A comment I hear a lot when the topic of time management comes up is something along the lines of:
“I’d like to be more organised with my time, but it’s just not possible around here. Things go wrong or something or someone needs my attention. So I can’t block out my time to deal with the things I know need to be done because I don’t know how long it will take to deal with the things I don’t yet know about! ”
That’s Murphy’s Law in action, isn’t it. Murphy hits everyone of us almost everyday. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong!
An emergency happens and we have to put down what we’re doing and go and deal with it.
A customer comes in with a complaint which throws out the next two hours of our day.
An urgent job comes in that we weren’t expecting.
We have a bad experience on the phone with a potential customer and for the next 30 minutes you just keep on running the conversation through your head and you can’t think about anything else.
And a hundred other different scenarios that upset our plans.
So what do we do? Well if you’re like me, you may be guilty of just not planning your day. I’ve heard myself say something like “What’s the point in planning out my day when my plans just keep on getting disrupted by interruptions and emergencies?”
So I go along just doing what falls to hand next. Sure I’ll make some assessment of what’s the most important thing to do next. And I have specific appointments which have to be kept all planned in my calendar. But other than that, if I’m not careful I end up pretty much with an unstructured day.
But if Murphy hits, I haven’t committed to doing things that didn’t get done, my plans haven’t been disrupted and I haven’t wasted time making any plans…
Great! But is it? Have I been as productive as I could be?
It’s become a cliche in time management that most people are more productive on the day before they go on holiday than on any other day. And it’s probably true. You plan that day more meticulously than any other day. You avoid emergencies, interruptions and distractions. You ask for calls to be diverted or screened out. You put a do not disturb sign on your door. And you only do what absolutely has to get done, with a laser focus on results and outcomes delegation next actions to someone else.
So the time management gurus will have you run every day like that day before you go on holiday. Plan meticulously, avoid disruption and distraction and be disciplined.
Back in the real world is that even possible or desirable for most of us? We can’t keep a Do Not Disturb sign on the door all day every day. We can’t ignore the phone all the time. And how many opportunities will me miss if we focus 100% on what’s in front of us, never looking to the side?
So in reality treating every day like a pre-vacation day may be counter-productive. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to be more like that. And the problem is that practice makes perfect and a working style like that needs to be practiced daily to turn it into a habit.
So we need to practice it.
So here’s a thought. Let’s accept that Murphy is going to hit. We will get distracted, there will be disruptions and emergencies. They happen every day. We know it.
So why don’t we plan for it!
How much time on average do you spend dealing with unexpected events, interruptions and distractions (call it opportunity testing if you will)? One hour? Two?
Why not keep a log for a few weeks and see what’s happening. Then plan some time into your daily schedule. Let’s say on average you have two hours of Murphy time. Take a daily planner and block out 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the afternoon. These are your buffers. It doesn’t mean you expect Murphy to strike at these times. Or that if Murphy hasn’t struck then these times are playtime. They are there to allow over-runs in the rest of your schedule. Block out time to do all the other things you need to do. Then if Murphy hits and you have an over-run on a task, then your buffer will take up the slack. If Murphy doesn’t hit, then you can start the next task early. If you get to the end of your planned work with time to spare at the end of the day then you have time to work on that someday-maybe project you’ve had filed away and never expected to get to!
So by all means plan every day as meticulously as you would the day before vacation, but do it by building in buffers that allow for Murphy’s Law.