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Activity Management

One of the presumptions that we make that has contributed to our poor usage is derived from the very concept of "time management". The presumption is we can manage time. Stated flatly, we cannot manage time. We certainly would love to be able to, but we can't. We can't speed it up nor slow it down. We can't cut a piece from today and reserve it until next week. Time is a finite and given, it is fixed in its motion. What we need to manage are the things we do in the time we have. So time management is really activity management. This really is where the difficulty is for so many. Managing our activities. Activity management starts with planning, a practice that does not appear on the "to do" list of many persons. The result of this omission or neglect is, persons end up doing things that often have no bearing on the outcomes they seek, or they jump from activity to activity without completing any, or they find themselves pressed by the supposed emergencies of the day. At the end of a given period they therefore find that their accomplishments amount to very little. It is sad to say, but there are persons who despite repeatedly being unable to achieve important things in life have blamed it on time or a lack of it. Planning your activities within the context of time-management requires that: 1. You know what you want or what needs to be achieved within a given time period. "Time Management" and Goal Setting are corollaries. You shouldn't start your day without having a clear picture of what is to be accomplished for that day. If you do not know what you want to accomplish for any given day then any activity will do. But I can

assure you, that leads to regrets, if not immediately but within the not too distant future you will be saying "I should have". Take some time then, and decide what you want to achieve and within what time period. Please note that the goal may just be being with the family today. 2. You know what activities will contribute to the achievement of these goals. A clear picture of what is required to achieve your goals will allow you to plan the order in which they are going to be done and by when they should be completed if the goal is to be realized as planned. This may call for some type of prioritizing of these activities so that importance can be attached to carrying out the activities. 3. You think about what interruptions or other activities may creep in and prevent you from doing the things you really need to do. It is essential that you think about these so that you can either plan how you will fit them in and what priority you will give to them, or, plan how you will avoid them or put them off. One of the things that persons find hard to do is to say no. But the good manager of activities and time must learn to say no to interruptions, and other activities that do not contribute to the desired goals. Some things may be nice to do, they may be enjoyable but if they do not fit in at that point you need to be able to say no, not now. 4. Document this plan and use it as your guide for the period you have planned for. Writing it out is beneficial because it helps you to keep focused and provides a clear cut action plan of what needs to be done. Many persons may find this procedure daunting, primarily because old habits die hard. From childhood many have never been taught the importance of the use of time, but developing a new and more productive habit is not impossible. Perseverance and commitment to creating a change will eventually pay off and you will find that the productive use of your time will become second nature

Prioritization is the essential skill you need to make the very best use of your own efforts and those of your team. It's also a skill that you need to create calmness and space in your life so that you can focus your energy and attention on the things that really matter. It is particularly important when time is limited and demands are seemingly unlimited. It helps you to allocate your time where it is most-needed and most wisely spent, freeing you and your team up from less important tasks that can be attended to later. or quietly dropped. With good prioritization (and careful management of de-prioritized tasks) you can bring order to chaos, massively reduce stress, and move towards a successful conclusion. Without it, you'll flounder around, drowning in competing demands. Simple Prioritization. At a simple level, you can prioritize based on time constraints, on the potential profitability or benefit of the task you're facing, or on the pressure you're under to complete a job:

Prioritization based on project value or profitability is probably the most commonly-used and rational basis for prioritization. Whether this is based on a subjective guess at value or a sophisticated financial evaluation, it often gives the most efficient results. Time constraints are important where other people are depending on you to complete a task, and particularly where this task is on the critical path of an important project. Here, a small amount of your own effort can go a very long way. And it's a brave (and maybe foolish) person who resists his or her boss's pressure to complete a task, when that pressure is reasonable and legitimate.

Prioritization Tools While these simple approaches to prioritization suit many situations, there are plenty of special cases where you'll need other tools if you're going to be truly effective. We look at some of these below: The Urgent/Important Matrix is a powerful way of thinking about priorities. Using it helps you overcome the natural tendency to focus on urgent activities, so that you can keep clear enough time to focus on what's really important. This is the way you move from "firefighting", into a position where you can grow your business and your career. Here's how it works: The matrix can be drawn as shown in figure 1, with the dimensions of Importance and Urgency.

The steps below help you use the matrix to prioritize your activities: The first step is to list all the activities and projects you feel you have to do. Try to include everything that takes up your time at work, however unimportant. (If you manage your time using an Action Program, you'll have done this already.)

Next, assign importance to each of the activities you can do this on, say, a scale of 1 to 5: remember, this is a measure of how important the activity is in helping you meet your goals and objectives. Try not to worry about urgency at this stage, as this helps get to the true importance. Once you have assigned importance to each activity, evaluate the urgency of each activity. As you do this, you can plot the listed items on the matrix according to the assigned importance and urgency. Now study the matrix using the strategies described below to schedule your priorities. Strategies for Different Quadrants of the Matrix Urgent and Important There are two distinct types of urgent and important activities: Ones that you could not foresee, and others that you have left to the last minute. You can avoid the latter by planning ahead and avoiding procrastination. Issues and crises, on the other hand, cannot always be foreseen or avoided. Here, the best approach is to leave some time in your schedule to handle unexpected issues and unplanned important activities. And if a major crisis arises, some other activity may have to be rescheduled. If this happens, identify which of you urgent-important activities could have been foreseen and think about how you could schedule similar activities ahead of time, so they do not become urgent. Urgent and Not Important Urgent but not important activities are things that stop you achieving your goals, and prevent you from completing your work. Ask yourself whether these tasks can be rescheduled, or whether someone else could do them. A common source of such interruptions is from other people in your office. Sometimes it's appropriate to say "No" to people, or encourage them to solve the problem themselves. Alternatively, try allocating time when you are available so that people only interrupt you at certain times (a good way of doing this is to schedule a regular meeting so that all

issues can be dealt with at the same time.) By doing this, you'll be able to concentrate on your important activities for longer periods of time. Not Urgent, but Important These are the activities that help you achieve your personal and professional goals, and complete important work. Make sure that you have plenty of time to do these things properly, so that they do not become urgent. And remember to leave enough time in your schedule to deal with unforeseen problems. This will maximize your chances of keeping on schedule, and help you avoid the stress of work becoming more urgent that necessary. Not Urgent and Not Important These activities are just a distraction, and should be avoided if possible. Some can simply be ignored. Others are activities that other people may want you to do, but they do not contribute to your own desired outcomes. Again, say "No" politely and firmly if you can. If people see you are clear about your objectives and boundaries, they will often not ask you to do "not important" activities in the future.

Procrastination refers to the act of putting off actions or tasks to a later time. Psychologists often cite such behavior as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. Schraw, Pinard, Wadkins, and Olafson have proposed three criteria for a behavior to be classified as procrastination: it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying. Procrastination may result in stress, a sense of guilt and crisis, severe loss of personal productivity, as well as social disapproval for not meeting responsibilities or commitments. These feelings combined may promote further procrastination. While it is regarded as normal for people to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning. Chronic procrastination may be a sign of an underlying psychological disorder.

Types of procrastinators

The relaxed type of procrastinators view their responsibilities negatively and avoid them
by directing energy into other tasks. It is common, for example, for relaxed type procrastinating children to abandon schoolwork but not their social lives. Students often see projects as a whole rather than breaking them into smaller parts. This type of

procrastination is a form of denial or cover-up; therefore, typically no help is being sought. Furthermore, they are also unable to defer gratification. The procrastinator avoids situations that would cause displeasure, indulging instead in more enjoyable activities. They may not appear to be worried about work and deadlines, but this is simply an evasion of the work that needs to be completed. The tense-afraid type of procrastinators usually feel overwhelmed with pressure, unrealistic about time, uncertain about goals, and many other negative feelings. They may feel a sense of malaise. Feeling that they lack the ability or focus to successfully complete their work, they tell themselves that they need to unwind and relax, that it's better to take it easy for the afternoon, for example, and start afresh in the morning. They usually have grandiose plans that aren't realistic. Their 'relaxing' is often temporary and ineffective, and leads to even more stress as time runs out, deadlines approach and the person feels increasingly guilty and apprehensive. This behavior becomes a cycle of failure and delay, as plans and goals are put off, penciled into the following day or week in the diary again and again. It can also have a debilitating effect on their personal lives and relationships. Since they are uncertain about their goals, they often feel awkward with people who appear confident and goal-oriented, which can lead to depression. Tenseafraid procrastinators often withdraw from social life, avoiding contact even with close friends. Here are some of the common reasons for procrastination, along with suggestions for dealing with them: Category One: The Nature of the Job Some jobs are just unpleasant -- Anything from cleaning out the attic to having a difficult conversation with a low-performing employee can be very intimidating. There may seem to be very little upside for you in these tasks and they can drain you emotionally and physically. Schedule them early in the day and think of something nice you can do for yourself after the job is done. Once the job is done, you will see that is wasnt as bad as you thought it would be. Some jobs are very complicated -- Maybe you have been assigned a complicated research or writing project. Or, maybe your service organization has put you in charge of developing a new community outreach program. There is so much to do and you dont know where to start. In such cases, dont think in terms of the whole job. Instead, break the project down into manageable steps and set deadlines for each one. Remember the old saying about how to eat an elephant?

Category Two: Too Many Projects For many busy people today, this is the unexamined source of many of our procrastination problems. We are assigned (or we say yes to) too many things. As our plate begins to pile high with a variety of urgent and/or important things, it can become very overwhelming and lead to things like: Indecision the simple process of choosing which task to do next can slow you down. You have to begin by dividing all the tasks into A, B, and C priorities. Delegate whatever you can and decline or postpone the least important ones. Distraction and confusion this is related to Indecision. It is easy to bounce back and forth between all the tasks on your list and never finish anything. Instead of trying to keep everyone happy at once, pick one job and stick to it until you are done. Indifference While this can be a problem with any task, it become a chronic condition when you have too much to do; you just loose your interest and motivation altogether. First, determine the priority and value of the task. If it has a high value, block out time for it on your prime time schedule, zero in on it and get it done. If it is not a high-value item to begin with, delegate it or scratch it off. It is hard enough to accomplish all the tasks you care about. Dont sap your energy on things you dont care about unless it is absolutely necessary (read: important to your spouse or your boss!). Category Three: Emotional Issues Fear of failure (lack of self confidence) -- Maybe you dont have enough training to do the job well; maybe you have a boss who is hard to please; maybe the stakes are very high; maybe you struggle with emotional conditions that see any level of risk as a threat. No matter what the root cause may be, when people don't want to face the consequences of failure, they delay. Ask for help if you need it. Set a deadline and clear your calendar of other interruptions. Promise yourself a reward when the job is done. Perfectionism This is actually related to fear of failure. In the minds of some, the best way of avoiding failure is to always be perfect, and if you cant do the job perfectly, it is better not to try. Often, the only way to overcome this problem is through counseling and behavior modification training. On a practical level, remind yourself that it is more important to finish the job, even if it could be done better. Passive aggressive attitudes This is a sneaky form of anger we use when we are mad at someone but we dont want to confront them directly. Avoiding or dragging out a job is a way of punishing or controlling the other person. In cases like this, you can talk out the

issue with the person, be a grown up and do the job anyway, get counseling, or quit. Life is too short to waste everyones time playing games.

Expand Your Productivity by Reducing Interruptions


It is the week your big project is due on the bosss desk. You have finished your research and all you have to do now is synthesize everything into one compelling, comprehensive presentation document. There is a lot riding on this, so you have blocked out several hours everyday to work on this. You know you have allowed yourself plenty of time, so when you arrive at work on Monday, you are feeling very confident you will finish in plenty of time. But then the interruptions start. A co-worker drops in to ask a question and stays for 15 minutes. A phone call from a client sends you on a wild goose chase and you lose a whole hour. As the day goes on the interruptions mount, and by the time you head home, you panic a little bit when you realize that you only got about half as much done today as you expected to. Now you are behind. What can you do tomorrow to prevent a repeat of today? Here are a few helpful tips: First of all, try to preempt interruptions. Sometimes all you need to do is close the door to your office, if you have one. If you normally work in a shared space or a cube, inform those around you that you do not want to be disturbed for awhile. If possible, turn your desk so that you have your back to traffic areas to avoid making eye contact and inviting distracting interruptions. Maybe you could relocate to a vacant conference room and gain a little privacy. In extreme situations, see if you can work from home. Remember, you dont have to allow interruptions. It is always acceptable to politely explain that you are facing an important deadline and ask to postpone the conversation to a later date. If you are fortunate to have an administrative assistant, inform that person of times when you will not be available to take calls or visits, and ask them to protect your time. When you cant prevent the interruption, handle it head on. If someone asks to speak with you "for just a few minutes," tell them you are not available at the moment and reschedule for later in the day. Of course, they may counter by saying it is "Urgent." When this happens, specify exactly how long you can give them, and when that time is up, get up, usher them to the door and tell them you will get back to them later if they need additional assistance. Keep the conversation on point by asking them to skip unnecessary details and explain exactly what it is they need from you. Ask them to summarize, and you will request specific details if you think you need them.

Make unwanted visitors as uncomfortable as possible. This is not to say you should be intentionally rude or disrespectful. However, you also dont want people to be able to "camp" in your office or workspace if you have other important tasks to complete. You can still be polite without laying out the welcome mat. For instance, when someone unexpectedly comes into your office, stand up to greet them and dont sit back down. This will make it much less likely that they will sit down, and send the clear message that you dont have much time to give them. As you speak with them, walk toward the door to indicate that you are ending the visit. When you know you cant afford to have visitors, try piling folders, books or other large items on the chairs or sofas in your office so that there are no convenient places for people to sit. If all else fails, announce that you have to make an important call or attend to another important duty in exactly X minutes. When the time is expired, excuse yourself, pick up the phone (or leave the office altogether), and promise to continue the conversation at a later date. There are, of course, exceptions to all of these rules. Not all interruptions can or should be interdicted. Sometimes interruptions are truly important, and may involve issues that are of critical importance to your team, your boss or your company. The suggestions in this article are not designed to isolate you from your coworkers or screen you from the need to address important tasks that are a legitimate part of your responsibilities. But, now you do have a few helpful ideas for protecting your time from being hijacked by others. You must be the judge of when and when not to use them.

Work The Respectable Addiction Time management is good for a lot of things. It can help you identify your most important tasks and can help you plan your life so those most important things get done. Time management can help you delegate more effectively, work more efficiently, and become more productive; all while helping you to balance all aspects of your life in a more satisfying way. Time management is great for a lot of things, but it can only help you if you are willing to be helped. I run into plenty of people these days that seem to prefer their lives stay jam-packed with high stress, late hours, multi-tasking, and work- related activities. If they take time management training at all, it is only so that they can squeeze more efficiency out of their already hard-driven days. They believe living this way is not only necessary; it is normal. These people are sick. The dirty little secret about the corporate world is that it is largely populated by workaholics. This problem goes unrecognized most of the time because, even though workaholism has a serious impact on the mental, emotional, physical, and relationship

health of people who suffer from it; this disorder initially produces remarkably productive people. In a country founded on the Protestant work ethic, what company isnt thrilled to have employees who come in early, work late into the evening, take home work at night, and pretty much never quit thinking about ways to work harder and faster than they did yesterday? Also, these employees are generally rewarded with good salaries, bonuses, and promotions, which in effect reward them for obsessive compulsive behavior! Unfortunately, workaholism soon begins to take its toll. Many workaholics are adrenalin junkies who only feel really alive when they are in the middle of high stakes, fast and furious action. This keeps them in a constant state of stress as their fight or flight response stays active 24-7. It also elevates blood pressure, disrupts sleep patterns, and makes them more vulnerable to heart disease, cancer, and certain autoimmune disorders. But thats nothing compared to the damage workaholism does to relationships. Most workaholics genuinely love their families, but anyone observing their behavior would easily assume they love their jobs more. The amount of time and energy devoted to working or thinking about work at the office, on the road, at home, during the weekends, late at night, during vacations, and unfortunately, attending to work instead of keeping important promises to spouse and children leaves very little time to focus on nurturing important relationships. Even when they do make time for a date with their spouse or to attend a childs school activity, they may be checking their Blackberry frequently. What factors contribute to workaholism? The roots may stem back to childhood issues; but closer to the surface, there are five different issues that combine to drive this behavior -- a need to feel important, a need to be needed, fear of failure connected to anxiety about financial security, adrenalin addiction, and perfectionism. However, the first step is not identifying the cause, but facing the problem. Below is a list of possible workaholism warning signs: 1. Do you get more enthusiastic about your work than about family or anything else? 2. Do you have this nagging feeling that you should be working, even when you dont have to be working? 3. Do you take work with you to bed? on weekends? on vacation? 4. Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most? 5. Do you work more than 40 hours a week? 6. Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures? 7. Do you take complete responsibility for the outcome of your work efforts? 8. Have your family and friends given up expecting you on time? 9. Do you take on extra work because you are concerned that it won't otherwise get done?

10. Have you had to miss an important family activity or break a promise more than once in the past 3 months because of work? 11. Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing? 12. Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work? 13. Are you afraid that if you don't work hard you will lose your job or be a failure? 14. Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going very well? 15. Are you by nature a highly energetic and competitive person? 16. Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else? 17. Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships? 18. Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking? 19. Do you work or read during meals? 20. Is making more money a central focus in your life? You dont think you have a problem? I knew of a guy once whose family held an intervention to help him face his workaholism. Finally, he agreed to check into a treatment facility. He showed up at the hospital with his laptop, a portable fax, and his Blackberry. He assumed that he would be able to at least work a little between sessions. Dont be that guy; thats all Im saying.

Burnout is a psychological term for the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest. Research indicates general practitioners have the highest proportion of burnout cases (according to a recent Dutch study in Psychological Reports, no less than 40% of these experienced high levels of burnout). Burnout is not a recognized disorder in the DSM although it is recognized in the ICD-10. The most well-studied measurement of burnout in the literature is the Maslach Burnout Inventory. Maslach and her colleague Jackson first identified the construct "burnout" in the 1970s, and developed a measure that weighs the effects of emotional exhaustion and reduced sense of personal accomplishment. This indicator has become the standard tool for measuring burnout in research on the syndrome. The Maslach Burnout Inventory uses a three dimensional description of exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. Some researchers and practitioners have argued for an "exhaustion only" model that sees that symptom as the hallmark of burnout.

Maslach and her colleague, Michael Leiter, defined the antithesis of burnout as engagement. Engagement is characterized by energy, involvement and efficacy, the opposites of exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. Many theories of burnout include negative outcomes related to burnout, including job function (performance, output, etc.), health related outcomes (increases in stress hormones, coronary heart disease, circulatory issues) and mental health problems (depression, etc.). Although burnout is work-related, most responsibility for burnout currently rests on the individual worker in the United State, as well as the individual company, as it is in a company's best interest to ensure burnout doesn't occur. Other countries, especially in Europe, have included work stress and burnout in occupational health and safety standards, and hold organizations (at least partly) responsible for preventing and treating burnout. The term burnout in psychology was coined by Herbert Freudenberger in his 1974 Staff burnout, presumably based on the 1960 novel A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene, which describes a protagonist suffering from burnout.