Managing your biggest constraint – your time

Manage your personal constraintEach of us has the same 1,440 minutes every day, 7 days a week, but what we accomplish with them varies dramatically. For most of us, time is our constraint, and how we choose to exploit the time available will drive the results we see.

My last post on singletasking gave some tips for managing your constrained time more effectively. In these next two posts, I’ll share a system that I’ve personally found very helpful for maintaining the focus necessary to get the really important stuff done.

Over the years, I’ve tried numerous different time management systems from do-it-yourself approaches like Outlook reminders and Excel spreadsheets to commercial systems like Franklin Covey Planner and Getting Things Done (GTD). Each had its useful elements, but none of them ever really worked the way I needed.

Then a few months ago, I ran across Jim Benson’s Personal Kanban approach for managing your personal workload and have been hooked ever since. For those of you unfamiliar with Kanban, it’s a Lean tool for visualizing your workflow and minimizing your work in process. In its simplest incarnation, a Kanban board has columns for each stage of workflow and then tasks are are moved from column to column as work progresses.

In Personal Kanban, post it notes are written for each task. You color code them for different categories. Mine are Marketing, Selling, Client Work, Writing, Infrastructure, Learning, Household, and Personal. Yours will depend on how you earn a living and the way you organize yourself, but notice that the same system helps you manage both work related and personal tasks which for many of us are a blurry line anyway.

Benson suggests a very simple three column board—Backlog, Doing, Done that looks something like this:

The Backlog column is tasks that you are committed to doing, the Doing column is whatever you are working on right now (e.g. Write this week’s blog post), and Done is hopefully a column packed with everything you’ve completed.

You then keep an options list (idea bucket) of all the things you’d like to do. Then once you’ve committed to doing one of them, you move it onto Backlog sometime before you need to start it in order to finish on time. After finishing one task, you pull the next most important task out of Backlog and into Doing.

Benson likes to limit Doing to five items. Personally, I keep mine at one to limit my tendency to switchtask. For me that’s part of what works so well with this approach. It’s a visual reminder of the one thing I’m committed to finish right now.

After using Personal Kanban for a while, I’ve found it more convenient to add some columns. After Backlog, I added This Week and Today. My Personal Kanban board then becomes both a weekly planning tool to decide what should have priority for the week as well as a daily tool for deciding what I need to work on today to accomplish everything I’ve committed to finish. If you’re familiar with GTD, you’ll recognize how important this step is. I’m also considering adding Month and Quarter columns.

Up until now, we’ve been talking about a big flip chart size sheet of paper with post it notes being moved across it. Very visual and, at least for me, just the kind of in your face approach I need to stay focused. However, it’s not exactly handy if you spend lots of time out of your office.

In the other posts in this three part series, I’ll show you how you can take your Kanban with you using free web based tools and how I integrate Personal Kanban with my Outlook calendar. You can find both parts here – Part II and Part III.

One final caveat about managing your time – experts in TOC will correctly point out that if everyone inside a company maximizes their own personal productivity or efficiency, the overall results will suffer. For this reason, it’s important to realize that your Personal Kanban may need to subordinate your work time to the efficient use of the company constraint.

As a simple example, consider a doctor’s office where the system constraint is the doctor’s time. If the office receptionist maximizes their own efficiency by limiting interruptions, that

means less efficient use of the doctor’s time and less sales throughput. In short cycle time situations like this, an office Kanban would be more useful in maximizing the flow of patients

Dalton on Innovation

through the practice. Of course, our receptionist could still use their own Personal Kanban to manage the remaining 75% of their time.

This article appears by permission of the author and was originally published on his Simplifying Innovation blog.

Mike Dalton is the author of Simplifying Innovation: Doubling speed to market and new product profits – with your existing resources

About Michael Dalton (30 Posts)

Mike Dalton's Guided Innovation Group, works with companies that want more impact form new product innovation in less time. Clients credit Mike with helping them double new product profits and cut time to market by more than half. He's also the author of the book Simplifying Innovation: Doubling speed to market and new product profits - with your existing resources. You can download free sample chapters at Simplifying Innovation. Prior to starting the Guided Innovation Group, he had 24 years of experience growing new and existing businesses as a general management and business development executive for the industrial polymer division of the multi-billion dollar S.C. Johnson & Son family of companies. He holds an MBA in marketing & finance from the University of Chicago and a chemical engineering, gas, and energy technology degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology. You can learn more about getting more impact from your innovation by visiting Guided Innovation where they offer an array of reports and other free innovation resources.


Comments

  1. Renee Johnson de Morales says

    Personally, besides implementing a touch it once policy for things like mail/bills, laundry and other items that tend to pile up, I’ve moved to lining up the 3 most important things to accomplish that day and touching each one of those once (meaning following it all the way through to completion of the task). Only AFTER those are done do I move on to things that suck me down rabbit holes, like email/facebook and the like.

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