Report on a talk given by Stuart Corrigan.
business matters are grateful to Lindsays for hosting the event and providing refreshments.
A recording of Stuart’s talk and the PowerPoint slides he used are available using the links at the foot of this report.
Stuart started his talk by immediately engaging his audience, demonstrating an impressive recall of the names of those he had chatted to before the talk began.
Citing Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, Stuart introduced a keyword which contributes to success – focus. So the talk he was about to give was not really about time management. There’s not a lot we can do to manage time, but we can focus on doing the right thing at the right time. This can be our biggest challenge – avoiding doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.
He asked “how do you have a system that helps you make good choices?” Research from 2010 had shown that conscientiousness is key to success and lack of stress. When we are challenged by this it is often not our fault. It is the way our brain is wired, the preferences we have.
We need to harness these preferences to allow huge improvement in productivity and a lessening of stress.
Stuart listed a number of things not to do – we recognised many:
- keeping all the things we need to do in our head – this is a challenge because of our short term memory which can really only cope with three things. We need to put things where we will find them (literally or figuratively). Our brain can then let go of that task. We need an external memory system.
- having many things to do written down but in all different places – we need to try to pull them together
- having an unclear sense of our priorities. We give in to the temptation of doing easy things first or things that we like or work for people that we like, putting off things that are difficult and being attracted to new things (novelty bias)
- having too many things on the go at one time – this is counter intuitive. The more we have open the less we will actually get done – multitasking on a massive scale
- using blended lists, a bit like having two different supermarket lists intermingled on the same piece of paper
- setting due dates or scheduling work! Stuart gave the example of being set homework at school for two weeks hence and leaving the task to the last minute. If we find ourselves constantly moving blocks of work in a diary then due dates and scheduling is probably not for us
- we don’t assign time burden to tasks and so don’t plan to achieve things effectively. Ego or energy depletion means we convince ourselves that what we are proposing is too much and so we look for something else to do (like have a coffee)
- we don’t describe tasks effectively so we have “to do” items which are general in nature and which we may not even be able to remember the detail of. Our brain is also looking for indicators that this task is similar to something we have done before and so it is easy to start. If not then we will find ourselves looking for “familiar” things to do. Stuart gave the example of working at home and ending up hoovering rather than working
What to do instead:
- have a system to ensure things to do can be captured somewhere external to your brain – an example was given of a red folder into which you immediately place meeting notes. Try and ensure that the capturing is done to identifiable consistent places (for example we often forget where we put our house keys because somebody spoke to us just as we came in the door)
- think of your inbox (email or physical) as a capture point not as a place to do work from.
Capture in the context of email is not “read, mark unread and come back to it”. Ask “do I have an action?” – if no then either delete, reference, or defer – if yes then “can I do it now?” (this is the 2 minute rule), “can I delegate it?” (give it to someone else), “can I place it on a to-do list?” (after having sized and described the task effectively so that when I come back to it I am clear what’s involved).
- have a visual system where you can see everything in the one place. For projects this may be as simple as a physical whiteboard – digital seems more attractive but has been proven to be less effective than a physical system.
- limit the number of things that you are working on at any one time – think of it in these terms – if you are on a diet then don’t have cakes in the house or the office
- have only two priority rules rather than many – a normal one which allows you to rank projects in order and an emergency one
The two key points were re-emphasised: first size the task, second describe the task.
The biggest challenge for tasks is often getting started. Think of the kind of work you do and have a system which has a list for each type of work. Stuart recommended four lists:
- a “projects” list
- a “next actions” list
- a “waiting for” list where others are doing actions on your behalf
- a calendar list which is limited to appointments and conference calls only
This allows you to get into a “flow” state.
As a final bonus tip if you can do something in two minutes then do it because you will get a feeling of achievement which encourages you on to the next task.
A very lively question and answer time followed and Stuart was thanked vociferously for a talk which was both hugely interesting and entertaining and also extremely useful and relevant.