See also: How to manage your time more effectively
Christine Ashton thinks time management is best summed up by the adage that if you want something done, you should ask a busy person.
People with the flexibility to chunk up in some situations and chunk down in others get a lot more done.
Cognitive psychologists believe that we can manage seven – plus or minus two – meaningful units of work, or chunks, which are defined according to the level of detail you need to concern yourself with.
To view the big picture chunk up; to get into detail chunk down.
Ashton, regional CIO for oil and gas giant BG Group, recommends breaking a problem into small components and then giving each piece to the most appropriate person.
To do this right you have to spend time building a team with complementary skills and develop a mental catalogue of what each person does best.
“You need to develop a laser sharp understanding of who is good at what,” she says.
“Otherwise, if you delegate a task to somebody with mistaken beliefs about what that person does well, work will back up very quickly, just like a blocked sink with water overflowing in all directions. You have to keep the production line going.
“It’s like the IT concept of process orchestration. Break down the problem. Sequence things. Then delegate. Make sure you match the customer with the supplier. Think about what things are going to be used for and align the skills on your team to that requirement.”
To build a good team Ashton goes further than just hiring people who can do things better than her. “Hire people you would want to work for,” she says.
With an organisation of around 300 people, Ashton’s IT responsibility includes Europe, Africa, and India, which is everything in BG Group outside of Australia and the Americas.
To make sure things get done she has to be selective about what she and her team take on.
In meetings, she says it’s important to check and check again for understanding.
One way to do this is to go around the table asking each person what he or she understands by a term or topic.
Another question she likes to ask is: “What is another way of looking at this?” Not only does this verify peoples’ understanding, it also gives the team a way of viewing things from a different angle.
Another observation she shares on personal productivity is that people who are good at time management always have a sense of what’s good enough.
“I’m not going to spend my time looking for perfection when I can easily achieve something that’s good enough.
“I apply this to other areas as well. I think I’m pretty good at reading things and knowing what bits to read. I can get through a book very quickly, because I don’t feel the need to read everything. I think that’s quite a good skill to learn. Because I’m slightly dyslexic, I had to get more efficient at reading by skimming over a lot of words, but still getting what I want out of the book or article.”
Ashton thinks its better not to separate work and personal life.
“If you love doing what you do, you don’t need to draw a line between your work life and your personal life,” she says.
“Besides, trying to define the boundary between the two only results in more stress.”
Instead, she prefers to take all goals together, divide them into component tasks, and then group those small chunks by context.
If she’s going to make a series of phone calls, for instance, some may be work-related and others personal.
In her free time, Ashton likes to take part in charity bike rides. This gives her exercises and contributes to a good cause.
You’ll never be perfect, but as Ashton says, “If you’re passionate about time management you are always looking for efficiencies.
“You start your day off thinking of how you might cram more in. It’s like the search for the Holy Grail.”