Know Thy Time

In The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker first persuades us that effectiveness (the ability to get the right things done) can be learned. It’s a discipline, not a talent (though for some it may come more easily than others).

And the first practice he encourages us to learn for effectiveness is time management.

It starts with this: know thy time. Where do you spend your time now?

He points out that people are very, very poor at remembering how their time has been spent, just as we are very poor at estimating how much time something will take.

The answer? Record what you do in real time (as it happens). This can be done on paper with times noted, or with an app like Toggl or Harvest. It’s helpful to create basic categories as well: meetings, processing/communication, project time, etc. I also recommend a tag or indicator for unexpected/unplanned items.

After you’ve recorded your time for ~2-3 weeks, the next step is evaluation.

For each item or category of items, Drucker recommends we ask these questions:

  1. What would happen if this were not done at all? If it won’t be missed, stop doing it! And further still, if it isn’t contributing to effectiveness and the most important goals, is it really the best use of your time?
  2. What could I do to prevent this need (especially recurring crises)?
  3. Could someone else do this as well or better than me?
  4. Is this wasting other people’s time, not contributing to their effectiveness? Specifically thinking of things that I initiate or projects I involve others in.

You’ll also have a clear picture of how much discretionary time you have: time you have control over to use to make your greatest contribution. The key is to find ways to consolidate that time into the largest blocks you can (a day a week, a few hours at the start of every day, etc) for focused work of the highest productivity. You might find it helpful to spend that time at home (if you work in an office) or at a coffee shop, library or co-working space (if you work at home).

At the end, it’s possible to create an action plan that is based on your reality (not your guess):

  1. What will I stop doing and how?
  2. What will I pass on to others and how?
  3. How much time do I have to direct towards my highest priorities? And how will I protect that time and group it into the largest blocks I can?

Over 3-6 months, our use of time tends to slip towards ineffectiveness, so it’s helpful to repeat this process several times per year.

I highly recommend reading Drucker’s full chapter on time in The Effective Executive.

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