Oh my goodness, it’s already the end of January! How did that happen? What is it about time that is so evasive and contrary? It expands when you least appreciate it (like when you are walking across red-hot sand to get to your beach towel) and contracts when you need it most (grant submission deadlines!).
Effective time management is particularly crucial for those of us working in grant-seeking and grant-writing. Long-term, big picture time management underpins the successful development of funder relationships; while short-term time management is critical for ensuring grant application and EOIs are submitted on time.
Yes, I know that books, blogs and websites about time management are everywhere. The challenge is finding time to read them!
While there is some contradictory advice out there, most sources have these key elements in common: 1. Know what is most important to you (your priorities), 2. Focus your time on these, and 3. Use a range of tools and systems to help you focus your time on these priorities.
1. Know your Priorities
Read just a handful of time management or productivity books and you will quickly notice that knowing what is most important to you (your priorities) and then focusing your effort on these is at the heart of effective time management. It stops us confusing being busy with being effective and makes sure we stay focused on what matters most. Or, as Stephen Covey says in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People … you must “Begin with the end in mind.” Ideally, your organisation has a strategic plan that identifies priorities for the organisation, and your list of grant-seeking priorities is a logical extension of this.
2. Create your Road Map and stick it to your wall.
After you have identified your priorities and written these down, most time management experts suggest the best way to tackle these is by breaking them down into smaller, achievable steps. I have called this a Road Map. Your Road Map is a one-page document that clearly sets out each step – with a timeline and any resources needed – that must be taken to achieve each of your grant-seeking priorities. Priorities plus clear steps and timelines = Road Map. Keep it simple. This isn’t a list of every single work task but a list of your priorities. Display it somewhere you can see it.
A Road Map will tell you when you have detoured too far from the track and will guide you back. This is reminding me of the time my sister and I ended up lost and bogged in the dark with no mobile reception somewhere off a logging track in the Alpine region of Victoria. We had to hitch a lift from a one-armed truck driver back to the nearest town and his dog farted the whole way. True Story. Like I say, we all need a road map.
3. Use your Road Map
This is the key. Allocate your time so that the priorities in your Road Map take precedence.
‘Always keep your focus on your most important tasks; – Craig Jarrow (Time Management Ninga)
Here are some common time management systems and tools to help you stick to your Road Map and have your most productive year yet:
- Break down your priorities into monthly or weekly tasks and then block these out in your calendar as chunks of uninterrupted time. The general advice is to block this time out for first thing in the day. Let your colleagues, staff and other contacts know about this commitment.
- Take 10 minutes at the end of the day to prepare a list of priority tasks to complete the following day. Remember: Focus on the important things first.
- Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day or week and factor in time for the unexpected and distractions.
- If your workplace allows for this, turn off your email and social media notifications, and check these a handful of times a day only. Craig Jarrow, author of the Time Management Ninja, recommends only checking email three times a day: morning, noon, and end of day. The Ninja also suggests that picking up the phone is much faster than engaging in email ‘ping pong’.
- Keep messages short and clear and don’t reply unless this is actually required.
- Recognise when you are simply spinning your wheels on a task and take a break.
- Set time-limits for tasks. Parkinson’s Law says that ‘Work expands to fill the available time available for its completion’. In other words, if you allocate 2 weeks to complete a task that can be completed properly in 2 hours, you will find a way to complicate/expand the task so that its fill up the hours of that 2 weeks.
- Within reason, say No to requests for your time when they do not contribute to your progress towards your priorities. Stay focused on what is most important.
- Stop multi-tasking. Focus on one task and finish it then start on the next. Evidently, we end up spending less time on a task and make less errors when we focus on one task at a time. This Psychology Today article has some great tips on increasing productivity at work and expands on many of the tips covered in this blog.
So, there you have it. Your 3-step plan for a focused and effective 2019.