While there’s a massive literature on
time management and how to be more effective at work, I am often struck by how
little discussion there is of this among third sector professionals. We see it
as something possibly to teach our admin staff and we laugh at the public
sector, but we tend, in an unspoken way, to assume that we are optimally
But are we? I’m certainly not. Well,
not all of the time. I spend a lot of time on low priority stuff. I waste time
on stuff I enjoy rather than needs doing. I procrastinate for England. I often
fail to prioritise for weeks on end.
Yet I do also get it dead right
sometimes. These are the times when I decide on a few important things to be
done, commit myself and plough through it all. This rids me of distraction
and gives me energy. I find a kind of sweet spot of focus, energy and momentum.
My biggest inspiration was years ago
reading Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Despite the god-awful title, this is one hell of a book for someone trying to
raise their game. I read it on a beach in Goa twelve years ago where I had gone
after one of my many burnouts while developing the early Speaking Up.
It grabbed me for three reasons.
Firstly, it told me what I needed to do: choose a small number of high-impact
priorities, write them down and pursue them exclusively. Secondly, it taught me
that I needed to work consciously on improving my character. Being not just
myself, but my best self. Thirdly, I got from that book a clear sense that it
was down to me what I made of my life – it was about choice not predestination
One of the biggest takeaways from
that Goa-trip was my annual, monthly and weekly list of must-do’s. I used this
until relatively recently. I like to think that I internalised the habit,
however the truth is, I got a bit too pleased with myself and put this trusted
tool aside too early. My productivity is certainly no longer what it was.
Kids and age have a bit to do with
this. But there is no real substitute for knowing, every day, what you are
going to achieve, writing it down and committing to it. All a bit American for
some of us I know – but I bet it would add 15% to most people in our
sector. And, of course, a
great way to deliver more for less in straitened times.
Craig Dearden-Phillips is the founding chief executive of Stepping Out and a Liberal Democrat councillor in Suffolk