

It is widely suggested that learning has to follow the 70:20:10 model. This is based on the work by Morgan McCall, Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo in the 1980s. At that time, they suggested that the best leaders develops their best through means other than formal training. The first chunk, 70%, is coming from informal, on the job, experience based, stretch projects and practice. Basically what we do. The other 20 % is taken from coaching, mentoring, developing through others. I believe everybody will realize once we start to teach anything, he or she will understand better. The last part, 10%, comes from formal learning interventions and structured courses, the one that people mostly chasing for.

In John Zenger’s book How to be Exceptional, learning is something that need to be actioned, which they call action learning. Basically it means the learning process should focus on creating action rather than only passively captured. Together with constant review to see whether our action is performed in the right way.

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But doing it several times does not help to make the learning result applicable in the long run. It is always the case that we study very hard before an exam and ends up forgetting everything the next day. Sustainability is the key here, which consists of 5 key components to make it possible.

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So it is not an easy task to capture something and learn it, but to sustain it to yourself, will become the bigger issue. It requires discipline and constant progress. But I believe that is the beauty. Once you step it into action, and getting the “aah” feeling when you apply it into real world problem, you will realize that that’s the joy of learning. By writing this post, actually I am acquiring the 20%, by sharing the knowledge to people.