I’m so thankful to the military for all of the great training, education, and experience gained over the years. Many of the TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) we’ve learned over the years have translated directly to being an entrepreneur. Here are some of those TTPs.
Plan the Attack and Attack the Plan
One of the most effective time management tools I learned as a second lieutenant many years ago during an 8 hour Franklin Covey time management class. Before taking the class, I was perplexed how we could possibly spend EIGHT HOURS on a time management class. Boy, was I wrong. I was a classic procrastinator in high school and college, but the time management class broke that habit. Franklin Covey teaches that we should break our tasks into A, B, and C categories. “A” tasks absolutely must be done that day and you can’t leave for the day until they are done. “B” tasks are important and must be done at some point. “C” tasks are nice to get done, but can wait. Once all your tasks are written down, something to consider is does everything on your list need to be done (this also relates to our blog post on minimalism)? Do YOU need to do everything on your list, or should your subordinates do it? Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. You are taking away an opportunity from your subordinates to learn under your mentorship. I learned a very valuable lesson from a 3-star general during one of our pre-command courses. He said “Only do what only you can do.” That was pretty profound when I heard it. His point was to focus on the tasks that only I as the commander could get done and delegate everything else.
Delegating a task is just the beginning, however. Follow-up is extremely important. I learned that from a 2-star General. Some of his staff thought he would forget about some of the things that he had asked for. He almost never forgot and those that didn’t follow through, paid the price. The time management class taught us to post follow-ups forward in our calendars. Back then we were using paper planners and today’s software makes this very easy. For example, I use the Google Cloud calendar and if I need to follow up with something, create an event in the future. If something is time sensitive, I usually give someone 2 days to work it. For most tasks, I create a follow-up event a week afterwards. Most of the time, I’ll find the other person has completed the task by then and I can just delete the follow-up reminder.
In addition, it’s important to plan every day. For me, first thing in the morning works best, but for other folks the previous evening works best. I also recommend hand writing the task list. I had a Colonel boss several years ago who used to fold a piece of paper in half and write his tasks down. I thought “how quaint”. He also only had a handful of tasks on that list. I can see now the wisdom in focusing on a handful of tasks every day. They tend to get done that way. Another advantage of hand writing the tasks is that you’ll have better situational awareness of what you have to do that day because writing aids in retention.
Another key aspect of making a task list is do nut update the task list once it is set. Keep in mind you don’t need the perfect plan, you just need one that will work. If you are continually updating the task list as new tasks come in during the day, you will not tackle those tasks you decided were important at the beginning of the day. In addition, there is a psychological component at play here. You will get discouraged if your task list continually grows during the day and is growing faster than you are completing task. Instead, write down any new tasks and start them tomorrow so you can execute today’s plan. Of course, if your boss asks for something or something absolutely has to be done today, then by all means get cracking on it today.
Time is one of your most valuable assets.
I hate meetings. Don’t get sucked into meetings whenever you can avoid it. Is there another way to accomplish the task? If you absolutely have to attend a meeting, one technique is to just leave if the meeting goes long. This requires some assessment. For example, I typically don’t walk out of a meeting with my boss, but most other times there are few repercussions of walking out of a meeting that is taking too long. Those wasted minutes are taking away your ability to knock out your task list. Another tactic is to make sure there is an agenda for every meeting and to help the leader of the meeting keep everyone on track even if you’re not the facilitator. For example, you might say “this sounds like a pretty involved issue, maybe we should work it offline.”
As Seneca said in “On the Brevity of Life”: “We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.” Conserving time allows us to do important things, like make gifts for our spouses like we did with the picture frame project. Or to do important things like spend time with our children.
Manage your E-mail or it will manage you.
E-mail is an activity, not productivity. Just because you are reading or sending a lot of E-mails doesn’t mean you are doing what is important. One tactic I learned early on is to turn off that automatic notification of inbound E-mails. Studies have shown it takes several minutes to get back in the flow after switching gears to that new E-mail. I have found that checking E-mail three times per day is very effective: first thing in the morning, at lunch, and before leaving for the day. Another aspect of that is to work any E-mail immediately that takes a minute or less to answer. Other than that, I write it on the task list. A related procedure is to clean out the inbox those three times per day. That gives a clear visual that all tasks have been dealt with or added to the task list.
Another great time sink is looking at social media. Ryan Nicodemus had a great tip on one of the Minimalists podcasts to only look at social media once per day.
Face-to-face is the best method of communication
Face-to-face communication takes longer but passes much more information. 60% of our face-to-face communications is non-verbal. If you’re always communicating by E-mail, you are missing most of the information someone is sending you. For example, if I need to work an issue with someone and they are in my building, I go to their office. They almost always provide some nugget of information that would not have been included in an E-mail, because typically we just answer what is in an E-mail. If someone sees you face-to-face you are likely to strike up a conversation which allows for more serendipity.
I’ve found the best protocol is to first meet someone face-to-face. If that isn’t possible, I use the phone. Last, I try E-mail. E-mail, unfortunately cannot convey tone and can be easily misunderstood. That is why it’s the last resort.
Sometimes, if you want to get a lot done, do nothing
If like me, you can’t sit still this strategy works well. If you tend to like Netflix binge watching, you may need to tailor this strategy. Recently we had a 3-day holiday weekend. Typically I plan a weekend like this out to maximize the amount of projects I get done, but in this case my only plan was to read the newspaper, have a cup of coffee, and eat breakfast. After that, the question was “now what?” I had to do something. I moseyed over to finish a painting project in the first floor bath, did some woodworking, and found I was naturally knocking out projects around the house but in a very relaxed manner. Doing “nothing” was actually very productive. Sometimes it’s a good idea to just pitch the to-do list and go with the flow. Mrs Woodworker will be very shocked to read this coming from a Type A personality.
Well, Mrs Woodworker and I have a whole additional set of TTPs for running the household, but that’s for an upcoming blog post. What TTPs work best for you in the workplace or at home?