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Mastering Time

May 29, 2018 -

Professional

Nic Reichelt

Time goes by so quickly more often than not for me, while sometimes it seems it can not go fast enough. Managing time is something I have been working on for a while, both professionally and in my personal life. The main goal and focus here has been to ensure I am efficient and not neglecting any of the important areas of my life. These past couple years have really helped me hone my time management skills. At times it has been less than ideal, but in others it has made my life so much easier and I feel accomplished. I have found that it helps to think of time management as managing the investment of yourself.

There have been several key things that I have focused on to become better at this. Keeping track of what needs to be done, prioritize those items, make a plan, and execute. I am also working on reflecting on my process and finding areas to improve on. This is a step I recommend, but is not a “make or break” necessarily.

Take Stock

This is the first step and is about taking inventory of the things you want or need to do. Whether it is in your personal or professional life, you need to keep track of what to do. Figure out your process and what works best to keep track of what you need to do, whether it be handwritten lists, an excel spreadsheet, or an app on your phone.

For me personally I have several ways of doing this:

  • For my day-to-day items I use an app called TickTick (Google Play Store Link) to keep track of what I want and need to do. 
  • For projects I am working on, I use an excel/google sheets spreadsheet to create a project inventory which gives me the big picture/strategic view. This way I can tailor and customize the information I am tracking in relation to the project and can gauge my progress. For the more tactical view I put tasks in TickTick as reminders, which helps with my day to day planning.

Most of us can’t just manage everything in our heads, so writing it down in some fashion is key to succeeding here.

Prioritize

This step is about determining the hierarchy of importance of tasks or projects. Really take time to think about this, especially in your personal time. If you are doing things that are not truly a high priority for you then you are wasting your time.

For me, this was the amount of time I spent playing video games on the weekend. I have drastically reduced that time in recent months and feel more rested and less anxious. I wanted to focus on my family pretty much completely when I get home from work because our time is so short nowadays. Now I don’t even take out my laptop and try to stay off my phone on weekdays. This allows me to be more engaged with my wife and kids, and I am less distracted and irritable

For work and project tasks I use my spreadsheets to determine priority. With my custom spreadsheets I can take stock of what needs to be done and determine what order to do things in and what level of priority each item needs. This has helped me stay on track with my website projects and helps in the post-mortem as well.

NOTE: The post-mortem is a tool used to reflect on the success or failure of a project to meet its goals. I look at it as an opportunity to learn from my mistakes, grow as an individual and professional, and hone my process and skills.

Plan

This step coincides with prioritization, but is different enough to talk about by itself. Really when you are prioritizing your items, you are also planning. Planning is the process of determining when and how you are going to complete items. An item that has a high priority may not need to be completed immediately, but you need to be working towards it regularly. For me, once I have my inventory of items I am prioritizing and planning at the same time.

“When” I need something completed by is a portion of the priority, and if an item has a hard due date than an item with a more flexible one, it’s priority may be higher. Some items have to be completed before others as well. This is why prioritization and planning go hand in hand, but planning is a more involved process.

“How” I am going to complete a task is strictly part of planning.

Execute

This step is the process of actually completing your tasks. You are putting it all together and actually completing your prioritized and planned set of tasks or project.

During this stage I like to keep track of what I am doing and how long each steps takes or when I completed it. This helps me to see if my plan and goals were realistic or not and will help make the process easier, more efficient, and more accurate in the future. This tracking is done typically through the spreadsheet I use to track the project tasks. I will keep track of the completion percentage of the task, when it was completed, and jot down notes to reference back to.

In my personal life, I don’t really do this for the day to day things. That would be a little too much if you ask me, but I do look through my prior tasks and see their frequency for repeated items (household chores, vehicle maintenance, my gaming time). This is more of a mental process in my personal life, but it is what has helped me to reduce or eliminate the time I spend on things that are not a real priority.

One of the big changes I have made recently was to nearly eliminate my personal game time and focus more on reading books. My wife and I will game together once or twice a week, but I don’t really game on my own anymore. Instead I go to bed earlier and wake up earlier and read with my morning coffee before work. It came down to prioritization, but it wasn’t until I actually executed it that I started seeing the benefits. My mind feels a little sharper, and my eyes are not strained as much during the day.

Reflection

I feel that this step is the most important but is not necessary to time management. The reason I feel it is the most important is because it is a tool you can use to improve your process and make sure you do better in the future. It can be a time consuming process and not everyone has that time, but I have found it vital for me becoming better. We learn from our mistakes, but only if we reflect on them. If we don’t do this then we are more likely to repeat those mistakes over and over again. You have to be honest with yourself, though, and have taken really good notes throughout the process. You cannot have a “checkbox” mentality on this part of the process, otherwise you are wasting time. It must be honest, thorough, and for the sake of improvement.

Since I was laid off in January 2017, my goal has been to improve myself and be the best that I can be. I really got to hone my time management skills while working towards my degree after the the layoff. I had a little under 3 years of my degree program remaining and finished in about 8 months. I did this by treating my degree like a project. After each class I would reflect on what I did and looked for ways to be more efficient for future classes. My process was not as developed then – it was merely jotting down notes in a Google Doc for each class on what I did and what resources were the most helpful.

After I completed my degree program I took stock of the whole “project” and looked for ways to make the process more efficient. I looked back to my Excel Dashboard days and decided that using a spreadsheet to track individual tasks and the project as a whole would provide me with more hard data, in addition to notes on the process. I then did this with my job search. I would track the company, position, date I applied, application date, response dates, application status, how qualified I felt I was, salary range (if known), and any notes I had. This helped me a great deal because I could keep track of the jobs I wanted most in a single place as I applied for jobs on about 10 different websites. I also tracked when I got a rejection and could note any feedback I got from the company. I started by applying for strictly developer jobs as I wanted to get into the field my degree was for. When I noticed I wasn’t getting anywhere with those, I started applying for more consultant/reporting positions which I had a couple years of practical experience in. Lastly, when those didn’t pan out I started applying for customer service type jobs. I had worked in a customer service call center for over 10 years, mostly taking calls. By tracking each application I was able to adjust my plan to broaden where and what I was applying to and for. I applied for nearly 150 jobs from September 2017 to February 2018 until I got my job at Progressive.

Since then I have also been working on a web development contract and improved upon my job search tracking process. My project tracker for this client project has been a great help to keep me on task and not forget things. I have several spreadsheets tracking individual tasks, the time I am spending on the project each day, and what I did. I have been able to use the data from these spreadsheets to work on the ReadME doc for the project which will serve as a report of the project as well as a guide for the company.


All of this is to say that time management has been an important thing for me in the last couple years. It wasn’t until I started the reflection process, though, that I really saw an improvement in my processes. I am able to do more, I feel more accomplished, and I know I am a better husband, father, employee, and person in general because of it.