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August 2006 - Eureka!

Time Management is an area in which I always feel deficient and the information Barbara contributed this month was very timely. Far and away the most common excuse for not doing something is "Sorry, but I really don't have the time." I have always had the attitude that if I say "I don't have the time", I am really saying "I don't consider it a high enough priority".

Productivity experts would have us all believe that we have to be producing every minute of the day. We cannot afford to spend a minute catching our breath between meetings or tasks. We haven't the time to inquire how people are going with things.

I absolutely abhor meetings were there is no agenda, it is not clear what the meeting is trying to achieve and the information required to make a decision is not available. That is a waste of time, no questions asked. However, I really value the spontaneous discussions, whether by phone or in person, where the conversation may move from an initial inquiry to personal things then onto totally unrelated topics. My head has ideas and questions racing around in it most of the time. The answers are often there as well but they lie in another plane. The catalyst for connection between the planes and between question and answer more often than not comes from a random thought triggered by a discussion of something totally unrelated. This truly is serendipity. A "Eureka!" moment.

Freedom of communication is also critically important in building relationships within teams. Continuing to work whilst talking to someone or standing up to talk to them sends a strong message that "I don't really have time to talk to you but feel I have to listen" or even worse, "you aren't important enough to interrupt me". I may be half an hour late leaving work if I have a deadline looming, but that is a small price to pay for being accessible and giving my team the message they do indeed matter and their opinions are respected. If you really cannot spare the time, just be up front about it and set a time to reconvene - promptly - after first taking the time to determine the urgency of the discussion.

Yes, it is very important to prioritise tasks. In particular learning how to distinguish Important and Urgent from Important but Non-Urgent. Many are the times that we make life difficult by allowing the former tasks to get in the way of the latter when dealing with the latter would allow increasing capacity to deal with the former. For instance, I have been struggling to complete an overhaul of our reporting system but other things keep getting in the way. After all, we have a system that works. It might be inefficient, but it works. It is important but not urgent. The reality is that if I upped the acuity of the review, I would probably reduce the error rate in our reports and free up valuable time for other activities like research.

Time management is important and we can all improve the efficiency with which we operate. It is important, however, to monitor the price paid when the focus goes onto productivity and every minute is made to count. I would contend that the profit from free-form discussions with colleagues and making your team a time priority, far outweigh the loss from not turning every minute into production.

Make "Eureka!" part of our vocabulary not an anachronism.

K

August, 2006

kevin.gain@health.wa.gov.au

 

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