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The 53-7 Principle (Time Management)

COW Blogs : Mike Cohen's Blog : The 53-7 Principle (Time Management)
This isn't the first blog on time management I have written and it won't be the last.
But I think it is important to talk about this topic, since so much of the conversations on the COW focus on craft, technical jargon and troubleshooting - all important in their own right.

I used to keep a book on Time Management on a shelf next to my exercise bike. Actually the book is still there, but the bike is buried under a lot of laundry. At least I always know where to find a sportcoat and slacks for a meeting! Those handlebars make a great clothes rack.

Really, the best way to learn time management skills is by trying to manage a lot of different tasks, projects and priorities. And making some mistakes - call them tactical errors in time management. Just when you think you are being efficient, you realize you are forgetting some important milestones.

Thus, organization is key. This sounds obvious, but depending upon how many balls, bowling pins or chainsaws you are juggling, the task of organization itself can in fact become a chore to keep organized and one that requires time management skills just to keep up with the organization.

On a really busy day, it can seem like you blink your eyes, and it's over. That can be ok, assuming you were busy working on important stuff. That is not ok if 8 hours passed between when you closed your eyes and when you opened them! So from a time management point of view, you need to make sure you are working on important stuff.

Isn't everything you do at work important? Possibly. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, we need to define what important is.

Is sorting out e-mails for 3 hours important? Sure, but is it important RIGHT NOW? Probably not. In other words, you may have 100 seemingly important tasks, but only 10 of them are important to do in the next 8 hours. Task number 53 may be a lot of fun, but will it help you check off item #7 on your immediate needs list? Didn't think so.

Delayed gratification is a phrase I use from time to time. Task 53 may be a lot of fun, but why do it right away? Save #53 for a time after you have completed #7 - a much more challenging and no doubt important task. Then reward your good work with #53.

I shall forever call this the 53-7 Principle. Move over Pareto, there's a new Meme in town!

Conquering the 53-7 Principle.

So let's look at your list of 100 tasks in order of actual versus perceived importance. For the sake of the servers, I'll pick the salient highlights:

1. Finish the annual sales figures
2. Plan the product launch stage show
5. Train the new guy to handle all DVD projects
10. Hire writers for the sales training seminar
15. Research options for new HD cameras - XDCAM vs P2
20. Give facility tour to local cub scout troop.
100. Really, you came up with 100 tasks?

Ok, I have made this pretty easy - the higher numbered tasks are fun - presumably 16-19 are right up there in entertainment value. It may be tempting to say to yourself, "Self, what a great job you have. You get to read web pages about HD cameras and call it work. Let's do that."

In reality, you can do that at home or on the weekend. Given a list of X number of tasks, in order of importance to the business, always focus on the first half. We'll call this the Point-5 Rule, that is, divide by two and discard the 2nd half. Obviously the second half may not be exactly half, you may have a bigger half and a smaller half (I know) and the discarded half will get done in time, but focus on the first half. Like Calculus, the closer you get to zero without actually getting to zero, the harder it is to get to zero. I think I used that actual explanation on my GRE. Hence I did not go to grad school! In other words the fewer important tasks that you have, the harder it is to divide them into halves. Everything may in fact be important.

If everything on your list is important - I mean vital to the survival of humanity - then thank you for your excellent work Mr. President. My regards to the First Lady.

Seriously, if everything on your list is important to be done in short order, then you still must exercise some combination of delegation and prioritization. Time management is as much about getting work done as it is about keeping yourself functioning. Multi-tasking is one sure way to defeat good time management.

As important as all of your overlapping tasks seem to be, you must do one thing at a time. It is as simple as that.

Thanks for reading.


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Mar 4, 2009 at 6:04:51 pm time, management

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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