Are You A Clock Builder Or A Time Teller?

“There is so much going on – I am struggling to do what is expected of me- at home, at work. I am missing my tasks, and getting occasional brickbats. All this is leading to resentfulness, followed by regret and then guilt. I am so stressed! Is there a way out?”

The year was 2004, and I was just beginning my career.

I was almost at the bottom of the pyramid back then, and yet I felt the pain. However, I would see people in the middle management who would never miss a single task that requires attention.

Raja, Priyanka and I were cab mates. They were both much senior to me – both Senior Managers, and I was a team member. I would notice Raja using his paper notebook all the time – capturing the bullet points of the tasks, the risks, the issues. It was organized such that he could look at the previous day’s progress and cross out the ones which were completed, and carry forward the ones that didn’t.

I initially felt it was so uncool.

His notebook filled like a bucket does with the tap open, …really fast. He made sure he updated it for the day even before we reached office, and in office, he would be fully prepared with almost everything. He was effective in meetings and knew exactly what needed to be done today versus what could wait for tomorrow.

Priyanka would use her laptop for similar purpose but she too always was on top of things. They were both extremely well prepared before reaching the office.

On the other hand, I was usually asleep along the nearly 2 hour long journey to work. I would start thinking of work only after I reached office most of the time. That resulted in following:
-I didn’t have an agenda when I reached office. Since I didn’t have one of my own, I had no choice but to follow other’s agendas. 
-I was constantly struggling – challenged to complete the tasks in time, missing out on tasks, doing certain things awfully wrongly.

Overall, I was reactive, waiting for instructions and of course was not being effective and not happy. But I didn’t know what was going wrong.

I was being a time teller rather than being a clock builder

I asked Priyanka once, “You are working on multiple projects and yet you are always on top of everything. What tools do you use to manage?”

She told me about systems. Systems to take care of everything to manage. 

That system could be a notepad like in case of Raja or an excel list in case of Priyanka. Those are simply tools which help one in doing the work effectively.

While they were going with systems, I was going where ever the wind was taking me. Obviously they were happy driving things and had a greater chance of getting to where they planned to go. I on the other hand, didn’t even where I wanted to go.

I was lacking a system for my life, and that what was making it a painful journey for me. I didn’t know what tools I could use to have a ‘system‘ that worked for me.

Don’t use too many:
I tried various different tools, got very fond of some too. However, I realized over time that one should use a minimum number of tools that are required. Too many tools will only add to the misery. These tools are there to help in accomplishing the work at hand, and not to become confusing work themselves.

Don’t get too hung up on the tool itself:
Tools are a means to an end – not an end in itself. So, spending time playing around with it would be counter productive. Of course, you require the basic training to understand it, but sometimes we are tempted to go on an endless exploration when we are supposed to do the work. That is a Big NO!

Choice of Tool doesn’t matter so much:
Use tools to get the work done, as a medium and you will prosper. A single sheet of paper designed used consistently could work just as well.

While it’s okay to use these tools on a need basis throughout the day, it is important to use the ones what help plan the day, before you start your work day. It doesn’t take up a whole lot of your time once one gets the hang of it – it will take 15 minutes or less.

But those 15 minutes of planning the day would help you get on the driver’s seat for taking you to where you want to reach at the end of the day.

Now that you probably understand the importance of systems and tools in your professional (and even personal) life, here are the two that work best for me:

  1. Kanbanflow: This helps me organize my tasks based on my life priorities. It also has an in-built timer based on Pomodoro technique to complete the tasks. I use the FREE version which itself is extremely powerful.
  2. Trello: Another very powerful tool on similar lines is called Trello. It provides an ability to add attachments to the tasks and also allows a simple way to create tasks automatically by sending out an email to a Trello email address.

Our career is a Marathon… a long journey! What is required is to build systems (clocks) and not be naive by being time tellers each time. It would be too many times that we will be asked and it will burn us down before the finish line if we don’t create systems. 

What Systems are you using for productivity and effectiveness in your life? 

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