Sunday, May 22, 2011

Make the Most of your Time

As many people know, Randy Pausch was the author of an inspiring book called The Last Lecture. A professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the US, Randy was scheduled to deliver a lecture in a series which featured academics speaking on a topic they might choose if they were to present their last ever lecture. Sadly, Randy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly before he spoke. His resulting lecture, entitled How to Achieve your Childhood Dreams became a Youtube sensation, and led to the publication of the bestselling book. Also on Youtube is a video where Randy shares his timesaving tips. I first summarised his talk for the LADS newsletter, and thought it was worth repeating here. It is still on Youtube, along with his now-famous last lecture.

According to Randy, the average office worker wastes 2 hours per day through losing things and poor planning (sound familiar?). He believed, therefore, that managing time better makes people more successful. He encouraged people to think about their time in terms of monetary value - decide how much your time is worth and you'll be less likely to waste it.

Goals, Priorities & Planning
Randy recommended drawing up a to-do list, then examining each item on your list and asking the following questions:
Why is it on my list? - cross it off if it's not important
Why will I succeed at doing it?
What will happen if I don't?
His motto - Doing the right things is better than doing things right!

According to Randy, planning should be done at multiple levels: Plan for 1) today, 2) this week, 3) this month. Reassess your plan each day & modify it as necessary. (ADHD coaches often recommend a Master to-do list, where you can note down all the things you ever need to do. Each day you can choose something off your master list.)

Randy had interesting advice for controlling paper - a problem often experienced by people with ADHD. He recommended buying a filing cabinet, and filing every piece of paper in alphabetical order. This system, for him, was a simple, quick & efficient way of finding a place for every sheet of paper he needed to keep - at home or at work. It enabled him to keep his desk free of paper at all times.

Randy recommended keeping your inbox clear at all times. In his opinion, many people tend to use their inbox as a to-do list. He believed that once an email has been read it should be filed in the relevant email folder, and said that a cluttered inbox is as unproductive as a cluttered desk. He also recommended checking emailas no more that once or twice a day.

According to Randy, even if you can remember your appointments without a diary, that activity is taking up too much valuable brain space. Therefore, he was a great advocate of an appointment diary - either paper or electronic. In fact, he recommended that you have a second computer monitor at work, with one monitor displaying your appointments at all times.

Telephone calls
Telephone calls should be grouped, wherever possible, and returned together - right before lunch or before the end of the day. In order to keep telephone conversations short, stand while you're talking. Have an excuse ready if you need to get off a phone call, e.g. 'Please excuse me, but I have an appointment with somebody and need to end this call'.

Randy quoted research that the average interruption takes up to six minutes of your time, and then a further 4-5 minute recovery to get your head back into your work (even more if you have ADHD). His tips for limiting interruptions:
Turn phone calls into emails. For example, your voicemail could ask callers to send an email rather than a phone number.
If people wish to interrupt you, say 'I'm in the middle of somethhing right now', or 'I have 5 minutes'.

How to say 'No'
Many people struggle to say 'no'. Randy had some advice for saying 'no' in a gentle way: Tell the person making the request that you are very busy, but you will do it if nobody else agrees to do it. Also, check to see if there will be enough people to do the job. Ask how many people are required. If the answer is 3, agree to do the job when 2 other people have agreed.

Time Journal
Because our time is so valuable, Randy recommended keeping a time journal to see where it goes. Analyse the tasks in your time journal and see what can be delegated. Identify your productive time and protect it fiercely. You might even want to schedule a fake appointment to give yourself this time. Also, find your unproductive time and schedule meetings, phone calls and mundane things.

Randy's Final Tips
Get an organiser - and use it.
Make a to-do list in priority order
Keep a time journal
Read this article, or watch his film again in one month and see what you have changed about your behaviour.

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