I’ve chosen my ‘A Time’ ‘lighthouse’ to share with you today. This one took a while for me to build and I certainly got better at it with practice.
I am someone who likes to be kept busy with purposeful projects, but I have been known to over-stretch myself in the past, forgetting to factor in some ‘self-nurture’, and consequently, ending up somewhat frazzled!
We could all say “to hell with self-nurture right now – let’s eat crisps and drink wine”, and that, of course, is an individual’s choice. However, this challenging time will eventually pass and I for one, want to get through it and come out on the other side, along with my family and friends, as mentally and physically healthy as I possibly can be. So for me, self-nurture remains a priority.
Carefully planning the time I spend on work, home tasks/activities and hobbies right now might be something you may also wish to consider, especially if you are working from home and spinning at least a dozen plates, including home-schooling your children – that wasn’t one we’d anticipated! Or you may find yourself with more time on your hands than usual, but are finding that some days it’s hard to motivate yourself to achieve anything. We all have days like that – I certainly do – however, I don’t want to end up feeling like that every day.
Some years ago, I bought a book, recommended by my coach Neil Suggett called ‘A’ Time: The busy manager’s action plan for effective self-management‘, written by James Noon. Whilst the book is about improving work performance, increasing the time you spend on the key aspects of your job and maximising your potential for greater career achievement and prospects, I took from it a very simple and effective way of prioritising activities related to either work or home – and it has stood me in good stead ever since.
As a fairly new class teacher, back in the early 90s, I remember going to see my line manager one day, almost in tears, overwhelmed with the paperwork I was receiving, the marking I was expected to do, the lesson planning I was required to hand in each Monday morning as well as teaching a class of 7 to 8-year-olds for the first time and attempting to lead Science across the school! Then at the end of the school day, returning home attempting to do all the tasks there – and often failing – including helping the children with their homework, cooking the evening meal and putting them to bed, oh and then I’d start working again at about 8 pm, planning for the next school day. At 9.00 pm, I would often fall asleep, sitting upright, mid-marking, accidentally drawing a squiggly green pen-line across a child’s work as I nodded off! One day, I revealed my ‘filing system’ to my line manager – a large yellow crate, hidden under a desk in the corner of the classroom! She kindly went through it with me, throwing things out, creating an urgent pile and taking on some tasks herself. I was extremely grateful and relieved, but I learned in later years as a leader, that this was not really the answer! It was a quick fix, but I hadn’t learned anything from the experience. I had just been rescued! So things didn’t really change for quite some time. I continued to accumulate paperwork and wasn’t good at prioritising tasks. Again, I filled my crate and always felt swamped with tasks that seemed to need equal attention.
I have searched for guidance over the years and luckily discovered how to build some brilliant guiding ‘lighthouses’ through coaching, research, and training, and one day, after another very enlightening coaching session, I purchased the ‘A Time’ book and discovered within it a strategy that worked wonders for me, improving my time management for good. I continue to find time management a challenge, and I, therefore, continue to use ‘A Time’ to this day, every day!
So, here is how I built my second lighthouse, the one to which I turn, to help me plan my work and home tasks, maintaining equilibrium in my life and achieving the things I want to do as well as achieving some of those gritty tasks that I keep bagging! I hope you find it, or your own version of it, helpful, during this unusual time in which we find ourselves. And I urge you to always prioritise some time for self-nurture!
Lighthouse Number Two: ‘A Time’
Step 1: Make a list. Begin by listing everything that’s on your mind – all those tasks you’ve ‘bagged’ (See Lighthouse Number One: ‘Bin it, bag it, bring it’). The action needed here is to write or type everything into a list – in any order. This is a bit like brainstorming the things you have to do as well as the things you want to do. Just get it all down on paper … or preferably, digitally.
Step 2: Prioritise your list. The action needed here is to prioritise your tasks into four categories. Here are the categories, written as James Noon wrote them in his book:
- ‘A’ Priority Activities are highly essential activities that must be completed or progressed substantially during the day. ‘A’ priority activities are related directly to the performance objectives of the job. It is critical that ‘A’ priority activities are managed well.
- ‘B’ Priority Activities are less essential activities but it is only preferable that they should be completed or progressed substantially during the day. Clearly ‘B’ priority activities have to be completed, but the time element is less important as the impact overall performance of the job is lower.
- ‘C’ Priority Activities are non-essential activities. Every job has a proportion of non-essential activities which are so minor in impact on the performance of the organization and your job that they can be disregarded, handled by other people, deferred, or screened and handled at a special low priority time.
- ‘X’ Priority Activities are activities which require immediate attention as they arise during the day. Crises, emergencies, boss demands, and interruptions can all be ‘X’ activities. You can have ‘AX’, ‘BX’, and ‘CX’ activities.
If you are currently still working or have many home tasks to complete, you could use the above list as it is. However, I have simplified the list for myself as follows:
- ‘A’ Priority Activities – do them first
- ‘B’ Priority Activities – do them by the end of the day
- ‘C’ Priority Activities – next to the activity, write the date they need to be done by or delegate them to someone else.
- ‘X’ Priority Activities – move them to the top of the list as they arise.
Here is an example of a To Do list, ‘A Time’ style:
- diary A
- clean kitchen and bathrooms B
- write article C 3/4/20
- yoga A
- walk dog B
- water plants A
- lunch/break A
- prep questions for webinar A
- sign up for writing webinar A
- Facetime with friends B
- contact client re offer A
- send invoice A
- thank Jackie for gift C 3/4/20
- cook dinner B
- find good soda bread recipe C 4/4/20
- bake bread C 5/4/20
- prep leadership slides C 6/4/20
So firstly, Step One, I wrote my list, and then Step Two, I prioritised it, using the four categories: A, B, C, X.
Then Step Three: I re-ordered my list A and B, and added the dated tasks (C) to my calendar.
Here it is:
A list – do first
- Diary (5 mins)
- Yoga (1/2 hour)
- Water plants (1/2 hour)
- Lunch break (1/2 hour)
- Prep questions for the webinar (1/2 hour)
- Sign up for a writing webinar (5 mins)
- Contact client re offer (1 hour to prep & call)
- Send off invoice (10 mins)
B list – do by the end of today
- Clean kitchen and bathrooms (1 hour)
- Walk the dog (1/2 hour)
- Prep and cook the dinner (1/2 hour)
- Facetime with friends (1 hour)
C list – do by the specified date or delegate
- Write article 3/4/20
- Thank Jackie for gift 3/4/20
- Find good soda bread recipe (delegate)
- Bake bread (delegate)
- Prep leadership presentation slides 6/4/20
Over the years, I have found that I’ve got better at listing and prioritising through evaluating how useful, purposeful or important the activity or task was and whether I had delegated the right activities to the right person. (Oh, and that delegation bit is a whole different ball-game!)
But for now, and with my list looking rather different to a normal Wednesday, ‘A Time’ has helped me prioritise, get things done and ensure I have time for my favourite ‘self-nurture’ activity – one that keeps me calm, flexible and grounded … and that’s yoga.
Good luck and enjoy building your ‘A Time’ lighthouse.