Mastering Time Management
The old adage “time is money” takes on new meaning in the credit and collections industry, where the older the account, the less debt recovered. Here at BARR Credit Services, we want to help you work smarter – not harder – so you can get more accomplished in less time.
Google “time management” and up pops a plethora of top tips and techniques:
- “8 Tips for Effective Time Management”
- “15 Time Management Tips for Achieving Your Goals” and
- Even “27 Time Management Tips to Work Less and Play More” (Who has time to read all 27?!)
Assuming you’re already pressed for time, we’ve decided to simplify things a bit. We’ll focus only on the three most successful and proven techniques for better managing that most precious of commodities — your time.
#1. 90-Minute Work Intervals
In 1993 researcher Anders Ericsson found that the best performers (whether musicians, athletes, chess players or writers) all practiced in increments of no more than 90 minutes each, with a break between each session. This discovery has fueled a movement among business consultants to encourage frequent breaks for employees:
There’s sound science behind the 90-minute principle. Apparently, every 90-120 minutes, your body experiences a period of significant energy and alertness, followed by a period of fatigue. During that burst of energy, you can work with your body to get far more accomplished. But during the low point of the cycle, you have to work against your body’s natural rhythms to accomplish much at all.
Here’s how to apply the 90-Minute Work Interval technique:
- Get ready. Pre-plan exactly what work will you do in this 90-minute time frame. Decide the night before, over breakfast or at least in the few minutes before.
- Block out distractions. Close all your tabs and block incoming calls. (You can even batch emails to arrive two hours later.) Let your colleagues know when you will next be available. (See sidebar, “The Multitasking Myth.”)
- Get Set. Make sure you have everything you need. (Such as a glass of water at your desk, or maybe a snack so you aren’t tempted to get up during your work time.)
- Go! Give it your all, knowing you can rest in 90 minutes. (Hint: If time is limited or your attention wanders, try 30- or 45-minute blocks at first.)
- Take a break. This could be a minute or two of deep breathing, stretching, chatting with a colleague, or a five- to 10-minute walk. Take a longer break if you’ve been working at high intensity. (And if you can swing it, a 10- to 20-minute power nap is ideal.)
Journalist and business consultant Tony Schwartz is a strong proponent of this practice, claiming it’s been “life-changing” for him. In fact, the 90-Minute Work Interval technique enabled him to write his fourth book in less than half the time it took to write the previous three.
#2. The Pomodoro Technique
Created by Italian Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, this time management practice is named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer (“pomodoro” is Italian for “tomato”) which Cirillo used to break down his activities into 25-minute intervals. Here’s how it works:
- Choose a task to be accomplished.
- Set your pomodoro timer for 25 minutes.
- Work on the task until the timer rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper.
- Take a short break (three to five minutes) to do something not work-related. (Breathe, meditate, grab a cup of coffee or go for a short walk.)
- After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15 to 30 minutes).
Repeat the process a few times over the course of a workday. Proponents claim you’ll find yourself accomplishing a lot more—while still taking plenty of breaks to walk around or refill your water bottle.
It’s important to note that a pomodoro is an indivisible unit of work. That means if you get distracted by a coworker, meeting or emergency, you must do one of two things:
- End the pomodoro there, saving your work and starting a new pomodoro later, or
- Postpone the distraction until the pomodoro is complete.
If you can do the latter, Cirillo suggests using the “inform, negotiate and call back” strategy:
- Inform the other (distracting) party that you’re working on something right now.
- Negotiate a time when you can get back to them and that follow-up immediately.
- Call back the other party once your pomodoro is complete and you’re ready to tackle their issue.
Since a timer is the only essential pomodoro tool, you can get started with any phone with a timer app, a countdown clock, or even a plain old egg timer. Many highly successful people, such as New York entrepreneur and success coach Chris Winfield, swear by this technique.
#3. M.I.T. Lists and Time Blocking
Another highly successful tool for managing time is the M.I.T. (Most Important Task) list. This technique enables you to focus on completing the tasks that will make the biggest difference first, before spending time and energy on anything else.
Bear in mind that important activities are most often those we put off in favor of others that are more urgent, easier to accomplish, and provide more immediate gratification. The so-called Eisenhower Matrix illustrates the difference:
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain Image
At the beginning of each day, ask yourself two questions:
- “What are the two or three most important tasks I need to do today?”
- “What are the tasks that—if I do them today—would make a huge difference?”
Write only those tasks on your M.I.T list; these are the tasks you want to complete first.
Now you’re ready to start blocking your time.
Time blocking is the practice of scheduling out everything in your entire day, including work projects, meals and personal time. While this may seem constraining, it’s been proven to be a highly effective time management tool. Here’s how to do it:
On your calendar, block off the time of day that you actually spend working at your desk, excluding your commute and lunch break. From there, you can further segment this time into creative blocks.
If possible, designate one or two days a week as “meeting days”
Be sure to schedule in breaks.
Block off your personal time. This would include meal preparation, family time, exercise, bathing, sleeping, etc.
Schedule time to work on a goal. Review your calendar to see where you can feasibly devote 30-60 minutes to work on achieving a personal or work-related goal.
While time blocking may seem overwhelming at first, it can actually help reveal hidden treasures — pockets of time you never knew you had.