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092 | Time management tips to stay on top of your busy day, with Louisa van Vessem
Episode 927th July 2023 • HR Coffee Time • Fay Wallis
00:00:00 00:45:50

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When work and life feel busy, it can feel hard to stay on top of everything. But taking a step back and identifying helpful time management techniques can make a big difference. In this episode of HR Coffee Time, career & executive coach, Fay Wallis chats with Louisa van Vessem about a range of time management tips to help you stay on top of your busy day.

Some of the ideas they talk through include:

  • Virtual co-working
  • Scheduling/calendar tools (e.g. Calendly)
  • Time blocking
  • Buffer time
  • The Pomodoro technique
  • Time tracking
  • Setting clear goals
  • Shiny object syndrome
  • The HR Planner
  • Mind mapping
  • A, B and C priorities
  • ‘To don’t’ lists
  • Eat that frog
  • Rewards
  • Understanding your personal blockers
  • People pleasing
  • Accountability and The Four Tendencies
  • Boundaries & perfectionism

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Fay Wallis:

Welcome to HR Coffee Time. It's great to have you here. I'm your host, Fay Wallis, a career and executive coach with a background in HR, and I'm also the founder of Bright Sky Career Coaching. I've made HR Coffee Time especially for you, to help you have a successful and fulfilling HR and People career without working yourself into the ground.

I keep hearing from more and more people about how busy they are at the moment. I'm feeling busy too. I think it's something to do with the summer holidays coming up and everyone trying to cram as much as possible in before taking a break. So it seems like the perfect time to be talking about time management on the podcast again.

One time management tip you'll probably have heard of before is "Don't reinvent the wheel", and I've decided to follow that advice for this episode because I was recently invited by Louisa Van Vesham to be a guest on her LinkedIn live session to talk about time management. After recording it, I thought, Hmm, it would be a good idea to cover time management on HR Coffee Time again, but instead of having to record a whole new episode, I asked Louisa if she'd mind me using our LinkedIn Live recording.

Luckily, she said, "Yes". So that's what you're about to hear. The LinkedIn Live was nearly an hour long, so I've cut it back quite a lot as most HR Coffee Time episodes are a lot shorter than that. But if you'd like to watch the original LinkedIn Live, I'll make sure I pop a link to it in the show notes for you.

I've known Louisa for several years now. We met through LinkedIn. And she has helped me run all sorts of workshops for Bright Sky Career Coaching. If you've ever attended any of our yearly HR Planner workshops, you'll probably have met her. She is a strategic partner and mentor for business owners and professionals.

She also runs an online community called InclUSion, which offers a fun and safe space for individuals to come together, celebrate who they really are. And help them realize their potential. The community was inspired because of Louisa's own personal experiences with solo parenting, autism and chronic health issues, and that's why she's so passionate about diversity and inclusion and called the community InclUSion.

For our interview, Louisa asked Chat GPT for its top time management tips, and then she asked me for my opinion on them all. It was a really fun way of approaching the topic, and I hope you're going to enjoy listening to us chat about it.

Louisa van Vessem:

Today we are discussing time management, and I know this is something that you have workshops on or covered within your workshops as well.

So for you what approach do you take for time management for yourself? Is it something that you have to actively think about, or is it just something that you just automatically do without realizing it?

Fay Wallis:

If only it was something I automatically did without realizing Louisa, I live in complete awe of people who just seem to be naturally organized and fantastic at managing their time, and they just make it look effortless.

Sadly, I am the opposite of that, which is probably why I'm so interested in it, because it's something that I've always struggled with. So I've had to put lots of techniques and things in place to make sure that I do stay on top of everything and that I don't end up having to work crazy hours to frantically meet deadlines or anything.

But you asked me what do I actually do, didn't I, sorry.

Louisa van Vessem:

That's ok.

Fay Wallis:

I should, I should answer the whole question. Oh gosh. I've got lots of strategies that I use. One that I've only started using. In a very extreme way this year has that, has had a huge impact on me in a positive way, has been doing virtual co-working sessions.

So I've been doing virtual co-working sessions for a while and for anyone who listening who hasn't ever heard of those before, all that really involves is you arrange to meet with at least one other person at a set time on a set day, and you shut down all your notifications and then when you meet them, so that might be on.

Zoom or teams, or you know, any sort of online platform, you start off by telling them what it is you want to focus on in that time you have scheduled with them, and then they tell you, and then you mute yourselves, but you leave your cameras on and you just sit there and you work on what you've agreed to work on.

It sounds a bit weird if you've never tried it before, but for people who really need accountability or who find themselves easily distracted, it can be incredibly powerful. For me, I've realized that I need accountability. I'll let myself down on things, but I won't let other people down. So if I have someone there sitting in front of me on the screen saying, and I say to them, I am working on this.

I will absolutely then just work on that and I've made sure I've switched off my phone and any distractions and things like that. So I had been trying that out for a good couple of years anyway, but just sporadically, I didn't have a really regular session and I made a switch recently. Oh, it's been a few months now where I set up lots and lots of these co-working sessions with people that I knew and who I knew needed to work on similar things to me.

So, because I have my own business I post on social media, so I post on LinkedIn and I also post in a Facebook group, and I just find it quite hard to be consistent with that. So I have one person. Once a week we meet up and in that time she does loads of social media posts. I do one, I seem to be a lot slower than her.

Then I have a newsletter I send out every week. I have a different coworking buddy who I meet who also needs to write a newsletter. So we meet once a week on a different day. Do that. For the podcast, I have to do the. Podcast guest questions and editing and research and all sorts of things. I have a different person who I do co-working with for that and it, it has honestly been life-changing

louisa, I find that I'm not always on top of everything. Like there are some weeks I don't get a social media post out or I don't get the newsletter out, but overall, it's helped me be far more consistent with some of the jobs that I need to make sure I'm doing to keep the business ticking over.

And Cowork Virtual

[Louisa van Vessem:

Coworking has become so popular now, hasn't it?

Because I mean, I run virtual coworking sessions. I know that Freelancer Magazine, they have ones Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday mornings. I think that anyone can go along and join in. So if you wanted a bigger group kind of environment, then that's also an option. I know some people don't like to have their cameras on when they're coworking, but I, I think it does.

You gain so much momentum from those sessions because you know, you're sat at your desk and you're going to tell each other at the end what you actually achieved. Sometimes I know that from my sessions I ran, people go off and end up doing client work or these as an opportunity to focus on their business or to in mind.

I've had people like, Tidy up their office, for example, or do those jobs that they really put off doing. But they know they've got that dedicated time. And because as you say, you get that accountability, it makes such a huge difference.

Fay Wallis:

Mm-hmm. Yeah, it really does.

Louisa van Vessem:

What other strategies have you tried or do you continue to try?

Fay Wallis:

One thing that's been incredibly helpful actually, is I used to be very nervous about handing control of my calendar over to a scheduling tool like Calendly. So I know that lots of people will have heard of Calendly.

It is essentially a tool where you can create a link. So if someone said, Faye, could I have a 30 minute meeting with you? I could just send them the link and it will show them when I have availability in my diary, and then they can click on that link and book the time with me and it will populate their calendar as well.

So for years, I resisted. Using it properly. I've tried all sorts of calendar tools out, so not just Calendly. I've tried out Acuity, I tried out, and I could just never really get the hang of it. So I would use for, for example, acuity. I did use that for certain things, but not for everything. Yeah, and I think.

There were a couple of reasons I was scared of giving away control of my calendar to technology. One was thinking, what if I've forgotten to put something in my calendar? Or actually what if suddenly one day I've gotta go and pick the kids up from school or something and, and someone gets booked too.

Nah, I can't do it. I can't do it. And then the other thing was that actually some of the tools I tried out were. Not the most intuitive, or they were a bit clunky, and so I just didn't feel fully confident in it. Well, I feel like I should be getting commission from Calendly actually. This year I tried our Calendly because my calendar was just getting so packed and it was taking me so long to get people booked in, and at one point I was paying a VA to actually just handle a lot of my calendar for me.

I thought, right, come on Fay. I know other people use Calendly and love it. I'll just give it a try. Oh my gosh. It has just been amazing. Absolutely amazing. So I save so much time now in the not having to see the back and forth emails. Does this time work for you? Well, that time work for you? I'll still do that very occasionally, but overall I can really rely on Calendly, to be running my calendar for me, because I've got all different parameters set up. So, for example, if someone wants to talk to me about coming on the podcast, I've been able to set up a parameter so Calendly knows. To only book one of those chats a day so that my day doesn't start filling up with loads and loads of people wanting to talk about the podcast.

There is still space for other kinds of meetings as well.

Louisa van Vessem:

I think time blocking works really well, which is essentially kind of what that is for different sessions, and it's something, it's an approach that I take, but I think when people hear the word time blocking, they think it's got to be really rigid, really structured, and so they tend to veer away from it.

Whereas actually my approach is to kind of block that time out. So for example, I, most of the time I don't stop work till 10. If I do, it's on my business stuff, but it's because I don't actually want to have client meetings because until after then, because although I've been awake for probably four or five hours, it gives me a chance to properly wake up and in my own time, and I find it just makes difference to my energy levels.

But should I need to? And I'm struggling to maybe fit fit something else into the day. I know I've still got from say half, eight till 10 and it's almost acts as a buffer. And I'll do other things in my diary as well where I just block it out and I use book like a Boss, which is a very similar tool to Calendly and Acuity and all the others.

So likewise, you know, you can structure it so that there are only x number of meetings in a day. And that just seems to really make a difference for me.

Fay Wallis:

Yeah, and I think that's such a good point about buffer time. Actually, when I mentioned that I was too scared to hand over my calendar to one of the other scheduling tools at first, a lot of that was around, it will sound silly, but maybe not to other working parents.

The school pickups. Yeah. Because my husbands and I juggle the, the pickups and. He mainly does actually a lot of them For me, I, I do two a week and then he'll normally do the others, but occasionally he'll have an important meeting come up and if that happens, I would just feel awful having to ask a client if we can rearrange.

So what I ended up doing is just putting in buffer time. So from like, Three 15, which is when I have to leave the house to do the school run to four 30. Calendly has now just completely booked out my calendar. So it means no one can book in. So I haven't got that stress of worrying. Yeah. Oh my gosh. But also, it's given me this incredible buffer time because it is quite rare that my husband doesn't end up doing the school run.

So I suddenly found, oh, this is amazing. I've got an hour and a bit each day where I can do all those little things. That can take up a lot of time, like catching up with emails or. You know, checking through my notes or, or doing little things that might have been building up that I'm, I've just been putting off.

So I totally agree. Like sort of having all these blocks of time can be incredibly helpful and buffer time that I've accidentally discovered buffer time by setting up that rule with Calendly. I think,

Louisa van Vessem:

See it's something that I used to do years and years ago when I worked as like a PA/EA and I was managing diaries.

So I would always be blocking time out in people's diaries, a to make sure they take like a lunch break but also like travel time as well. So if you know you've got a meeting somewhere else to kind of really allocate that time and also to allow time in your diary for if a meeting's late to open around.

So on my booking schedule, I can set it so that I know that there's additional buffer time added to each kind of session if I want to do that, so that if something is likely to overrun. Then at least I'm not like, oh, now I've got st from this meeting to this meeting, to this meeting. It makes life so much easier.

Have you ever tried the podo Pomodoro technique? I did that correctly.

Fay Wallis:

No, you have, I think you've pronounced it perfectly, the Pomodoro technique. Yes. I've tried that lot actually. That's one I haven't used quite so much recently. Probably just before I've become obsessed with the virtual coworking that's helping me get everything done.

The P technique I used to use a lot before the. Virtual co-working. So for anyone who's not familiar with that, the idea came from, I think someone had a kitchen timer. Yeah. That was shaped like a tomato. Tomato. Yeah. And they would set it for, I think it was 25 minutes and say, right, I'm just gonna be totally focused for these 25 minutes until the timer goes off, and then I can move on to other tasks.

So I did used to use that a lot and I also had my, I've never told anyone this to either. I had this weird made up system that worked for me. So instead of setting a timer, what I would do is write down just in my notebook, the time I was starting to Work on something, and it was to set it as like a little challenge for me to see how long I could carry on working for that one thing without getting distracted and wanting to like, you know, check an email or check WhatsApp, Facebook or something.

So I would write down the time, but then even if I needed to just get a drink or go to the bathroom or something, I would write down the time. I'd stop, go get the drink, come back, write down the time again, and I just constantly. Trying to see how long a block I could actually do. I know it'll probably sound really weird competition to.

And write down the time and see how long I can go for.

Louisa van Vessem:

But I think that some people use tools such as Toggl for that very reason. So Toggl is spelled T O G G L and it's a time management tracking system and they will kind of start it running so they can kind of refer to it to see how long they've been working for, how long tasks take them for as well.

So if you are trying to block your time out or. Structure your day in such a way, and you're kind of thinking, how long am I spending doing something? Or even fun to act as a wake up call to kind of realize you're spending, I know two hours doing something, when really that's because you're spending a lot of that time faffing around looking at this, looking at your phone, notifications, whatever it might be.

By using a tool, either by manually writing it down or using a system like Toggle, then it really acts as that wake up call to think. Okay. I need to actually focus on that because something's got to give, and at the moment I'm wasting however many hours a day just on trying to faff rather than actually be productive.

Fay Wallis:

Yeah, I agree. I. I hadn't thought of the fact that actually when I'm writing it down, I'm doing a old fashioned version of Toggl Louisa. I have tried using Toggle before as well. I think that can be really good. And I've done something similar with coaching clients who have really felt overwhelmed by their calendars, which is saying to them, keep track of what it is that you are actually working on and how long you're working on each thing.

Because as humans, Especially humans like me who are terrible with time. Naturally we have this amazing ability to underestimate how long things take.

Louisa van Vessem:


Fay Wallis:

I know I call it being overly ambitious with time. I, I see it as kind of my curse, but in some ways a strength. Cuz I end up getting lots done, but I can end up feeling a bit stressed trying to cram it all in and, yeah, by tracking your time using something like Toggle it gives you a very accurate picture.

So then, you can actually start to be a bit more sensible about things and realize, no, it's not gonna take me five minutes to write up those notes or schedule that post. I need to make sure I'm giving myself more time for these things.

Louisa van Vessem:

I remember when I worked for a company and I was doing like the HR stuff with some of the younger members of the team, we would actually get them to write down how long tasks were taken because they were like struggling, you know, because it was like the first job from school or university and getting into that work mindset of how long and just, you know, just leisurely doing it, taking it in your stride.

Rather than thinking you're actually being paid to work. So we would actually get them to kind of track how long each task would take for say, a week or a day or whatever it was they were working on, just to kind of make them realize, okay, this is how long it's taking what, and then you can almost look back and think.

What has your approach been to trying to complete this task? Is there a more efficient way of working as well? So actually managing your time by checking it can really improve on efficiencies I think as well.

Fay Wallis:

Yes, absolutely. You just made me laugh. You said actually when you're going to work, you're getting paid to do the work.

I can't remember what the exact phrase was, but yeah. You're taking me back to the beginning of my career now.

Louisa van Vessem:

I never used chat g p t but it's come up in a couple of conversations yesterday and today, so I just wanna type in and see what kind of examples it gave and then I figured we could just kind of have a chat, see how that works for both of us. So the first one is set clear goals. Start by defining your long-term and short-term goals. Break them down into smaller actionable tasks to give yourself a clear roadmap. Now that kind of works time management, but it doesn't really for me that having a goal and thinking, right, I must start working now, that wouldn't have any impact, and then like what I'm working towards does.

But I think you still need to have the strategies in place for how you're going to achieve your goals and what you're going to do when and how you're going to break that task down.

Fay Wallis:

Yeah, absolutely. I think that having the goal in the first place is really important. Yeah. Because otherwise you're at huge risk of being busy all the time and you get to the end of the year and you think, well, I've done loads of stuff, but I haven't actually made great strides or got to where I wanted to be. And I think taking out that time to actually do goal planning is incredibly important, especially for people who have their own businesses like.

Like you and I did, Louisa. Otherwise I think for me particularly, I'm always in danger of just continually trying to improve what I have or getting excited about a new idea. I'm just trying it. Rather than thinking, hang on a minute, Fay, what, what's the overall aim? What are you working to here?

It's too easy to get distracted by, I know some people call it shiny object syndrome, like exciting ideas for a new course or a workshop or, or, or a thing. So I think that long-term goal planning can be helpful for that. But you are right. Once you've got that plan, you could very easily ignore it or , not make it detailed enough or not put it in your calendar so you get to the end of the year and you've not done any of it.

So that's, that's where I guess all of these strategies we've been touching on can be really helpful.

Louisa van Vessem:

Absolutely, it's, it's known where your destination is, isn't it? So it's known where you want to actually get to. But then for me, once I've got my goals, I work backwards to kind of figure out, okay, what needs to happen when and where?

And so that then starts to form in terms of my. I guess time management as to knowing those deadlines and what's important and when.

Fay Wallis:

Well, and knowing you, Louisa, I think that's something you are really good at and something that I find trickier. So I've had to start trying to come up with tools to help me do that really.

So I have got the HR Planner, which is all about setting your long-term goals and then breaking them down.

And I created this because, I knew that having worked in HR before, how hard it is to stay on top of what's normally an incredibly busy workload. And if I find it hard, then I know other people will be finding it difficult as well. And so I created the HR planner a few years ago now this is the third version of it, and each year I changed it slightly.

And one thing that I included this year, which I hadn't done before, is actually breaking down your goals into quarters. So thinking, because what I noticed was happening was people would get, which is great, and definitely what I want. We all want to feel really excited about what we're working on. Really excited when I'd run, which you've helped me with as well, Louise.

So the HR Planner workshop, I'd run that in a really, everyone would say, yep, I'm gonna do this and this and this for the year. Whoa. I can't wait to go and do it. And then they'll try and start everything. At once. So that's why I put the quarterly planning page in, which is just saying, okay, they're all the things you want to achieve and work on, so just pop down in which quarters of the year you want to do them.

Because the temptation is everyone just goes, right, January, I'm, I'm gonna start on everything in January. But actually you, you've gotta space it out. So I think that can be, that's one tool that I found quite helpful as well, actually really making myself think about. Trying to be a bit more long term with my planning, I can get very caught up in the moment and the excitement of a, yeah, new idea without really thinking, hang on Fay, you're already working on X, Y, Z.

When are you actually going to be able to do that? So but I think for people like Louisa, I think you are a more naturally organized person than me. So I think your very logical, meticulous brain just clicks in and you probably wouldn't do what I do and what lots of other people do, which is get excited and cram everything into the beginning of the year.

Louisa van Vessem:

Well, it might surprise you to hear that when I, so if I am thinking about all the stuff that I want to do, I mind map it. So I mind map initially, like the ideas and the thought that I've got. Then I kind of break it down into one mind map, power idea. And then I look at, and I think about the year and where that.

Would kind of nicely feed into as well. And what would work with kind of, I dunno, for example, summers, a quiet can often be a quiet amount or, you know, Christmas time or what works. But it's also because I know that people struggle so much with breaking those goals down. Why I also run quarterly goal planning workshops as well, and like half yearly workshops because I know it's something that people really struggle with.

And also kind of knowing that this is what you want to achieve, but not knowing how or when to fit it in into the year can be really difficult because then it's so easy to get lost in either the detail or not the detail. You know, it seems to be one or the other. As opposed to thinking, okay, how do we actually make this

a reality rather than it just being a, Ooh, this seems like an amazing idea.

Fay Wallis:

Yes. Because as someone who does get excited a, about ideas, it's very easy to skip over that important planning bit and just go, "Oh, I'm just gonna get started with it", and just jump straight in without having thought through all of those stats at all, which makes life much harder in the long run.

So I probably should do a lot more of the mind mapping that you do. I know that.

Louisa van Vessem:

I'm little bit obsessive. Do you know I haven't done a mind map for a few days? So next from Chat GPT is prioritize tasks, determine which tasks are most important and urgent. Focus on high priority tasks that align with your goals and have a significant impact on your business.

But I think something that people often struggle with again, is knowing the order of which to prioritize.

Fay Wallis:

When you talked about the early careers people at your work, I think you've now switched my brain into thinking about my early career. So in my very, very first HR role, I worked for Gap, the clothing company. And everybody who joined at that time. This is quite a long time now ago now. Nearly 25 years ago.

Oh my gosh. At that time, everyone who joined was put through time management training. We all went through the Franklin. I never know if it's Covey or Covey Franklin. Covey Covey. Stephen Covey. Stephen Covey. Yeah. Covey Franklin Covey. I think it might be Franklin Covey system. And I would say that was such a massive help

for me learning that. And it was all about prioritization and they made it really simple. They just said, okay, look at your list and put things into A, B, and C categories. So C is kind of nice to do, gotta get done at some point. Really not urgent at all.

Louisa van Vessem:


Fay Wallis:

A is, you have absolutely got to get this done today, and B is, it'd be quite good to get it done. You're gonna feel good about it. And then you number it, so you have a one, a two, a three, as many As as you want. But what I found is if you get beyond five, as you're being really unrealistic, so. I learned that system when I was, yeah, 21 or 22, and I still use it now.

It's been incredibly helpful. If I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed or, oh my gosh, the to-do list is getting out of control. Or actually the to-do list isn't even written down. It's on post-its everywhere, or in my head and on the notes of my phone. I'll often think, right, come on, Fay, sit down, write it all down, and just do the A, BS, and Cs.

And I just find that so valuable in bringing myself down, calming myself down and being able to get cracking and, and laser in again on what I should actually be working on and what is important and what I can let go. Yeah. Because I think that can be a challenge again, for a lot of people is feeling overwhelmed cuz they know how much stuff is on their list.

But actually, if it's a C priority, you don't need to be worrying about that right now. It's okay. Just write it down and then you can get to it later.

Louisa van Vessem:

So something I often say to people today, Again, anyway, surprise you. Is to mind map everything that's going on in their heads right now. Because I think sometimes people get so caught up with lists and then what happens is they move one list to the next day, to the next day, to the next day, and they keep adding stuff onto to it.

Whereas when you think about like, maybe what's the top three things that actually have to happen that day? Mm, it really makes a difference. But also the reason that I sometimes just a mind map first is, Because I find that when it's on the list, it automatically becomes structured and you focus on that list in like an order, or you kind of start moving things around to this place, to that place and order a priority.

When you do it as a mind map, because it's just free flow, you can almost look through it and highlight, okay, actually that's not an important for now. So that's for maybe. Six months time to review then, okay. You could stick on a list or a another mind map or on your phone or whatever works. But then you look at actually what is the stuff you want to get done this week or today or something like that.

Because all too often I found that people literally go from one list to the next day and it just, it's reoccurring, but very little actually comes off of that list. Mm. Especially senior managers.

Fay Wallis:

Yeah. And, oh, sorry. I think I breathed in my water, I just drunk. We both know Jacqui Jagger, who's a coach as well, and she taught me a few years ago the idea of having a to don't list, which I think you might use as well.

Louisa and I found that's been really helpful because you're right. If, if everything is just on this one giant list, you do feel like, oh, I'm, I'm just moving the list each day and just ticking off the tiniest things from it. And she taught me, well, actually all, all those c tasks you're telling me about Fay, or all those ideas that you would like to do, but it's just not realistic to do them.

Now, just put them on a to don't list. Take them off that main list and put them somewhere else. And it, it was. Really helpful, really effective. It's just about finding the strategies that work for you isn't, isn't it? I can definitely see how mind mapping could feel a bit less overwhelming. I just think having somewhere to be able to capture your ideas.

Louisa van Vessem:


Fay Wallis:

And things that you think you should be doing, that's kind of the key, the key crux of it. Whether it's a mind map or a list or to don't list, because where I find I can go wrong sometimes is I'll think, oh, Microsoft have got an app called to-do, I'm gonna put everything in there. And so I spend, you know, a few minutes or quite a few minutes populating it, and then I, I just forget about it the next day and I don't use it.

And then I think, oh, Trello, everyone says how good Trello is. I'm gonna put down my to-do list, or all my ideas and Trello, and then I'll halfheartedly do it and forget, and then there'll be a new one. And so I think sometimes the power of just pen and paper is, you've got it there and you know where it is.

But all of these tools, all of these ideas can be great. It's sort of picking the one that works for you and then sticking with it instead of trying it out, putting it down, totally forgetting about it.

Louisa van Vessem:

Absolutely. I think you have to explore the different methods, because for me, I've never been a list person.

Lists just stress me out because it feels too rigid, which sounds crazy because I am someone that is quite process driven and will do things in certain ways, but I just never, ever, ever liked lists because they're just seeing this. Never ending did list. And people, and I, I think it's possible because I've known too many people that obsess over them.

And for me, I'm like, I, I don't want that. I don't want it. So I think you have got to explore the different tools. And like someone recently asked me like, what's the best method what tool is the best method for say, keeping track? So if they're working with somebody else, like a PA or whatever, how best to take that approach.

And I was saying like, you've got Asana, Trello, Notion, all these different tools. But actually like a Google Sheets where you just literally write it down and keep it simple is often the best approach because you spend so long, otherwise going onto say Trello and creating a new card and doing this, and then shift it along to there.

Whereas actually a simple spreadsheet can do the job just as well, depending obviously what it's relating to.

Fay Wallis:


Louisa van Vessem:

But all too often I find that. Going back to your shiny objective syndrome comment. Mm-hmm. There is so much of that, and people then want to try it and kind of think, oh, is this for me? And then they halfheartedly do it because, a, they don't have time.

B, they're not really that interested in it. C, it's just not for them, but they feel like they should be doing it rather than it's actually going to have a good and positive impact on them.

Eat that frog. Do you eat that frog?

Fay Wallis:

I try to. I don't always eat the frog successfully, but I think that's probably one of the most useful time management things that there is to do your most dreaded task first thing. I think what I'm actually bad at doing with eat that frog is the home stuff.

So I'll make sure I'm not dropping the ball on a, on anything with work, but, If you were to come to the house at the moment, the bathrooms had a leak in it for, oh gosh. Actually, after telling you this, I'm gonna have to go away and call the plumber. I mean, honestly, if we don't get the leak fixed, the ceiling underneath it is going to collapse at some point by just keep putting it off where it's a, a home task.

So I'm good at eating that frog for the work stuff. But I, I sort of need to make sure I'm eating the frog for the home stuff too. So, when I next speak to you, I don't have to tell you that the kitchen ceiling collapsed.

Louisa van Vessem:

The next LinkedIn post, "My kitchen collapsed".

Fay Wallis:

Yeah. I didn't eat that frog.

Louisa van Vessem:

See, I I guess I look at my week and how I structure it in terms of what I do and when. So with the stuff that I don't enjoy, I will do it, but then I kind of set myself a reward afterwards. So that reward might be that I go downstairs and I make a drink and I stand by the kettle for five minutes. Or it could be that I do a task that I really enjoy, or I send a voice note to somebody or, you know, so it's.

It's not a reward, like a financial reward or something like that. It's just something lighthearted. But it means that I know, okay, I've got all this done. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. Now I can on with the other stuff and I know that when I do the stuff that I don't necessarily wanna do or whatever else, I feel better for it.

So I kind of try and tell myself almost like a mindset thing, I guess, that I feel happy once it's done. Cause I'm like, "Oh, that's all up to date then".

Fay Wallis:

Oh, that's really nice to hear that the rewards work for you, because that's advice that I've read a lot about giving yourself little rewards as you go along.

It just doesn't work for me. I think maybe I'm too undisciplined. I know, for example, I'll just go down and stand at the kettle and make a cup of tea or get a biscuit out the cupboard, whether I've done the task or not. I haven't got enough self-discipline generally for the rewards to work, but I know that that is a really helpful strategy for some people.

So it's good to hear that you're one of the people it works for.

Louisa van Vessem:

It could be just because I get hyperfocused, so when I'm in the zone, I'm literally in the zone. So. You know, I can have my phone in front of me, but actually I won't necessarily look at any notifications. I'm very, I dunno if it's an autistic trait or something, but I'm very strict with myself of when I know I need to get something done.

That's it. If I don't have. If I don't feel in the, in the right mindset for doing something, it's just not gonna happen. And I will just procrastinate and I will look to do anything else than do the thing that actually I know is gonna have a big impact. But if my mindset just isn't there, cause I'm not in that right head space, I can't force it.

So for me it's always quite interesting because if I want to do like a planning thing or a mind mapping exercise or something like that, I have to be in that zone for it. And I have to be in a focus and I can't force it where, and then once I'm in the right mindset for it, I can get loads done and I can come up with all these ideas.

Yet with clients, they just pop in my head and it's really frustrating because that same approach doesn't work for me.

Fay Wallis:

So much about time management is knowing yourself and understanding what your personal blockers are and, and just trying this stuff out and seeing what works for you.

So, whereas clearly rewards work really well for you, what works better for me is deadlines. So if someone said to me, Fay, that kitchen ceiling's gonna collapse on Monday, if you don't get it fixed, it would be fixed. I don't know what's wrong, but apparently lots of people are like this, thrive under the pressure of a deadline.

Louisa van Vessem:

Me too.

Fay Wallis:

So I have to set myself deadlines all the time. Like I've just announced, I'm going to be running a career planning workshop in a few weeks time. By the fact that I've announced that date. I've, you know, got all the ideas for the workshop and I've started sketching things out for it and everything.

I would just carry on working on that workshop here and there forever. If I hadn't said to everybody, "Ok, this is the date it's happening", that's what's gonna force me to actually pull it all together completely now. So it is kind of a combined thing. A deadline, but not a deadline that only I know about. It has to be a deadline that other people know about as well. And then that will really help keep me on track and make sure that I do hit the targets and get the, the really juicy good, interesting, rewarding stuff done. Whereas clearly you are much better at just being able to say, "I'll give myself a little reward and then it'll be done".

Louisa van Vessem:

But I feel that comes back to the accountability for you though, doesn't it? Because by now it, you've got that accountability. I mean, I sometimes post stuff. Or announce something, even though it's not quite perfect, but because I know I put it out there, then it means I too have that accountability. But I think it depends on what it is as to whether or not I need that accountability, if that makes sense.

Fay Wallis:

Oh, yes. And I only realized this need for accountability after I took Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies Quiz. So for anyone watching or listening to this, I'd really recommend giving that quiz a try if you haven't heard of it before. I don't think you love the quiz as much as me, Louisa, from when we've talked about it before, but maybe that's just because I ended up being a different profile for you and discovered how important accountability is.

Louisa van Vessem:

I think it just depends though, doesn't it? I think that. I think that the way I work changes, depending on what it is that I'm doing where my head's at, what's going on in my life and stuff like that, as to what's really going to make a difference. So sometimes it is having those deadlines, sometimes it's having that accountability.

Sometimes it's just me being able to just get in the zone and be focused, so, or blocking time out. So I will sometimes, or. I used to this a lot. I don't do it so much now. Set a lot of reminders in my calendar for do this, do this, do this, do this. And I still have some in there, but I'd set myself deadlines and put them into that because then I knew that it would happen because I would see it in my calendar.

So I think some of it is that over time I've just got into those habits and those have stuck with me because it becomes that. Again, I guess it's the autistic trait of the routine and being regimented in that certain way, which has made a big difference for me.

Fay Wallis:

I totally agree. So with my, in fact, it's so funny. One time my youngest son, he said this a couple of years ago, so he would've been quite little. Someone said to me, "Oh Fay, you're so organised".

And he went, "No, she's not. Mummy's phone just tells her what she has to do and then she does it." That's really funny. I think he thought that like my phone was just controlling my life. Cause I use the calendar in it for everything. You know, e everything gets booked into that, which I think most of us do nowadays.

Yeah. I know some people still prefer to use a paper calendar, but for. I think probably the majority of people we're all using digital technology, and I think probably making that switch to having everything in my Outlook calendar has definitely, including reminders of what I should be working on, has definitely helped keep me on track.

And I just really like the reassurance of being able to look down and see. Exactly what's happening. So I have all different color coded calendars. I've got a home calendar, which has been brilliant because what used to happen is I would have, "Mum, what am I doing this weekend, Mum? What time are we going to this Mum? When are we doing this?" And so I set up a family calendar that I've hooked into our Alexa device at home, Alexa. So all they have to do is look at the screen. So if anyone says, what are we doing next week? I go "Look on the calendar, it's on the calendar. Just have a look there". And I can also see it on my phone so I can make sure there aren't any clashes with work and home and, and stuff like that.

So, but I'm sure that that probably isn't really a very enlightening tip. I'm sure lots of people are doing that already.

Louisa van Vessem:

See, I wouldn't even occur to me, to set something up for Alexa. But that's a, I think that's a really good tip. Because yeah, just having those reminders of being able to look at it could be really useful.

Fay Wallis:

It's been fantastic.

Louisa van Vessem:

So what would you say from people that you've spoken to, we, obviously, we've covered time blocking, we've talked about Pomodoro, we've talked about Eat that Frog, and lots of different strategies.

What's the biggest frustration for people when it comes to time management that you've experienced?

Fay Wallis:

I'm gonna answer you with an annoying answer now. There's not just one,

Louisa van Vessem:


Fay Wallis:

I would say that, well, I kind of categorized it as four because I, I did a whole podcast episode on this I really ages ago actually, and at that time when I recorded that episode. Time and the challenge of it have been coming up a lot for several clients. And so when that happens, you really do start to notice patterns and common blockers.

And what I realized kept coming up was four different things. So the first challenge was people pleasing.

Louisa van Vessem:


Fay Wallis:

So having all of these strategies in place, People might say, "Oh yes, I, I do co-working and I arrange my calendar and I time block."

But the problem was that if someone said, "Oh, can you work on this for me?" That they'd feel terrible letting them down, or they'd feel obligated or they'd want to help. Or they may not even have been asked to help with something, but they'd see someone struggling think, "Well, I know I can do that, so I'll just tell them I can."

And that's what a huge problem is. So it's got nothing to do with the tools or the methods. It's actually how we feel and how we behave. That can be the biggest challenge. So that was the first one was people pleasing. The second one I've already mentioned is being overly ambitious with time, and that's where the time tracking that we talked about and using things like Toggl can be very helpful.

And also doing things like planning out your ideal week, which is something I resisted for years because I was scared to do it because I thought, no, if I plan out my ideal week and say how long I need to spend on this, how many blocks in my calendar I need to allow for that. It (a) feels incredibly boring doing that.

And like I've lost all spontaneity, but (b) I was just too scared everything wouldn't fit in. But I, I almost didn't want to face up to it. And I've noticed it's not just me. Lots of people are like this and you, you just wish that time could stretch. so you can fill these great things in, but actually time isn't elastic.

There is only a set amount of it. The third one we've already talked about a lot is a need for accountability. So it was realizing that actually people weren't getting stuff done and then they'd really beat themselves up about it. And that's why I like the Gretchen Rubin quiz so much, The Four Tendencies.

And then the final thing that I noticed that people come up against when it comes to time, which has got nothing to do with time management techniques, it's all to do with behaviour, is finding it difficult to let go. So holding onto projects or work that they could be delegating to other people or working on something; polishing it and polishing it and polishing it until it's like, as perfect as possible before letting it go. And of course, it just slows them down massively. And it means that they often end up working really long hours because they're not delegating or they're also, it can be that sunk cost, sunk cost fallacy where you've been working on a project so long, even though all the signs are there that it's not gonna work out.

And actually you'd be better off focusing on something else you don't do it because you've just put so much time into it, you, you can't bear to let it go. So that's a very long answer to your question of, "What is the main challenge?".

Louisa van Vessem:

See, I would also add, which feeds into what you've just said, boundaries and perfectionism as well.

Because boundaries are the want to, even if it's not because someone else has asked you to do something. But within yourself and it lends itself to perfectionism as well. I'm always thinking, no, well actually no. I could just do this. I could just do this. I could just do this. And it means that what you initially planned to do has completely changed in terms of the scope of the work.

And so you end up spending so much more time on it or deliberating over everything. No, this, this isn't good enough, this isn't good enough. But actually with perfectionism, it's. That's your decision on what's perfect to you. Because what's perfect to me would be completely different for you.

And I think that also has a huge impact on time management because the boundaries and perfectionism just completely take over. Some people I know as a perfectionist at heart. but over the years I've kind of learned to kind of kick that away mostly.

Fay Wallis:

Yes, yes, you are again, right again, Louisa and my friend a friend I've had for years, years and years called Emma gave me a really good piece of advice around this because I actually completely burnt out when I was in my former career and had to have some time off of work to get better.

And I remember talking to her about it and she said, "Fay, you're going for this gold standard all the time, and it's not sustainable. It's working against you. You've got to start thinking gold, silver, bronze." And I said, "What do you mean?" Now she was incredibly successful in her career. I had just been walking around assuming that everyone is desperately trying to make sure everything is like so perfect, like no one could find a chink of fault in it.

And it was only from her talking to me, then I realized, that's not true. And so she said "A lot of the time, bronze is good enough". She said you've got to somehow shift your mindset so you can think, "Ok, well. If it wasn't completely perfect, what would it look like at a silver level?" And actually, if it was just good enough to be okay, what would it look like at a bronze level? I'd say I'm still pretty rubbish at the bronze level, but it's really helped having had her talk to me about that.

Louisa van Vessem:

I really like that. I think that's a really kind of good perspective to look at it as.

Fay Wallis:

That brings us to the end of the episode. If time management is something you'd like to dive into even more deeply, I have covered it on the podcast before. There's episode 7, "What to do when you don't have enough hours in the day", and Episode 45, "6 ways to stop procrastinating and find time for important projects at work."

And of course, you can always use your trusty HR Planner to help you get on top of your goals and plans for your work and career. I'll pop a link to the free PDF version of it in the show notes for you in case you haven't already got one. If you've enjoyed today's episode, please can I ask you for a small favour?

I'd be hugely grateful. If you could do two things for me. Firstly, if you could share the podcast with a friend who you think will find it interesting and useful, that would be brilliant. And secondly, if you could rate and review HR Coffee Time for me on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, that would be wonderful.

It makes such a difference in helping the show get discovered by more people, and I would love to help as many HR and People professionals as possible with this free podcast. Thank you so much, and I look forward to being back again next Friday with the next episode.