Time Management by Tomato

Maybe I’m a different breed
Maybe I’m not listening
So blame it on my A.D.D. baby
Awolnation – Sail


Like a fireman

Putting out fires all day.

Time. There’s never enough time, especially at work. You get bombarded with so many things that need to get done. How do you get to everything?

Seriously, how do you get to it. I didn’t intend to start out like an infomercial. As I’ve moved up the ladder at work, there is more and more I have to get to every day, and heaven help me if I let even the smallest task fall through the cracks. It wasn’t bad when I started working in an office. I asked my boss what to do, he told me and I did it. Repeat when that task was complete. Advancing and taking on more responsibility lead to more tasks, more projects, and more supervisors with demands.

To make things a little more complicated, I probably have adult A.D.D., though I’ve never been formally diagnosed. I show most of the signs.

I started researching time management (should that be quoted?) techniques years ago. My firm sent me to a seminar on time management. Schedule 45 minute hours to leave yourself 15 minutes per hour to take care of anything unexpected. What about when the entire day is one unexpected flare-up after another?

The common theme for many of the programs I’ve looked at is to keep a list of stuff to do. Some say a To-Do Today list, others a master list of EVERYTHING you have to get done. I borrowed an audio seminar from a friend. It had a few ideas in it, such as tracking what you do and categorizing in 15 minute blocks. Unfortunately there is no category on the time log for keeping the time log up to date. The same borrowed seminar discussed a way of categorizing tasks on urgency and importance. This actually worked for me because I can handle just about anything that is thrown my way, but when I have too many choices of what to do, I freeze trying to decide what to do next.

I tried Getting Things Done. This seems like it could be a great system, if you have the time to implement it properly. I didn’t. I managed to clear my desk once, and I tried to set up the multiple lists. I did NOT, as David Allen recommends, begin the process without interruptions. I am not to the level of management where I can ignore everything for a day or more (I’m not sure that level actually exists), and I didn’t have the commitment to go in to the office on the weekend. An 80 mile round trip 5 days a week is more than enough for me thank you very much. There were some tidbits that I took from that program, such as keeping an agenda for the next time you meet with someone informally, and how to effectively process the Inbox.

A few other random tips I’ve collected (and at least attempt to use) include:

  • Only answer voice mail/email at specific times, once or twice a day. This works to a point, but I’ve found that if I put off responding that one of several things happens next-
    • I get a call asking why I haven’t responded to an email or vice-versa in a time frame that the sender deems appropriate.
    • My supervisor gets a call or office visit from said sender asking why I haven’t responded.
    • I get accused of being unresponsive or ignoring said sender.
      • All of these can happen in an hour or two.
  • Use the delay send feature in Outlook (and possibly other mail software). This way you can respond to email immediately, but avoid being trapped in an infinite game of email ping-pong that some people like to play that usually ends after 8 hours with you thinking “Where did the day go and did I actually accomplish anything?” The answer is typically no.
    • Downsides to this are the same as the twice-a-day method.
  • Don’t answer your phone. Always let it go to voice mail.
    • This is a minefield if I’ve ever heard one. If you’re in business where you rely on someone else requiring your services in exchange for compensation, you should probably pick up the phone most of the time if you want to remain employed. I try to pick up with a few exceptions.
      • Someone’s in my office. Ever been talking to someone who always answers the phone and goes into an unrelated conversation while you’re sitting there looking around. I find that rude and annoying, and try never to do that. Going back to my self diagnosed A.D.D., all this does is cause to forget what I’m talking about in both conversations.
      • I’m in the middle of something that takes concentration. If I’m on a time crunch trying to finish something and I can’t afford the distraction, I’ll ignore the ring. Sometimes I turn the ringer to silent or set calls to go straight to voice mail, but I usually forget to reset to normal for a while. This applies for things that will take a half hour or so. Anything more in depth than that usually defaults to “answer mode”.

The title of this post is a reference to something I read that made me start thinking about this time and attention management struggle that I deal with every day. It’s called The Pomodoro Technique. It essentially has you work on something for set periods of time, taking short breaks at set intervals. I’m not sure this would work too well for me. It’s bad enough trying to get my concentration back after answering a phone call or checking on the email ding. Taking a scheduled stop seems like it would derail my day completely.

So, anyone out there have any tips on how to “manage” time, attention, focus, etc.?

Rock on!