Measuring raises awareness. Awareness unleashes a cascade of changes that will support you achieving your goals.
Measuring doesn’t need to be a rigid exercise. In its simplest form it can be a ten-minute conscious reflection on how the day went. However, if you put in a bit more effort, you will also get more benefits out of it. We are going to measure how well our plans were (effectiveness) as well as how well we executed our plans (efficiency).
~~~ How good were your plans? ~~~
The most important aspect of a good plan is that it focusses as much as possible on important tasks.
What is most important? Good question! Ask this frequently and establish a ranking for your to-dos, or use the Eisenhower method described previously. Just start with a gut-feeling ranking. As you gain more knowledge and receive feedback from your boss or customers, review and change your priorities. It doesn’t need to be a scientific exercise and can be done in minutes.
Keep notes – Write down the things you have done through the day. You can use your to-do list and add other things that you have done, like attending meetings or tasks that took longer than 15 minutes. Check how well your plans were at the end of the day. The other checkpoint should be at the end of the week.
Review your notes (or do it from you memory) and ask:
1Which important tasks did I work on (did I get done) today?
2Did I spend enough time on important tasks? If not, ask why!
3Was I driven too much by my environment (e.g. interruption)?
4Did I prefer to work on less important for some reasons, e.g. they are simpler, I feel uncomfortable working on important tasks?
5Did I avoid important tasks (or I couldn’t further them) because, e.g. I didn’t have enough information, it required me to do something difficult, like being pushy, make difficult decisions?
6Did I prioritise tasks correctly, e.g. were tasks important that I thought were important? Validate with your boss, other managers, your customers/stakeholders, your colleagues and respect their opinion. If there are many discrepancies to your opinion, ask why.
Think what the answers mean and what you can do about it.
Asking the above question, you might learn something about your decision making. E.g., many people have a tendency to prioritise familiar tasks over unfamiliar tasks to the detriment of new tasks and tasks that others ask them to do. This systematic error of judgment can be caused by a fear bias (refer to the decision making section). If this happens regularly, it can have a profound effect on your career, e.g. being seen as single-minded. This little exercise can uncover a major blind spot and unlock change.
This exercise requires to be self-critical but once you are done, it will make you better. Just like a good workout.
~~~ How efficient are you? ~~~
Measuring efficiency is about checking how well you have executed plans. If you didn’t have a plan, then it is about evaluating if the time spent justifies the outcomes.
Check as you go - A lot of time is wasted for activities in-between, distraction and interruption. Just keep an eye on the clock and check what you have actually achieved in the last half an hours or hours.
Active doesn’t mean productive - We all feel good when we are busy. But busy doesn’t mean we are progressing on important tasks. Check five times a day if you are productive or just busy. Do it at the same time each day so that it becomes a habit. Look back at the last few hours and ask yourself if you have been productive.
How fast do you type? I am astounded by computer-workers who still type with two fingers. What a tremendous inefficiency. There are so many examples in our work days. Learn to watch out!
It is simple! Example: Just check how long it took you to start with your first important task after walking into the office. If you think it took too long, think about the reasons. On the following day try to improve this time. Then try again. Repeat this until you get to a point that you are happy with. With this simple approach I have reduce certain routine tasks by 50% over the course of a few months. It added up to a few hours per week.
Review your day (using your notes or memory) and ask:
1How many tasks did I get done today? How many were planned?
2Which tasks took longer than planned? Why?
3Which tasks took longer than they were worth? Why?
4How many unplanned tasks did I do and why? Was it a lack of planning or lack of focus/discipline to follow the plan?
5How much time did I spend on tasks of high/low priority and urgency (see Eisenhower method)?
6How efficient was I in particular with less important tasks?
7What more can I do to avoid interruption / to move faster from task to task?
8Am I really trying to avoid interruption or do I secretly prefer to “go with the flow” (think what that means for your career!)
Again, evaluate your answers critically, find other good questions, go to the bottom of your answers and find ways to improve.
Measuring is about making a genuine learning attempt with the intention of improving your time usage. It is not about obsessive time keeping. Make measuring a habit and gain valuable insight in just a few weeks time. Be honest with yourself, it’s the key to learning. It is better to admit errors and do it right the next time than to be stubborn and keep on repeating mistakes.
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.”
Executing and measuring your plan will give you valuable tips on how good the plan was and what can be improved. Here is a little tool that will help you with 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.