An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Around 2005, I became interested in David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done” (or GTD). GTD has many great ideas, and helped me get my work done as a systems administrator even with all the interruptions.
I found that, as a manager, my work looked very much like work as a systems administrator: there’s too much to do, and expect regular interruptions. (The main difference was how much more of my day was spent in meetings.)
One GTD tool is the “weekly review”–a time each week when you true up your system and otherwise make sure you’re on top of everything. The book recommends an hour a week for a weekly review. And whenever I’ve told people about weekly reviews, they usually say, “I’m already so busy–I don’t have ANOTHER hour in my week just to work on a time management system.”
Fair point. But the GTD weekly review is a form of planning, and if you’re doing it properly the weekly review will pay for itself, making you less busy.
Because of weekly reviews, I have…
- had packets printed and ready for Board meetings the day before the meeting (the meeting was on my calendar but the weekly review helped me realize I needed to bring handouts)
- circled back on emails I’d sent that had no reply
- anticipated I was going to have a very busy Thursday and moved meetings around to free up time
These reviews, which I’ve done since around 2005, have saved me a ton of time. The first few months, they took an hour a week–now they take about 10-15 minutes.
Here’s my current weekly review task list:
- Review any email tagged with “follow-up” (I need to take action)
- Review any email tagged with “w/f” (I’m waiting for someone else)
- Review task system to ensure tasks are up-to-date (I use Toodledo):
- Make sure I need to do these tasks: do they add value? can they be delegated? (especially helpful when I was a new manager)
- Review the task status (e.g. postponed vs. take action now)
- Check due dates to make sure they are accurate. Make sure no overdue tasks are incomplete
- Can I reasonably get these tasks done? Sometimes a big task needs to be broken down: “look for books” may need to become “search for X on Amazon” and “search for X in the library catalog”
- Look at my calendar for the next several weeks: do I need tasks to get deliverables ready for meetings? do I need to make sure we order a cake for a party? Do I need to put gas in the car the day before a big trip? More generally, what might need to happen for any calendar events that I don’t already have a plan for?
- Review my call log for missed calls, received calls, and placed calls. Do I need to take any more actions? Should numbers be added to my caller ID or address book?
I do all this once a week, ideally on Mondays. It is hard to quantify the value of realizing you need to order food for a meeting with grumpy stakeholders.
(Aside: GTD is a great system for being more efficient, but I found it less helpful for being more effective. Another book about Lean strategy development, funnily enough called “Getting the Right Things Done,” I found more helpful for thinking through how to tie organizational and strategic goals to team and individual goals.)