Top tips for deciding whether something is worth your energy and ways to carve out extra time in your day

How many times today have you done something and then thought to yourself, what was even the point of that? It’s easy to get sucked into a continuous wheel of doing things that add no value. Whether you are working for yourself, or in a big corporate organisation, often these pointless energy sappers can be a form of self sabotage or procrastination.

Oh, I know – I used to do this all the time. There would be that report that really needed to be written, but I would spend a bit more time checking time sheets. Or, I knew that I could add most value by going and having a conversation with one of my team. Instead I’d read all those emails that I have been copied into, for no good reason!

Sound familiar?

Yeah, I know that some of the stuff we have to do doesn’t seem to add any value on the face of it – and we have to do it anyway! It’s the other stuff that I am talking about. The things that we have convinced ourselves are vital, take up our time, and yet we are not really sure why!

You can break this cycle of spending time doing things that you don’t need to do.

Firstly, you need to recognise the difference between the stuff that has to be done verses the stuff we have added in to our processes.

Even having recognised something as a ‘must do’, ask yourself a few questions.

Is it a corporate or legal requirement? If it is, then can you streamline the process in any way? Does it have to be YOU who does it?

For example, those timesheets I referred to earlier. It didn’t need ME to check them all. Yes, they had to be checked. Yes, as the team leader you need to know if something is amiss. But, checking them could be done by anyone other than the person submitting them. Peculiarities can be highlighted to you to act on.

“Ahh, but!” I hear you say. “What if the person checking them can’t be trusted to do that.” If this is the case then the problem you need to resolve is one of trust and accountability. Spot check occasionally if that makes you feel more comfortable.

Many, many years ago, when I was a junior clerk, I recall asking a senior officer why they were stood at the photocopier, waiting for copies to come off. That was my job! They told me that they were so busy they didn’t have time to pass the work to someone else (me) to do, and anyway they disliked passing down the mundane tasks.

That didn’t make sense to me then and it doesn’t now. We convince ourselves that it is quicker to do something ourself. Or that we should ‘muck in’ and do some of the so called ‘menial’ tasks ourselves.

Of course that doesn’t make sense.

It’s better to put a system, or some training, in place to ensure that work is being carried out at the appropriate level.

It’s not a case of being too grand to do certain tasks but thinking about the cost of your time.

I learnt a lot from the ‘menial’ tasks when I was in a more junior position. Not least, that there was a great deal of satisfaction from knowing that my role was a vital one. I knew that I was playing my part in ensuring the organisation ran efficiently.

Even today, whenever I carry out tasks, I always ask myself, ‘does this need to be me?’.

If the answer is yes, my next question is ‘How can I streamline or simplify the process’.

Systems make our lives easier. If you have a simple system for carrying out a process you can save countless minutes – and all those minutes add up. Alerts, reminders, calendar entries, tasks list all readily available on your computer can play a huge part. But, so often they are not used effectively. In addition there are a raft of work planning and tracking systems out there if you have the budget.

Avoid double handling of work. Cut out duplicate entries of data. Do you have 2 spreadsheets which do the same thing, or could be made to meet multiple needs?

This might all seem obvious but so often in my conversations with team leaders, the simple fixes have not been explored.
If the task is not a corporate or legal requirement, ask yourself why you do it.
Does it add value in some way? If you have a client base does it add value to your customer?
Or, is it something you have always done because you were told that it should be done? When we step back and look at what we are doing in this way we can find that we have tasks on our to do list that we don’t need to do at all. We have always done them, without thinking.

Again this seems too simplistic.
Why would we do things that we don’t really need to? We do though, all the time. Often these things are our security blanket. We feel comfortable doing them. It gives us the excuse we need to put off doing something more challenging.

But, if you are always under pressure, too busy, to stop and talk to your team members. Or drowning under the endless to do list. Then have a very good look at what is on that list.

Do YOU need to do it?

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What have you got to lose?

How to plan now for a successful 2019. Get those goals lined up.

Start with reviewing this year
What went well? What didn’t?
As the leader it is worthwhile you reflecting on your year and focus in on the good, the bad and the ugly. If something went well, why was that? Did you, or someone, do something that made the difference? With the things that went badly, why was that? Be honest with yourself – what could you have done to reach a different outcome.

This exercise should also be carried out with your team.
This is NOT about apportioning blame. It is a grown up conversation for you all to learn from. Focus on the actions and process taken within the tasks and not the individuals.

Use this team meeting to celebrate the SUCCESS too. Whilst you may have got somethings wrong you will have totally nailed others! Don’t let the focus all be on the negative.
Take the learning from this year forward. Maybe you were not clear enough about something? Maybe it was not possible to dedicate enough time to a specific action which result in a goal not being met?
Revise whether that goal is still important. Does it need to come forward onto next years plan? If so what needs to happen to ensure that the blockages are removed and not repeated?

Key Goals
With your team work out what your key goals are for 2019.
Don’t overburden. I have made the common mistake of setting a plan which is simply too ambitious. If you recognise this in yourself be prepared to accept that your plan is very aspirational and pare it back a bit.
At the same time, you don’t want a plan which is under-ambitious. If you are writing a to do list of things that would be done anyway, it will not be in any way motivational.

What and Why?
What do you want to achieve and why? If you don’t understand the why behind your goals you are much less likely to put any energy into them. You and your team need to understand the purpose of what you are all doing. Ask yourself “what would my answer be if someone asks me WHY we are doing this”. If you can’t answer that concisely and immediately then…. well, why are you doing it?

Your goals may well have different timescales, and that’s a good thing. Don’t fall into the trap of putting the last possible date as the deadline for completion on all your goals. Here’s is what will happen. You will ignore them until 3 months before the end date and then realise that you cannot achieve all that in the time you have left.
I have always worked in quarters or 3 month blocks. This was partly driven by internal systems, such as finance, which tend to report quarterly. Now there are about a million advocates of 90 day planning systems. And, they make sense. 3 months, 90 days, a quarter of the year all create a manageable window in which to achieve most goals. A 90 day window also helps with focus.

Big projects, which make take 12 months or even more to complete can likewise be effectively broken down into 3 month chunks. (In fact if you are involved in project management you will know that quarterly reporting to your Board is a key element).

Once you have set your end dates you need to consider HOW you are going to achieve your goals.
Nothing happens without action. The key to success is being as clear as possible EXACTLY what needs to happen, by whole and by when.
Whilst you might have the WHY, the WHAT and the WHEN, without the HOW you might as well stop right now.

What are the tasks, and or, steps needed to achieve success? When must these be done by?What else has to happen? What time do you need to allow for the tasks? Who needs to be involved? How are you going to create the time to make sure these things happen? What are you not going to do? Is there a decision making process to go through?
Answers to all these questions are critical for ensuing that your plan is robust enough to succeed. If you don’t do the detail you won’t reach your end goal.

Once you have all of that you have your plan. But, don’t stop there. Share it with your team get feedback, review the reality of it think critically about feasibility.
It is better to have half a dozen really robust goals than 20 badly planned ones.
Hey, if you achieve everything in the first few months you can reconvene and add to your 2019 plan!

Be prepared for the unexpected
Nothing is cast in stone. Events along the way will impact. Sudden unexpected new goals will appear. Something else will become less important. Don’t become entrenched with what you thought was right at the beginning of the year.

Review – regularly
Use the plan with your team to review progress. Celebrate even small successes. Re-plan if things are going off track. Adjust where necessary.

Use your plan as a blueprint for your year and plan for your most successful year ever.