Even the best plan needs to be questioned frequently to prevent it to turn mediocre. Things around you change, so your plans have to constantly adapt.
Improving is about keeping a mindset of constant leaning. Executing and measuring your plan will give you valuable tips on how good the plan was and what can be improved.
~~~ Use your learning to improve ~~~
Use all your observations, measurements, and notes from the measurement section to analyse and improve on your plans. Strive to do things better than before. The keys are curiosity and a positive mindset. Accept that things can go wrong when trying new approaches.
What worked? What didn’t work? You can learn from both. Plans and changes that worked can give you valuable insights into general principles that you can apply on other areas. Another great learning opportunity are plans that didn’t work. They should be your next project to improve.
~~~ Where does improvement come from? 7 ideas ~~~
1Try differently - You might have done things differently, and they still didn’t work out the way you wanted. Think about why it didn’t work and improve. The key is not to give up because things don’t work out the first time. Try again, but differently. Some things took me five or more attempts to get them right.
2Be unhappy – just a little bit - After a while you will have a well-working plan. Celebrate! Tell people! Be proud! But also be aware: once happy, complacency is not far away. Complacency is brain rust. Once happy, be unhappy again. Just a little bit. Keep an open mindset on what else you can do to improve.
“If you want to double your success rate, double your failure rate”
– Thomas Watson, IBM Founder
3Make mistakes! Do you know this situation: You might have taken a wrong turn and discovered a shorter way to a destination that you went to many times before. Or you made a mistake following a recipe and ended up with a beautiful dish. When you get to a point where your plan works well, start making deliberate mistakes. This is a great opportunity to find further improvement.
4Set yourself ridiculous deadlines - We talked about this. Now do it deliberately! For example, set your alarm late and see what great ideas you will come up with to improve on your morning routine. Start the habit of challenging yourself. You will learn so much.
5Shift! - In some cases improvement may come from just changing the time for the activity if it better aligns with your energy levels. Do it on a work day instead of the weekend or in the afternoon instead of the morning.
6Trim time! Accomplish the same things faster. Give yourself less time each time for a repeating task until you get to a point where you can’t improve without doing it differently. For instance, trim a repetitive one hour meeting by five minutes each time. Tell meeting participants so it becomes a team effort.
7Frustrate! Love! Hate! Fall! Laugh! – Whenever you have strong feelings about something, it is a great hint for improvement opportunities. If you get upset about something, ask yourself why that is and how you can improve it. If you love it, ask how can you apply these principles to other things.
~~~ What if it doesn’t work? 3 Ways to deal with setback ~~~
1Don’t get frustrated - In your attempt to improve your time management you will have setbacks. Following these tips will cause changes to your daily schedule. Many changes mean many possibilities for failures. Don’t question your endeavor! We often think even if the old system didn’t work well, we knew it and were comfortable with it. Be very specific with setbacks and ask what went wrong in that very situation. How can you improve? Analyse, try again and improve! Something in us is looking to revert to old habits. Don’t fall into that trap.
2Fall soft! - I plan to go to the gym four times a week. However, sometimes I’ve got other plans, such as meeting friends. My fallback is to exercise on the weekend. A fallback makes you more flexible.But you need to stick to your fallback. Otherwise it’s not a fallback but rather fooling yourself.
3Ask for forgiveness rather than for permission. How much time do we lose waiting on someone to give us permission to do something. If you have a good idea, just do it and present it to the right people. If it turns out it wasn’t a good idea, just apologise. Combined with an honest apology, your well-meant intentions will be appreciated. In either case, you will learn new things which will help you in the future.
The measurement and improvement steps often can’t be clearly separated. For example, as you check how long a certain task has taken you and you find it has taken you longer than planned, you will start thinking why it took you that long. It is perfectly ok if these phases blend into each other. However, I recommend that you take some time at the end of the day and the end of the week to reflect about improvement opportunities.
More than anything, improvement comes from the right attitude and mindset. A genuine learning mindset and a perseverance attitude can make a master of anyone, regardless where they start from.
Check out our step-by-step guide on Prioritisation (click this link).
Learn about time management principles
Check out our main article on time management or one of the specialised articles below.
Learn about the Pareto method. A real eye-opener when it comes to distinguishing between important and unimportant. And check out our tips on how to get rid of unimportant tasks.
Execution is (literally) the death of even the greatest plans. Learn some counterintuitive tips to overcome the inertia of “doing.”
Reviewing what you have achieved at the end of the day is the simplest form of “measuring” and can yet be extremely powerful. Here are some guidelines how to get most out of it.
Putting it all together
Find some tools and templates that will support you putting all parts of the Plan-Do-Measure-Improve framework (PDMI) together.
By Murat Uenlue, PhD, PMP, 2013.