Help – there are not enough hours in my day!

Most of us are familiar with this scenario.  You get into the office on a Monday morning.  You know what you need to achieve in the coming week (it’s board paper week) but by the time you’ve walked from your desk to the kitchen to make your first cup of coffee and back to your desk you’ve already had 4 new verbal requests.  Then you check your email – the Chair has been busy over the weekend and suddenly there are lots of other things to do.

How do you ensure that you can achieve them all and still get your board pack out in time?  Time management skills are crucial if you want to be an effective governance professional.

This is what has always worked for me in my career to date.  It is the low tech version, which suits me because it gives me the most flexibility and visual picture, but you could do the same electronically.

  • Firstly I print off my outlook calendar in ‘month view’ for up to 6 months ahead. Of course some of the appointments will change in that period but some things are unlikely to such as Board meetings; your annual leave; the annual leave of your colleagues.  This sheet is for long term planning rather than the detail.  I ensure all the really important key events are marked on this calendar and use it to ensure that I am aware of any potential clashes or impossible weeks where there are too many things happening.  If I spot one of these, I consider whether I can delegate, start working on it in a quiet week, or bring forward or negotiate an extended deadline.  The sooner I know about these the better I can ensure I manage my workload.
  • For the day to day more detailed planning I print out a month’s worth of Outlook Calendar in ‘day views’. Again, I know the appointments already in the calendar might change, and I choose to keep my calendar up to date manually as well as electronically.  This has served me particularly well in the past while my organisation had a flaky IT system.  It means I always have a hard copy of my diary and to do list.  I use pencil to make amendments so they could be rubbed out easily if further changes occur.
  • On this printed sheet there are two spaces on the right hand side – one called “Arrange by Due Date” and one called “Notes”.
  • I use the Arrange by Due Date section for my daily to do list – this is usually the urgent and important items. I start each day with this list and add to it as requests come in e.g.  When I meet someone in the kitchen, or from emails.  If the deadline isn’t for a few days I might add it to tomorrow’s list or for a few days’ time, particularly if the list for the current day list starts to look unrealistic.
  • From the day list I prioritise where possible and then knowing what meetings I have in my diary I allocate time to complete the tasks between meetings. This provides me with a realistic view of how much I can achieve that day.  Ideally I try to block out a lunch break.  A walk out to get a sandwich and some fresh air will significantly help my concentration in the afternoon.
  • If it is clear I cannot do everything I consider whether I can delegate, check the deadline (sometimes there is leeway) and negotiate a new deadline or cancel a non-urgent meeting.
  • At the end of the day, anything that has not been completed can be transferred to the next day’s list. If I end up with having to move something to tomorrow or the next day’s list which had a deadline of today, this is a conscious process.  I ensure that I communicate with the person I am doing the work for about why I am going to be late and can reassure them that it is top of my list for the following day.
  • Of course I might have to work late or go in early to get as close as possible to the deadline but overall my system helps me ensure that such incidents are rarely a surprise and are planned.
  • I use the Notes section for the longer term items which don’t have deadlines and which I can do if I find myself with spare time.  If some items are on this list for a very long time it might be time to question whether they need to be done at all!

This system has worked very well for me for my whole career and I think I can confidently say I have rarely missed a deadline in an unplanned or un-negotiated way and rarely forget to do anything.  As a  governance professional this not only means I am doing the job well, but also builds up a stock pile of good will against which I can draw when I need something last minute from a colleague.

What has worked for you?

Next week I’ll talk about how to handle the situation when there is so much to do you don’t know where to start.