Keeping Time: Three Key Methods for Mastering Time Management

Here’s a thought. When someone begins a sentence with: “When you’ve got a minute…”, does that make you laugh hysterically?

Well, we hear you. And with this in mind, we thought we’d take a fresh look at that time-honoured topic of time management. Because although there’s a lot of advice out there, the irony is that no one has the time to sort through it. And who’s to say which technique works best?

Allow us, then, to step in. In true PEP-style we’ve edited all this advice down to the bare essentials. Spoiler alert: the first two may already be familiar to you. But as you know, we’re fairly big on going back to basics – because the basics are so often the best. Read on, then, for the three time management techniques we love the most:

1. Eat the Frog.

This evocative (if rather distasteful) metaphor comes to us from Mark Twain, who once said: “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.” In other words? Stop. Procrastinating. Especially about undertaking those less than straightforward tasks (you know which ones they are). “Generally, what people tend to put off are more difficult or larger projects. And that’s often because they just don’t know where to begin,” observes PEPworldwide managing director Kathryn Anda. “If necessary, go back to your manager and clarify what your first step is. That will start you off – and once you start, you’re on a roll.”

2. Do It Now!

We know you’ll remember this one. But just because it’s familiar doesn’t make it any less effective – or important (hence the exclamation mark). Be decisive, advises Anda. “If you can’t perform the task immediately, schedule time to do it into your calendar or, if necessary, delegate it to someone else. The key thing is simply to make a decision.” In other words, if your first thought on receiving an email or request is “I can’t deal with that right now”, that’s ok. But make sure you follow up that thought with “So when will I deal with it?” And book it in. Now.

3. The Pomodoro Technique.

Frog at the ready? Decisions made? Excellent – now here’s a great way to keep the ball rolling. The basic concept of the Pomodoro Technique is that you set aside 25 minutes for quality, focused, uninterrupted work on a particular task. Now the emphasis here is on “quality” and “uninterrupted” – and before you say “impossible”, think about it. This is a period of only 25 minutes, people. This is actually achievable.

The benefits of this approach are clear: psychologically, setting aside a mere 25 minutes is, we hope, not too daunting. Even the most hardened procrastinators (you know who you are) can commit to this. And from a practical point of view, there are very few interruptions that can’t wait for a mere 25 minutes. So turn off all your notifications (yes, the lot), put on your noise-cancelling headphones, stick a Do Not Disturb sign in full view of would-be interrupters and go for it. After 25 minutes, you can take a five-minute break if you need to. And if things are going well, do another 25-minute stretch.

“Obviously, you’re not going to complete anything substantial in 25 minutes,” explains Anda. “The point is that it’s a start. And we find that people are usually genuinely surprised at just how much they can achieve in such a short space of time if they stay focused and are not interrupted. Often, they’re so pleased with what they’ve achieved that they carry on for another 25 minutes.”

Positive momentum rather than procrastination? Yes, please. But there’s one final point to consider. Even the most effective time management methods like those described above will be rendered meaningless without the right mindset to support them. Anda explains: “A huge part of the problem is that people are so busy being busy, they forget to allow themselves focused, quality time to work on a project without being interrupted.”

In other words? Adjust your attitude: what we’re after is an approach that’s less apologetic, more assertive. It is perfectly acceptable not only to block out time for important work, but also to request that you are not disturbed for that period. “Is there really likely to be a crisis of such magnitude that it can’t wait for 25 minutes? If something is really urgent, someone will come and find you,” says Anda. “If the building’s on fire, no one’s going to email or text you.”

Good point. And here’s another one: “Don’t lose sight of the fact that ultimately, your company wants you to perform your role in the most effective way possible,” says Anda. “Allowing yourself the time to do this will benefit everyone, not just you.”

Time to get started.