Sunday, August 10, 2008

Consolidate Your Discretionary Time

What are best practices for time management?  How do effective people manage their time?  How do effective people manage to consistently get the most important things done each week?  They consolidate their discretionary time.  One approach is to work from home one day a week.  Another approach is to push your administrative work to Mondays and Fridays, and then use Tuesdays, Wednesday's, and Thursdays to focus on your high priority work.  In The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker's Essential Writings on Management (Collins Business Essentials), Peter F. Drucker writes about how effective people consolidate their discretionary time to get things done.

How Much Time is Available for Your Contributions?
Drucker writes that effective people figure out how much discretionary time they have:

The executive who records and analyzes his time and then attempts to manage it can determine how much he has for his important tasks.  How much time is there that is “discretionary,” that is, available for the big tasks that will really make a contribution?  It is not going to be a great deal, no matter how ruthlessly the knowledge worker prunes time-wasters. 

The Higher Up You Go, the Less Time Spent on Contribution
According to Drucker, the higher up you go, the less time you spend on contribution:

The higher up a knowledge worker, the larger will be the proportion of time that is not under his control and yet not spent on contribution.  The larger the organization, the more time will be needed just to keep the organization together and running, rather than to make it function and produce.

Consolidate Your Discretionary Time
According to Drucker, effective people consolidate their discretionary time:

The effective people therefore knows that he has to consolidate his discretionary time.  He knows that he needs large chunks of time and that small driblets are not time at all.  Even one-quarter of the working day, if consolidated in large time units, is usually enough to get the important things done.  But even three-quarters of the working day are useless if it is only available as fifteen minutes or half an hour there.  The final step in time management is therefore to consolidate the time that record and analysis show as normally available and under the executive’s control. 

Work at Home One Day a Week
Drucker writes that one approach to consolidate time is to work at home one day a week:

There are a good many ways of doing this.  Some people, usually senior managers, work at home one day a week; this is a particularly common method of time consolidation for editors or research scientists.

Schedule All the Operating Work for Monday and Friday
Drucker writes that another approach is to batch your operating work for Mondays and Fridays:

Others schedule all the operating work – the meetings, reviews, problem sessions, and so on – for two days a week, for example, Monday and Friday, and set aside the mornings of the remaining days for consistent, continuing work on major issues.

How Not To Consolidate Discretionary Time
Don't let your little rocks get in the way of the big rocks.  Drucker writes:

But the method by which one consolidates one’s discretionary time is far less important than the approach.  Most people tackle the job by trying to push the secondary, the less productive matters together, thus clearing, so to speak, a free space between them.  This does not lead very far, however.  One still gives priority in one’s mind and in one’s schedule to the less important things, the things that have to be done even though they contribute little.  As a result, any new time pressure is likely to be satisfied at the expense of the discretionary time and of the work that should be done in it.  Within a few days or weeks, the entire discretionary time will then be gone again, nibbled away by new crisis, new immediate, new trivia.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Figure out how much discretionary time you have.   Baseline your schedule to figure out what time is available that you can move around.  The goal is to batch your discretionary time together so that you have bigger blocks of consecutive work time.
  • Consolidate your operating work for Mondays and Fridays.  Batch your meetings, reviews, and administrative tasks to Monday and Friday mornings.
  • Use your power hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for your high priority work.  Focus on moving your big rocks on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
  • Work from home one day a week.  Consider working at home to consolidate your discretionary time.

I've analyzed and tested lots of time management approaches, but this I really like Drucker's prescriptive guidance.  I like the idea of batching administrative work to Mondays and Fridays, and consolidating your discretionary time. 

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